There’s no SparkNotes version to what took place Sunday night in Houston.
The New England Patriots wouldn’t have wanted the summary of Super Bowl LI to be brief. But with the Atlanta Falcons leading by a score of 21-3 at halftime, and the Patriots’ lone points coming on a 41-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski just two seconds prior, it nearly was.
Then, suddenly it wasn’t.
Game stories were scrapped. More than four quarters were played. And by the time the confetti began to fall on the NRG Stadium turf, the Patriots had turned a deficit that stood as tall as 25 into a 34-28 comeback victory.
Here’s a glance through the numbers that went into it.
The Falcons’ offense had scored touchdowns on its opening drive in eight consecutive games, dating back to Nov. 27 versus the Arizona Cardinals. That streak would snap against New England, as a third-down sack sent the punt team on the field soon after running back Devonta Freeman broke loose for a 37-yard gain on Atlanta’s first offensive snap. It was a small victory in a first half that had very few for the Patriots.
Trey Flowers was the reason Atlanta’s first drive ended in a punt, and the Patriots defensive end would continue to cause problems from there on out. Flowers accrued a total of 2.5 sacks versus NFL MVP Matt Ryan. His first resulted in a loss of 12 yards on third down, the second – which was split with linebacker Kyle Van Noy – resulted in a loss of nine yards on third down, and the third resulted in a loss of 10 yards on second down. Atlanta would end up punting on each of those three series.
While Flowers hit home, so did Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. After recording three sacks during the regular season, the Clemson product bulled through New England’s interior offensive line for another three on Sunday night, matching Reggie White, Darnell Dockett and Kony Ealy for the most ever in a Super Bowl since sacks became an official statistic back in 1982.
LeGarrette Blount had gone 18 games without losing a fumble. But that run would reach its end in early in the second quarter Sunday, as the 6-foot, 250-pound back had the ball pried from his grasp by rookie linebacker Deion Jones. Blount’s first lost fumble since Week 1 would lead to the first touchdown of the game. He would get six more carries thenceforth, finishing with 11 for 31 yards.
Atlanta’s big-play threats proved to be exactly that against New England’s pass coverage. And although Freeman and wideouts Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel would catch just nine passes altogether, the trio averaged a dangerous 23.2 yards per reception. Freeman gained 46 yards by way of the air, while Jones and Gabriel combined for 163.
The Falcons would get their points. Yet the Patriots, facing a 25-point deficit after a six-yard touchdown pass to running back Tevin Coleman made it 28-3 with 8:31 left in the third, would not concede any more. The turnaround that followed would be largest deficit ever overcome in Super Bowl history.
New England’s attack rattled off 31 unanswered points, while the defensive side of the ball held Atlanta to three punts and forced a fumble courtesy of linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The first Patriots touchdown surfaced at the 2:12 mark in the third quarter, and a field goal, two more touchdowns and two successful two-point conversions would culminate in a 28-28 game to close the fourth quarter.
LI would ultimately check in as the first-ever Super Bowl to go to overtime. And the extended action spanned eight plays, one penalty, and 3:58 of game clock before the 28-28 deadlock gave way to the Patriots burrowing the ball through a wall Falcons for the final six.
Forty minutes, 31 seconds. That’s how long the Patriots’ offense was on the field versus the Falcons’ defense. New England forged ahead for 37 first downs and inherited four via penalty. And by the time it was all over, 93 plays had been cycled through.
Tom Brady had three Super Bowl MVPs in his cupboard from XXXVI, XXXVIII and XLIX, tying Joe Montana’s total for the most in the NFL archives. But the 39-year-old now has four, taking home the Pete Rozelle Trophy once again despite tossing his first touchdown of LI to cornerback Robert Alford on an 82-yard pick-six in the second quarter.
Brady finished having gone 43-of-62 passing, connecting with seven different targets while delivering two touchdowns. He set a Super Bowl single-game record in both pass attempts and completions along the way, all while extending his own career Super Bowl records with 207 completions, 309 attempts and 15 touchdowns.
In the process of his 43 completions, Brady racked up 466 passing yards – also a Super Bowl record. The 17-year pro, who furthered his career Super Bowl lead with 2,071 career yards, is just the second quarterback in history to eclipse the 400-yard mark in a single Super Bowl. The first to do so was Kurt Warner, who threw for 414 yards against the Tennessee Titans en route to being named Super Bowl XXXIV MVP on Jan. 30, 2000.
After notching three touchdown passes in the AFC Championship Game and two more in Super Bowl LI, Brady has now thrown 63 TD passes over the course of his 34-game playoff career. Montana and Brett Favre land second and third in the league’s playoff record books after Brady with 45 and 44, respectively.
No head coach or quarterback have ever appeared in more Super Bowls than Bill Belichick and Brady. And in tandem, they’ve now won five of their seven. Belichick, who carried a 4-2 Super Bowl record as a head coach, broke a tie shared with Chuck Noll on Sunday. And as far as quarterbacks go, Brady broke a tie shared with Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
Two weeks removed from collecting his 25th postseason victory as head coach, Belichick accrued his 26th. That furthers his distance from Tom Landry and Don Shula, who reside second and third on the all-time postseason wins list among head coaches, with 20 and 19 on their resumes, respectively. The 64-year-old Belichick has gone 25-9 in the playoffs since returning to Foxborough in 2000.
Julian Edelman opened Sunday behind only Andre Reed, Michael Irvin, Wes Welker, Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne and Jerry Rice on the NFL’s all-time postseason receptions list. He’d close Sunday behind only Wayne’s 93 and Rice’s staggering 151. Edelman caught five passes for 87 yards against the Falcons, with his fourth – a 23-yard pickup – arriving off the hands and shoe of the Falcons’ Alford with 2:28 left in the fourth quarter of what was a 28-20 game. Now through 15 career playoff contests, the top playoff pass-catcher in Patriots franchise history has 89 receptions to his name.
Though Danny Amendola set a new career-high with four touchdown receptions during the regular season, the veteran target, battling a high-ankle sprain, concluded it having caught just 23 passes for 243 yards. But Amendola would not conclude the Super Bowl quietly. He amassed 78 yards receiving after not exceeding 48 in a game all year. Eight catches – his most since Nov. 23, 2015 – a touchdown and a two-point conversion were also in the cards for him.
No non-quarterback has ever accounted for more points in a single Super Bowl than James White. On Sunday, the 25-year-old Patriots running back scored on a five-yard touchdown grab, a direct snap for a two-point conversion, a one-yard touchdown run, as well the game-winning two-yard touchdown run in overtime. His three total touchdowns also tied a Super Bowl record.
Three players from Patriots past – Welker, Deion Branch and Shane Vereen – had caught 11 passes in a Super Bowl. But in LI, White caught more passes than any Patriot – or any NFL player – had ever before. The 2014 fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin reeled in a record by catching 14, which eclipsed the Denver Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas for the most in Super Bowl history. White netted 110 yards and a TD from those receptions.