New England Patriots RB James White could have been the MVP of Super Bowl LI. QB Tom Brady is the deserving winner after leading the offense to 31-straight points to overcome a 25-point deficit, but White was responsible for a Super Bowl-record 20 of those points.
And while Brady was struggling in the first half, White was plugging along as the most productive player on the Patriots.
White entered halftime with 65 yards from scrimmage, including 55 receiving yards on 5 catches. The third-year running back’s 28-yard reception as the Patriots entered the two-minute drill ultimately proved to be a taste of the main course he would serve in the second half.
“What can you say about James?,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said after the game. “He’s so dependable, he always comes up big in critical situations. We count on him so much in so many aspects of our offense. But when it ends up being a big James White game, there’s a lot of pass protections, a lot of route nuances that we’re asking him to do and he came through huge for us.”
White is one of the best receiving backs in the league and one of the more reliable pass blocking backs. We knew that entering the Super Bowl. It was White’s 4.8 yards per carry on the ground and 2 rushing scores that caught even the biggest Patriots supporters by surprise.
White can run the ball?!
“It’s really surreal,” White said after the game. “I was just living in the moment. I wasn’t paying attention to how many catches I had, how many yards I had. I just wanted to keep moving the chains no matter what it took.”
White caught 14 passes on 16 targets for 110 yards and a receiving touchdown, to go with 29 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns on 6 attempts. Those 20 touches represent a career high for White and he made the most of his opportunities.
Last year, White saw a similar 16 targets and 5 rushing attempts against the Denver Broncos. He only caught 5 passes for 45 yards, and picked up a mere 11 rushing yards on those attempts. White made far more of his chances in Super Bowl LI.
“James White? He’s just everything you want in a teammate and a football player,” Brady said after the game. “Dependable, consistent, durable. The best attitude, brings it every day and we just kept going to him. So I think that speaks for itself.”
“He’s a guy that I would say epitomizes the do-whatever-is-asked-of-you role,” McDaniels said. “We didn’t practice some of those plays with James White in the game, but that’s the way the game went. So James stayed in there and he knew what to do. James always knows what to do. And then he made the plays in the critical situations to help us win.”
With the Patriots rushing attack failing the offense, McDaniels asked White to serve as an extension of the rushing game. White led the Patriots with 5 receptions on first down and he averaged 6.4 yards per reception, while chipping in 13 rushing yards on 2 carries for a similar 6.5 yards per carry. These first down plays set up easier second-and-manageable situations and allowed the Patriots to push the ball down the field.
White also led the team with 3 receptions on third or fourth down to help move the sticks. McDaniels also alludes to White stepping into a role that he didn’t practice, which could be in reference to the fake high snap on the two-point conversion, which was supposed to be for RB Dion Lewis, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury.
“My man was balling today,” Lewis said. “14 catches, three touchdowns, man he came through big for us. That is the thing about this team, we always got. It is always somebody different. He works so hard. I am happy for him. He deserves it, man. A fellow running back, he deserves it.”
White has filled the role that Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen made their own. It’s quite possible that White’s performance in the Super Bowl was the best of them all.