After having fought back from 25 points down, the New England Patriots forced Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons into overtime – the first extra period in the 51-year history of the big game. The Patriots, having won the coin toss, elected to receive the kickoff and immediately started marching down the field.
Tom Brady and the offense moved seemingly moved the ball at will against Atlanta’s worn-down defense. It took them seven plays – six passes and one run – to get from their own 25-yard line to the Falcons’ two. Facing 1st and goal, the Patriots went with a fade to Martellus Bennett, which was defended well by the defense and broken up.
One play later, the offense elected to go to the ground – and the results were historical. Let’s take a look at the film to dissect running back James White’s game-winning score.
2-2-ATL 2 (11:08) J.White right end for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the runner broke the plane ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field was confirmed.
The Patriots offense used a 23-personell jumbo package on the unsuccessful first down play. They approached 2nd down with a lighter 11-personnel group. New England used three wide receivers, all aligned on the right side of the formation, one tight – in a three-point stance to the left tackle’s outside shoulder – and James White (#28) as the lone running back five yards deep:
Atlanta countered New England’s personnel with a nickel package using four down-linemen and two off-linebackers. Just prior to the snap, wide receiver Julian Edelman (#11) motioned inwards and was followed by cornerback Robert Alford (#23). On the toss run that followed, Alford was not Edelman’s blocking assignment, though.
Instead, the wideout took on rookie cornerback Brian Poole (#34), who was originally in coverage of Chris Hogan (#15). In the meantime, Hogan blocked edge defender Vic Beasley (#44), the NFL’s sack leader, one-on-one. "I had a down block. I knew what I had to do. Took care of my job," the first-year Patriot noted afterwards. Hogan’s block freed up right tackle Marcus Cannon (#61) to pull to the outside and serve as White’s lead blocker:
When White received the toss from Brady, Edelman and Hogan – in the latter’s case at least initially – were both able to hold their blocks long enough to remove Poole and Beasley from impacting the play. After the game, White acknowledge Edelman’s block as a key to the play’s success: "Obviously the line did a great job blocking, Jules did a great job blocking, I just had to run through one guy and find a way to get in there."
As White mentioned, the rest of the offensive line and tight end Martellus Bennett (#88) were also able to stand their ground. This, in turn, allowed White to get to the outside, where the Patriots had two blockers in front of him:
One of the blockers, rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell (#19), engaged cornerback Jalen Collins (#32) and held him up until White was already diving for the goal line. Cannon, in the meantime, was able to get just enough of a push on linebacker Deion Jones (#45) to clear a small path for the ball carrier:
At that point, White made a cut up the field. "I saw a crease," he said after the game. "You have to find a way to make a play for your team at that point in the game – at the three-yard line, two-yard line, you just have to find a way in." White did just that despite three defenders in his direct vicinity.
The 25-year old was initially contacted at the 2-yard line but was able to keep moving. He lowered his shoulder to bounce off Ricardo Allen (#37). And while the safety wrapped his arms around White’s hips, the runner kept his feet working. This allowed him to move forward, even though he was slowed down by the defender, and to dive for the goal line from the 1-yard line:
White dove in right between Allen and Collins, who at that time had been able to get off Mitchell’s block. The running back extended just enough – without ever exposing the ball to a potential knock-out – to cross the plane before his knees touched the ground. While "touchdown" was a close but definitely correct call, White never had any doubt. When asked if he thought he reached the endzone after the game, he replied: "Definitely. You saw me run away."
The entire play was well executed across the board. The offensive line and the wide receivers performed their blocks, while White made a perfect cut and leap towards the goal line to score the walk-off touchdown. Patriots 34, Falcons 28; game over and a fifth Lombardi Trophy for New England.