And so ends the greatest revenge story of our lifetime.
The New England Patriots’ 2017 Super Bowl campaign began shrouded in mystery, following Tom Brady’s four-game suspension hammered down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
After the infamous “Deflategate” conspiracy shadowing New England’s last Super Bowl XLIX victory in 2015, a cloud of uneasiness surrounded the team.
Was this suspension emblematic of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichik legacy? How would the Patriots handle four games without their star quarterback?
Those debates, along with several others were answered at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017.
The scorching-hot Atlanta Falcons came into Houston with sky-high confidence amidst their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
After a scoreless gridiron of a first quarter, Atlanta took Super Bowl LI by the horns.
Falcons running back Devonta Freeman broke the ice in the second quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run to get Atlanta on the board.
Just three minutes and 27 seconds later, the Falcons broke into the end zone again, with newly-crowned NFL MVP and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hooking up with tight end Austin Hooper for a 19-yard touchdown.
Now in a 14-0 hole, Tom Brady and the Patriots got the ball back, and drove all the way down to the Falcons’ 18-yard line, threatening to score. Just when it looked like this 14-point lead would be cut in half, the impossible happened.
The great Tom Brady threw a pick six; a pass intercepted by Falcons defensive back Robert Alford, taken 82 yards the other way for yet another Falcons touchdown with just over two minutes to play in the first half.
Now in a 21-0 hole, the Patriots finally managed to notch their first points of the night, as kicker Stephen Gostkowski drained a 41-yard field goal to end the first half.
As Lady Gaga took the stage for a grandiose halftime performance, Brady and the Patriots drudged into the locker room, down by 18 points in the final game of the season.
Coming out of the half, Atlanta picked up right where they left off; scoring a touchdown, this time with Tevin Coleman receiving a 6-yard pass from Matt Ryan.
Little did Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn know that this would be the last time his team touched the end zone.
At this moment in time, the score of Super Bowl LI was Falcons 28 – Patriots 3. A 25-point deficit–bigger than any that the Patriots had ever overcome in their 57-year history, and a deficit bigger than any team in history had ever surmounted from in the Super Bowl.
Just when this game looked to be yet another Super Bowl snoozer (Broncos defeated the Panthers last year 24-10), the greatest player to ever grace a football field suited up.
Tom Brady initiated the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history with two minutes and six seconds left in the third quarter, lofting a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back James White.
After missing the extra point that made the score 28-9, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski redeemed himself with a 33-yard field goal, which made it a two-score game.
Even at this point, the Patriots needed to score two touchdowns and two two-point conversions, all in ten minutes just to tie the game, so the odds of them being able to pull off the win were still unlikely.
Nevertheless, the miraculous resurgence of the New England Patriots ensued.
After getting the ball back, Matt Ryan coughed it up, fumbling deep within Atlanta’s own territory, giving Tom Brady & co. a short field.
With the momentum indisputably on New England’s side now, Brady capitalized off of this Atlanta miscue, finding wide receiver Danny Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown pass, two-point conversion successful, making the score 28-20 Atlanta.
At this point, the Falcons got the ball back with 5:56 to play in the fourth quarter. The task was simple: run out the clock, kick a field goal and win your first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Starting from his own 10-yard line, Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan commenced the freezing of this game, after finding star wide receiver Julio Jones deep down the field for a stupendous 27-yard tiptoe grab. The Falcons now found themselves in an ideal scenario, with the ball at New England’s 22-yard line with 4:40 to play, looking to presumably run out the clock.
What ensued amid this optimal scenario for the Falcons will undoubtedly go down as one of the most notorious choke-jobs in sports history.
On first-and-10, Atlanta did what they were expected to, feeding the ball to running back Devonta Freeman, who lost one yard.
On second-and-11, the Falcons offensive line caved in, as Matt Ryan was sacked by the Patriots’ Trey Flowers for a loss of 12 yards.
Now pinned at New England’s 35-yard line, on the fringe of field goal range for kicker Matt Bryant, a 9-yard reception by wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was wiped off by virtue of a holding penalty (Jake Matthews), dragging the Falcons back to New England’s 45-yard line.
Now on third-and-33, the Falcons whiffed, as a pass intended for wide receiver Taylor Gabriel fell short, stopping the clock at 3:38.
After inevitably having their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history within reach, Dan Quinn and the Falcons were forced to punt it away.
Now was the time for Tom Brady to silence all of his doubters: those who had labeled him a cheater, those who had called him “not” the greatest quarterback of all time, those who had written his team off one hour ago. Brady got the ball back with a chance to tie up Super Bowl LI after having trailed by a once insurmountable 25 points.
Brady then orchestrated one of the most masterful drives in Super Bowl history–the most miraculous play being wide receiver Julian Edelman’s David Tyree-esque circus catch, which got the Patriots into Atlanta territory.
This drive was capped by running back James Whites’ second touchdown of the night, this time a one-yard rush to make the score 28-26 Atlanta. Brady then hit Amendola in the end zone on a two-point conversion that, astonishingly, ended up making Super Bowl LI the first overtime game in the Super Bowl’s 51-year history.
To nobody’s surprise (based on how storybook this game was playing out), the Patriots won the second coin toss of the game, and began overtime with possession of the ball.
The triumphant march down the field methodically ensued:
Pass to White, 6-yard gain.
Pass to Amendola, 14-yard gain.
Pass to Hogan, 18-yard gain.
Pass to Edelman, 15-yard gain.
Tom Brady hit four different receivers on a merciless trek down the field, ending with James Whites’ third touchdown of the evening and the Patriots fifth Super Bow victory in franchise history.
Tom Brady ended the night having completed a Super Bowl record 43 passes (on 62 attempts) for a Super Bowl record 466 passing yards (tied for second-most in postseason history).
To no surprise, Brady was awarded his fourth Super Bowl MVP award (most of all-time) en route to his fifth Super Bowl victory (most all-time).
Running back James White also set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions as part of a 139-yard performance.
After all of the chaotic backlash following the Patriots’ last Super Bowl victory, owner Robert Kraft encapsulated the evening with his final remarks regarding New England’s fifth Super Bowl win, Lambardi Trophy in hand, saying “This one is unequivocally the sweetest.”
This most inexplicable night ended poetically, when Tom Brady concluded the evening by shaking hands with his biggest adversary: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.