On Sunday, February 5, the New England Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in Super Bowl LI (51), the championship game of the National Football League (NFL). The Patriots trailed 28-3 before rattling off 31 unanswered points to complete the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, winning in overtime at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. It was the fifth Super Bowl victory for the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, who won the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award for a record fourth time.
The game began rather quietly as neither team scored in the first quarter. The Falcons exploded for three touchdowns in the second quarter, however, taking a dominating 21-3 lead into halftime. No team had ever come back to win from more than 10 points down in a Super Bowl, and many Falcons fans began celebrating early.
After a vivacious halftime musical performance by Lady Gaga, Atlanta resumed the romp, adding a touchdown to make the score 28-3 with less than three minutes to play in the third quarter. New England refused to quit, however, notching their first touchdown (but missing the extra point) for a 28-9 score at the end of the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, a Patriots field goal put the game at 28-12 with 9:44 to play. At that point, statisticians had Atlanta’s win probability at over 99 percent—but no one told Tom Brady and the Patriots, who turned a Falcons fumble into a quick touchdown. A 2-point conversion put the score at 28-20. The Falcons drove downfield on their next possession, getting within field goal range. But a Patriots sack of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and a holding penalty put the Falcons in reverse and they were forced to punt.
Brady, already one of the most storied quarterbacks in the history of American football, then decided to add to his legacy. He led New England on a 10-play, 91-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back James White as the clocked ticked under 1 minute to play. A 2-point conversion was still needed to tie the game, so that’s what Brady delivered. He tossed the ball into the hands of receiver Danny Amendola, who pushed the ball over the goal line: 28-28. The final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked away uneventfully and, for the first time in Super Bowl history, the game went into overtime.
The Patriots won the coin toss, allowing them to take the ball first in overtime. With momentum—and, seemingly, fate—firmly on their side, Brady again led New England downfield. The Patriots marched 75 yards on 8 plays, winning the game on a 2-yard White run into the end zone: New England 34, Atlanta 28. The Patriots erupted in jubilation as a clearly stunned and disbelieving Atlanta team shuffled slowly off the field.
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Top image: A 2-point conversion by New England Patriots receiver Danny Amendola ties the score at 28-28 late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 5, 2017. The Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime. Credit: © Ronald Martinez, Getty Images