We just witnessed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Considering the stakes and what was on the line, it is the greatest comeback in NFL history. Period.
How did the New England Patriots overcome a 25-point second-half deficit? Here are the six key plays that, in concert, made the difference.
Tom Brady said after the game you could point to 30 plays that, if they had gone the other way, might have changed the outcome. The Patriots needed more than just six plays to make history, but the following moments stood out:
What did you make of the action?
THE FOURTH DOWN
New England were pretty much in four-down territory for most of the second half, but they only found themselves having to go for it in one situation.
It may seem like an afterthought now because it was so early in the comeback, but Tom Brady’s 17-yard completion to Danny Amendola on fourth-and-three with 6:04 left in the third quarter was crucial. It kept the drive alive that led to the Patriots’ first touchdown of the contest.
THE STRIP SACK
This might have been the play that turned the tide and gave New England serious hope for a comeback.
With the Patriots down two possessions in theory (16 points), the defence came up huge as Dont’a Hightower sacked and stripped Matt Ryan, while Alan Branch recovered the ball with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter. It gave Brady a short field, which he capitalised on.
THE FIRST TWO-POINT CONVERSION
Anyone who has followed New England during the Brady and Bill Belichick era remembers this play vividly.
It’s one they utilised so often with running back Kevin Faulk, but this was the first time they’ve dusted it off in a while.
Needing the two-point conversion to pull within eight and get within a possession, James White, standing next to Brady in shotgun, took the direct snap and plunged up the middle into the end zone with 5:56 left in the fourth quarter.
THE PUSH BACK
This wasn’t just one play, but a series of three straight plays that was as important as any in giving the Patriots an opportunity to keep it a one-score game.
After Julio Jones made a magnificent, back-breaking grab at New England’s 22-yard line, the game looked all but over. Atlanta just needed to run some clock, kick a field goal and go up by two possessions. Instead, the worst-case scenario (other than a turnover) happened to them.
First, Trey Flowers sacked Ryan to push the Falcons back to the 35-yard line. Then a holding penalty on Jake Matthews pushed Atlanta even further back to the 45-yard line. Finally, on third-and-33, the Patriots held Ryan to an incompletion, forcing a punt and preserving the one-score situation.
New England has had some ridiculous catches go against them in their past three Super Bowl appearances – David Tyree, of course, in 2008, Mario Manningham in 2012 and Jermaine Kearse in 2014. They were due for one in their favour and Julian Edelman couldn’t have picked a better time to deliver it.
On first-and-10 with 2:28 left in the fourth, Brady fired a pass down the middle which was tipped by Atlanta, only for Edelman to make a miraculous catch that defied gravity and physics. Somehow, some way, the ball didn’t touch the ground as it bounced off Falcons’ body parts and Edelman used unreal concentration to reel it in. It was easily the most jaw-dropping play of what was a jaw-dropping Super Bowl.
THE SECOND TWO-POINT CONVERSION
The funny thing about being down eight points is you can march down the field with a phenomenal drive, have everything go right and be dominant en route to reaching the end zone, only for none of it to matter if you can’t convert on one play from the 2-yard line afterwards.
With everything riding on the two-pointer with 57 seconds left in the game, Brady threw a screen to Amendola who sneaked across the goal line to tie the game. It was a great play-call that was executed brilliantly, ultimately sending the contest to overtime where a red-hot Brady would not be denied after receiving the kickoff.