Tom Brady pulled off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history — with plenty of help.
Bob Kraft almost yanks the Lombardi Trophy out of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hands. Which is fitting because Tom Brady and the New England Patriots absolutely stole the Super Bowl from the Atlanta Falcons. When it’s over in a rush, with James White twisting into the end zone on a two-yard sprint just three minutes and 58 seconds into the first overtime in Super Bowl history, the purple confetti drops in a torrent, falling much faster than Lady Gaga came to earth hours earlier.
Julio Jones — the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver who turns himself into Plastic Man on sideline catches — waits for a moment. Then three. Jones is standing vigil for a replay booth scoring confirmation that will never come. This Super Bowl — Houston’s Super Bowl, the greatest Super Bowl ever — is over.
“I would have liked to see a replay,” Jones says, dressed in a suit, sitting at an interview podium almost an hour after the confetti rain seals Patriots 34, Falcons 28 for all time.
Forgive Jones for still being in disbelief. This is that kind of Super Bowl. It’s hard to wrap your head around the magnitude of what happens in Houston’s own NRG Stadium Sunday night. So hard that the revenge moment — Kraft impatiently grabbing for the championship trophy as Goodell awkwardly stumbles through his remarks while the Patriots-dominated crowd relentlessly boos him — almost seems anti-climatic. But then Kraft takes the mic and twists in the knife.
“Two years ago when we won our fourth Super Bowl I told our fans it was the sweetest of them all. But a lot has transpired in the last two years,” Kraft says to raucous, knowing cheers. “And I don’t think that needs any explanation. …This is unequivocally the sweetest.”
Yes, the Patriots end Deflategate with Tom Brady leading the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to win his record fifth Super Bowl. No one ever said being evil didn’t pay…
We kidd (sort of) because it’s that sort of night. After throwing for a Super Bowl record 466 yards, after flinging the ball 62 times and only exhausting the Falcons, Brady rushes through his MVP press conference. The man’s in a hurry to get to back to the JW Marriott Galleria hotel for the Patriots’ wildest Super Bowl victory party yet.
But Brady’s teammates are more than eager to frame his legacy.
“Thirty one teams have quarterbacks,” Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower says. “We’re the only that’s got Tom Brady, the Michael Jordan of football.”
That comparison seems a little farfetched — Jordan completely changed the way basketball is played. Brady is no pioneer with a legion of young wanna-be imitators trying to be him coming up through the lower levels of football. In truth, Brady is horrible in Super Bowl LI’s first half. In truth, he benefits immensely from one of those lucky impossible catches that haunted the Patriots themselves in Super Bowls past to pull off the comeback.
Let’s hold off on calling Brady the greatest football player ever. Men like Jim Brown and Jerry Rice still have something to say about that. But Brady ends up being the most cold-blooded player in the greatest Super Bowl ever.
“On that last drive, Brady knew what time it was,” Patriots running back Dion Lewis says, grinning. Suspend disbelief time?
“They shouldn’t have been in the game anyway,” Julio Jones says. “Game shouldn’t have been that close. Game shouldn’t have been that close at all.”
But it was — and Houston wins too.
Houston gets the greatest, wildest Super Bowl of all time — the first overtime Super Bowl, the biggest championship comeback ever. This game is so crazy that Julian Edelman outdid the helmet catch and didn’t come close to winning MVP.
That could only go to Brady. The 39-year-old legend apparently only needs 26 throws or so to warm up. For the Patriots got Horrid Brady, Choking Brady, Old Brady in the first half. In the fourth quarter and overtime, they got a better version of Joe Montana.
The Patriots rip off 31 straight points to win, coming from down 28-3, clawing back up from dead and buried. When The Woodlands-own Danny Amendola just ekes across the goal line for the no-way two-point conversion that ties things in the final minute of regulation, it’s clear. Nothing is stopping the Patriots.
What a difference a half makes.
Lady Gaga comes in through the roof, but no one can save the Patriots from Tom Brady early. Anytime New England seems poised to make a push, Brady misses another receiver.
When Robert Alford — Falcons’ version of Rocky — steps in front of an ill-advised Brady pass and returns it 82 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 Atlanta lead, even the Falcons fans in attendance cannot seem to quite believe it. The stadium hits near stunned silence for a moment. Yes, the Atlanta Falcons are truly dominating Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl.
It’s OK Falcon fans. It’s all right to cheer. Or is it?
When Brady and the Pats pull within 28-20 with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons seemingly do not blink. Instead, they come out throwing. Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan calls a play that isolates Devonta Freeman on the left side all by himself. One easy 39-yard catch-and-run later, the Falcons appear to be out of trouble.
The next play? A 27-yard high-wire sideline throw to Jones that puts Atlanta in scoring territory. These guys really do play with no fear. It seems faulty to second guess Shanahan’s decision to keep passing at this point. Even if a holding call and a sack pushes the Falcons out of Super Bowl-sealing field goal range. This is how the Falcons got here. It’s the right way to go down.
“We just need to be able to block and not let it happen,” Falcons center Alex Mack says of the miscues.
“We all brought each other back,” Brady says of the epic comeback.
Brady finds his magic, grabs another moment. If Edelman does not somehow dive into three Falcons defenders and scoop a catch off one of them’s shin (it’s Alford, Mr. Pick-6 no less), it still all goes for naught. “I don’t know how the hell he caught it,” Brady says.
Edelman saves the game with a catch even better than David Tyree’s helmet catch, but Tom Brady gets all the main headlines.
Amendola keeps refusing to be denied on two-point plays, but all the attention focuses on Brady. James White — a player who found himself inactive for the Patriots’ last Super Bowl just two years ago — catches a Super Bowl record 14 passes and gets a walk-off touchdown. And it’s still all about Brady.
This is how it goes in Patriots World. Which does not make it right.
You yank games away, yank trophies away and head into the night to finally party. And exhale. Knowing all the while that Brady is the man everyone will remember.
“Nobody thought we were going to win this game,” Lewis says.
The Falcons look like they still don’t believe it’s true. Sports loves to create villains and heroes. But sometimes they’re one and the same. Is Tom Brady the Michael Jordan of football? No, but he’s sure something else.