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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady claimed his fifth Super Bowl championship Sunday night in a fashion beyond imagination, leading the Patriots’ historic comeback from a 25-point deficit and lifting New England to a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the first Super Bowl ever to reach overtime.
Having started the season on a four-game suspension levied by Commissioner Roger Goodell, Brady ended it by stamping himself the greatest quarterback of all time without any legitimate doubt. After James White’s one-yard touchdown run ended the game after the first overtime possession, Brady knelt on the NRG Stadium turf, his face in the ground, before Coach Bill Belichick embraced him.
“You the [expletive] greatest!” running back LeGarrette Blount told Brady, pounding his chest.
No team had ever overcome a deficit of more than 10 points to win a Super Bowl. No Super Bowl had ever gone to overtime. And no quarterback had ever experienced a season quite like Brady, who sat out the first four games of the season for a perceived offense related to the amount of air inside footballs in February 2015. The ensuing “Deflategate” controversy meandered through hearings and lawsuits, stopping one step shy of the Supreme Court.
The saga provided a second backdrop as Brady took over on his own 9-yard line, late in the fourth quarter: The Patriots were not only playing to stun the Atlanta Falcons, but also to claim vengeance against the NFL.
Brady led the Patriots on a 91-yard touchdown drive, the cornerstone of which came when Julian Edelman made a miraculous catch by pinning the football off the leg of one of the three Falcons defenders surrounding him. After White plunged into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, Brady swung a pass to Danny Amendola, who plowed behind two blockers for the game-tying two-point conversion.
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
The Patriots received the ball first in overtime after the winning coin toss. A touchdown would end the game. A field goal would give the Falcons and MVP Matt Ryan a chance at redemption. Brady led the Patriots on a drive that ended when White plunged into the end zone from the 1-yard line on a toss to the right. When he crossed the goal line, New England led for the first time all night.
The play capped White’s historic night. Serving as a safety valve as Brady stood in against Atlanta’s fierce pass rush, White recorded a Super Bowl-record 14 receptions while gaining 139 total yards and scoring three touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
Brady finished his seventh Super Bowl appearance with 466 passing yards, 43 completions — both title-game records — and two touchdown passes, erasing the pick-six he threw to Falcons cornerback Robert Alford in the second quarter that put the Patriots behind, 21-0.
Afterward, Brady stood on the same podium as Goodell, the man who fought him in court and suspended him. As the pro-Patriots crowd loudly booed Goodell, the commissioner handed the Lombardi Trophy to Owner Robert Kraft, who could place the trophy next to the four Brady and Belichick had won since 2001.
“A lot has transpired over the last two years,” Kraft said, “and I don’t think that needs any explanation.” Later, Kraft called the title “unequivocally the sweetest” the Patriots have won.
The Falcons, playing to win the first title in their franchise’s history, will have to live with one of the greatest disappointments in NFL history. They had the Super Bowl in their grasp after a dominating two-and-a-half quarters left them with a 28-3 lead and the staggered Patriots with no answers. Ryan had a perfect quarterback rating, and running back Devonta Freeman was gaining about 10 yards per carry.
The Patriots managed their first touchdown with 2 minutes, 6 seconds left in the third quarter, but the comeback did not begin in earnest until the middle of the fourth quarter. With the Falcons protecting a 28-12 lead and just more than eight minutes remaining, Ryan dropped back to pass on third down. Patriots linebacker Donta Hightower smashed Ryan from the blindside after the Falcons botched a blocking assignment. The ball shook loose, and defensive tackle Alan Branch fell on the ball at the Atlanta 25.
It was the game-changing play the Patriots desperately needed. Five plays later, Brady found Amendola for a touchdown, and after White scored on a two-point conversion, the Patriots suddenly were one possession away from tying the score.
The Falcons had another chance to seal the game. Ryan drove the Falcons to the Patriots’ 22-yard line, only 4 minutes, 44 seconds remaining after star wide receiver Julio Jones made an acrobatic, toe-touching catch on the sideline. A few runs to rob the Patriots of their timeouts, then a field goal, and the Falcons could make it nearly impossible for Brady to come back.
Brady had been suspended at the start of the season. He had evaded questions all year, heightened this week, about his relationship with President Donald Trump, who also boasted about friendships with Belichick and Kraft. Now, all he had in front of him was an entire football field, history far in the distance, attainable for him and him alone.
Liz Clarke contributed to this report from Houston.
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