Coming into this season, 13 NFL franchises had never won a Super Bowl. Of those 13, nine of them were franchises that existed since before the first Super Bowl in 1967. One of those nine is the Atlanta Falcons.
The New England Patriots have won four Super Bowls, all of which with Tom Brady at quarterback. Brady was going for a record fifth Super Bowl title for a quarterback (Charles Haley won five as a linebacker/defensive lineman), never having lost a Super Bowl to a team not named the New York Giants.
The Atlanta Falcons, on the other hand, began their history as a franchise in 1966, the same season that the AFL and NFL first had their champions face off in the Super Bowl. In the 51 seasons that the Falcons had competed, they had only reached the Super Bowl once–they lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII following the 1998 season.
The Falcons were looking for their first Super Bowl crown; the Patriots were looking to tie the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers with five, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers with six. This game, though, and the comeback that came with it, will probably go down as Brady’s and New England’s best–and possibly one of the best Super Bowl wins ever.
The game started off moving quickly, with the first quarter taking less than half an hour. Each team began the game with two punts. Neither team was poor on offense, but neither could sustain drives. After trading punts twice, the Patriots finally began to sustain a drive, moving 53 in just five plays. The real early turning point was when LeGarrette Blount was stripped of the ball inside the Atlanta 30-yard line. The Falcons responded with a drive entirely fueled by Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, the latter of whom finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to the left side.
The Falcons continued their dominant second quarter. After forcing a three-and-out by Tom Brady and the Patriots, Matt Ryan responded with a five-play drive–including three completions of 15 yards or more–to take a 14-0 lead. The Patriots looked like they might be able to respond immediately afterward, as a 12-play drive–aided by three defensive holding penalties against Atlanta–moved close to the red zone. Robert Alford ended that drive’s hopes, though, as he intercepted a Brady pass on third down and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown.
New England managed to avoid getting shut out in the first half with a quick drive that ended in a field goal, sending the game into halftime with Atlanta leading 21-3. The scoreboard didn’t show it, but New England really didn’t play poorly in the first half. There was no running game to speak of, and the Falcons managed to put a lot of pressure on Brady throughout. Also, the Patriots dropped far too many passes, an epidemic that continued into the second half. Even so, New England managed to sustain drives and put up yards. The real difference in the first half were those two turnovers, which led to 14 Atlanta points.
For Atlanta, the first half was just about everything a fan could ask for. The offense moved the ball well and finished drives. The defense bent but didn’t break, forcing clutch turnovers and even returning an interception for a touchdown.
The second half got off to a dominant start for the Falcons. Altanta went three-and-out to start the half, but responded by forcing a three-and-out and then following it with an eight-play touchdown drive.
The game was very close to getting out of hand, and Bill Belichick knew it. Facing fourth-and-three from their own side of the field, the Patriots went for it and succeeded, capping off the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass from Brady to James White. The Patriots lost some of whatever emotional momentum they gained from that drive, though, when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point.
The Patriots stayed in desperation mode, kicking the ball onside. Atlanta recovered, but couldn’t do anything with the good field position. Brady responded to that Atlanta drive with another strong drive of his own, but again couldn’t quite finish it off. The Patriots gave up two sacks after reaching first-and-goal, and had to settle for a field goal. The lead was cut to two possessions, but a 28-12 deficit with just under ten minutes left still felt a little too high.
The Patriots weren’t dead yet, though, and Tom Brady was ready to show the world that he wasn’t going to lose his third Super Bowl so easily. The defense forced a Matt Ryan fumble–Atlanta’s first turnover this entire postseason–and Brady responded. He threw a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola, which was followed up with a James White run for a two-point conversion on a direct snap. All of a sudden, after feeling like Atlanta had dominated the whole game, it was down to a one-possession affair with under six minutes left.
Matt Ryan looked like he was going to put the game away when he responded with a drive that included an incredible scramble and throw to Julio Jones on the sideline. A sack and a holding penalty pushed Atlanta out of field goal range, though, and a punt gave the Patriots the ball at their own seven-yard-line with a chance to tie the game.
Brady led a drive, including an incredible circus catch by Julian Edelman, deep into Atlanta territory at the two-minute warning. Three plays later, the Patriots punched the ball into the end zone. After a two-point conversion on a quick pass to Amendola, we were tied with 57 seconds left.
The first-ever Super Bowl game to go to overtime began with the Patriots winning the coin toss. Brady marched his team down the field, getting the ball at the two-yard line after a pass interference call. Two plays later, on a two-yard touchdown run by James White, the Patriots were Super Bowl champions.
The Patriots ended the game by scoring the final 31 points of the game, including 25 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Tom Brady becomes the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls, and the Patriots become only the fourth franchise to win five Super Bowls.