Sports Football

SUPER BOWL

Tom Brady does it again, digs deep to guide Patriots to overtime Super Bowl victory

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

HOUSTON - 

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have won one for the thumb, in the most belief-defying, jaw-dropping win of their 17-year football association.

That is, they won their fifth diamond-laced Super Bowl champion’s ring with the New England Patriots, after an epic rally and 34-28 overtime defeat of the Atlanta Falcons Sunday night at NRG Stadium -- in perhaps the most dramatic NFL championship game yet played.

And in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

The Patriots’ victory ruined a remarkable performance over the first three quarters by the Falcons.

No head coach nor any QB had won five Super Bowls before.

Brady was named MVP for a record fourth time, in setting Super Bowl milestones for passing yards (466), completions (43) and attempts (62). He threw for two TDs.

Running back James White scored three touchdowns and caught 14 passes for the Patriots. The former tied a Super Bowl record; the latter set one.

And the Pats defence, which had been chewed up through two-and-a-half quarters, allowed only 68 yards and zero points once Atlanta took a 28-3 lead; New England gained 338 yards and scored 31 points in that span.

“We all brought each other back,” Brady said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle. (The Falcons) have a great team. I give them credit. We just made a few more plays than them.”

Asked if he was feeling any redemption, after serving his four-game Deflategate suspension to start the season, Brady wouldn’t go there. Publicly. Again.

“This is all positive. This is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m going to go see my family."

Brady’s mother is battling cancer and arrived in Houston only on Thursday.

Afterward on a confetti covered stage, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed Patriots owner Robert Kraft the Vince Lombardi championship trophy, Kraft told the stadium, “Two years ago we won our fourth Super Bowl down in Arizona and I told our fans that was the sweetest one of all. But, a lot has transpired during the last two years, and I don’t think that needs any explanation.”

Patriots fans went nuts. They knew it was a dig at the commish. Specifically, his unrelenting determination, with dodgy evidence, to vilify the club and Brady for his alleged masterminding of a scheme to purposefully deflate air from footballs, purportedly for better grip. New England since has won 31-of-38 games, including two Super Bowls, with regular-grip balls. Still believe the nonsense?

Brady is the primary reason the Pats somehow overcame that 28-3 deficit late in Sunday’s third quarter, to score three touchdowns, a pair of two-point conversions and a field goal thereafter -- while the Pats defence blanked the Falcons -- to send the game into OT.

The last scores in regulation came with 57 seconds left, a one-yard White plunge followed by a quick Brady two-point conversion throw to Danny Amendola.

In overtime, New England won the toss -- calling heads as they always do -- and marched 75 yards in eight plays for the win. Brady moved the Patriots into Atlanta territory on an 18-yard deep comebacker left to Chris Hogan, to the Atlanta 37. A swing pass to White lost three yards, then Brady hit receiver Julian Edelman on a deep crosser for 15.

Brady threw a screen pass to White for 10 more.

At the Atlanta 15, Brady lobbed a pass into the end zone to tight end Martellus Bennett. Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell broke it up but was called for pass interference.

Two plays later, from the Atlanta two, White took a pitchout right, broke a couple of tackles and reached over for the touchdown. Ball game.

Brady was 5-for-6 on that drive. Two years ago he was 8-for-8 on the Pats’ winning drive late in the fourth quarter against Seattle. Trends are not coincidences.

What was Brady’s demeanour on this year’s winning march?

“He was the same as he always is -- cool, calm and collected,” Amendola said. “He’s the leader, the general. The best ever, and that is the end of the story.”

Perennial Pro Bowl Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski, out since early December with a back injury, told Postmedia before leaving the locker-room glory to those who’d played:

“Brady’s the best ever, man. Hands down. It’s unbelievable what he did.”

About his teammates as a whole, Gronk said: “It’s amazing, man, the condition level they were in to play all four quarters like that, plus overtime. They worked hard all year and deserve everything they got.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Atlanta -- a three-point underdog -- jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, then extended it to 28-3 early in the second half. Regular-season MVP Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ QB, raised his game to an ever higher level on this night, to no avail. He finished 17-of-23 for 284 yards, two TDs, no interceptions and a nearly perfect 144.1 passer rating.

And lost.

Thanks also in part to the determined running of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman -- who combined for 86 first-half yards, mostly around end -- Atlanta looked like a lock to win the franchise’s first NFL championship or Super Bowl.

It was the Falcons’ young, ferocious, fast defence that controlled the game through two-and-a-half quarters, before understandably tiring; New England ran a whopping 88 plays.

Up front, the Falcons’ pass rush early on absolutely ate up the Patriots’ highly regarded offensive line -- and beat the crap out of Tom Brady. Rookie tackle Grady Jarrett tied a Super Bowl record with three of Atlanta’s five sacks.

“I got hit pretty hard,” Brady said.

As a whole, the Falcons’ front-seven pressured, walloped and rattled Brady as had seldom been seen in the 39-year-old’s 17-year career.

And in the secondary, Atlanta’s collection of mostly rookie and second-year players played more man-to-man coverage than expected and unnerved Patriots receivers almost as much as Brady. Pats receivers dropped passes early on with Falcons defenders ever on their hip, with Falcons defenders’ arms ever swatting at their intended throws.

It was the ‘old man’ of Atlanta’s secondary, fourth-year cornerback Robert Alford -- the only DB of eight who dressed with more than two years of NFL experience -- who broke the game open 2:21 before halftime.

Brady, on 3rd-and-6 from the Atlanta 23, and clearly rattled now after two sacks and numerous hits and hurries, threw the ball in apparent desperation on a short slant route that either Brady misfired on, or a receiver mis-ran.

The errant ball stuck into the gut of Alford on the left-side numbers, at his 18-yard line, and he had to beat only the slow-footed Brady to make it to the right sideline and a clear pathway to the house the other way. Brady dived at him but didn’t come anywhere close, and the 28-year-old corner sprinted, then coasted, 82 yards for the game-busting score, as Falcons fans lost their minds.

Suddenly a 21-0 Atlanta lead.

“A lot of s--t happened tonight,” Brady said with a smile of disgust afterward.

Alford’s was the second longest interception return in Super Bowl history, after James Harrison’s famous 100-yard pick-six eight years earlier in Pittsburgh’s 27-23 defeat of Arizona.

The Falcons offence had run only 17 plays to that point, punting on both first-quarter possessions and scoring touchdowns on a pair of lightning-fast five-yard drives earlier in the second.

To see Brady beat up as he was in the first half was stunning.

According to multiple analytics websites, Brady was pressured on 13 of his 27 first-half drop-backs -- an incredible statistic. FOX reported 18 seconds before halftime that Brady was hit 11 times and knocked down seven times. ESPN said Brady had never been hit more than 14 times in any previous Super Bowl -- over four quarters.

Although Atlanta fell to 0-2 in Super Bowls, you sure couldn’t blame Ryan. By the start of the fourth, he’d completed 13-of-16 for 202 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a statistically perfect 158.3 passer rating.

After a three-and-out to start the second half, the Falcons offence -- one of the most prolific in league annals in the regular season -- flexed all of its powerful muscles. In eight plays, Ryan piloted the Falcons 85 yards, hitting his swift backup running back Coleman on a swing pass for the touchdown and a 28-3 lead.

Brady and the Patriots then scored their first touchdown, but it took more than six minutes off the game clock, and Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. Brady hit running back White on a five-yarder for the score that narrowed Atlanta’s lead to 28-9.

Gostkowski then flubbed the ensuing on-side kick, inadvertently touching the ball before it travelled 10 yards on a straight-ahead tap-and-recover attempt.

Atlanta got the ball at New England’s 41, but a holding penalty eventually forced the Falcons to punt -- a great scoring opportunity squandered.

New England then marched 72 yards in 12 plays for a field goal. Score: Atlanta 28, New England 12 with 9:44 left.

The Falcons had been uber-aggressive on both sides of the ball all game, strategically, but it backfired big-time with about eight minutes left. On a 3rd-and-1 Ryan dropped to throw and was nailed by Dont’a Hightower, fumbled, and the Pats recovered at the Atlanta 25.

Why, oh why, didn’t they run it!?

Granted, the Pats had stymied the Falcons’ rushing attack in the second half, but why risk teeing up an easy New England score? It was the stupidest call in a Super Bowl since Seattle infamously opted to throw from the one-yard line two years ago. Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in that game. He didn’t learn the lesson. It’s a call Falcons fans will rue for decades.

Just five plays later, New England climbed to within one score, down 28-20. Brady hit Amendola on an out route left in the end zone for the touchdown, and on a nifty two-point play Brady acted as if the snap went flying over his head, but the snap in fact went directly to running back White, who knifed in for the two.

With 5:56 left in the fourth, Gostkowski kicked deep to the curiously surprised Falcons. With no deep man, Justin Hardy scurried back to catch it, then ran out of bounds at his 10.

Rejuvenated Pats fans -- the majority among the 70,807 in attendance -- screamed with delight as Ryan went under centre to call Atlanta’s next play. But Ryan calmly dropped back, dumped off to a wide open Freeman, and he motored 39 yards to near midfield to get the Falcons out of a hole.

After advancing to the New England 22, the drive crumbled. Freeman was dumped for a one-yard loss, Ryan took a dumb 12-yard sack, then a holding call pushed Atlanta right out of field-goal range. A field goal there, with under four minutes left, could have sealed victory by giving the Falcons a two-score lead again.

As it was, on 4th-and-33 from the New England 45, Matt Bosher punted to the Patriots’ nine.

With 3:30 to go, and the Pats down eight, New England fans began their “Brady! Brady! …” chants again. There was no mistaking momentum had completely swung to the Blue and Red.

On 3rd-and-10 Brady stood in the pocket against a picked-up safety blitz and hit Hogan on an out for a first down to the 25. Two plays later, Brady hit Mitchell for 11.

Then it was time for the obligatory late-game, crazy-ass pass reception in a Super Bowl involving New England. Only this time the GTFOOH bounces went New England’s way.

Brady threw a pass that deflected off Alford’s hands, behind him, then onto a pile of players including Edelman, bouncing again twice off a Falcon’s leg. But Edelman somehow snared it, not even an inch above the turf. Replay confirmed the incredible catch at the Atlanta 41.

A play later, Brady hit Amendola on a deep out at the Atlanta 21, with 1:57 left.

Falcons pass rushers, who had been so insanely effective in the first half, now appeared gassed. Of course they were. New England had run 81 plays to this point, to Atlanta’s 42.

Two more Brady completions put the ball at Atlanta’s one-yard line, with 1:01 left. White then burst into the end zone, and New England trailed 28-26 with 57 seconds remaining.

On the vital two-point conversion attempt, Brady fired a quick horizontal pass left to Amendola, who caught it, put his shoulder down and barely broke the imaginary plane of the goal line before being thrown backward. Video confirmed the tying two points.

An Atlanta offside penalty was declined. Score: 28-28.

Amazing.

Gostkowski again pinned the Falcons deep on the kickoff, at the 11.

Two Ryan pass completions brought the ball out to the 27, with 18 seconds left in regulation. But Atlanta eventually punted.

Matt Ryan never touched the football again.

As for the first half, Atlanta won the opening toss of the coin -- flipped by locally adored former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, confined to a wheelchair only days after being hospitalized with a bout of pneumonia -- but deferred.

The first quarter amounted to a punting contest, which seemed to bode well for the Patriots, because Atlanta had scored a touchdown on its opening possession in the previous eight games.

New England had one promising drive and Atlanta two in the opening quarter, but a pair of sacks of each quarterback forced the punts.

Then Ryan and the Falcons got hot, spurred by a rare fumble by a Patriots running back two plays into the frame. Rookie Atlanta middle linebacker Deion Jones forced the ball free from LeGarrette Blount and the Falcons recovered at their 29. The rest of the half was all Falcons.

Ryan’s first completion to star receiver Julio Jones and determined runs by Freeman and Coleman quickly pushed the ball deep into New England territory. Freeman scored the game’s first points on a bounce-out left on 2nd-and-1 from the Patriots’ five, and Matt Bryant’s extra point made it 7-0 with 12:15 until halftime.

The Falcons defence forced a New England three-and-out, and after two fantastic throws from Ryan, Atlanta had a first down at the Patriots 20.

On 3rd-and-9 from the 19, Ryan hit his rookie tight end Austin Hooper in the end zone on a deep post for another touchdown. Hooper beat veteran Patriots safety Patrick Chung, who was flagged for (obviously not preventative enough) interference.

Atlanta led 14-0 with 8:48 left in the second.

Three defensive-holding calls against Atlanta on third down calls -- one so obvious it could have been a horse-collar --gifted the Patriots a first down at Atlanta’s 40.

Soon after disaster bit Brady, Belichick and the normally ruinous-mistake-averse Pats. Alford’s 82-yard pick-six made it 21-0.

Brady was as rattled as he’s ever looked. And with good reason. Hell was getting beat out of him.

A 41-yard Gostkowski field goal meant Atlanta led 21-3 by the time Lady Gaga performed one of the most memorable halftime shows the Super Bowl has seen in 51 years.

That preceded the Super Bowl’s most memorable second half, inaugural overtime, and comeback-for-the-ages.

“It was the middle of the third quarter,” Kraft said after handing out victory cigars in the Patriots’ locker room, “and I said to (his son and Patriots president) Jon, ‘Do you think Tommy’s giving up?’

“‘No effing way.’”

PLAYERS: BRADY DIDN'T TRASH ROOM

HOUSTON -- There was a report that Tom Brady trashed New England Patriots' locker room at halftime, he was so mad at his and the team's first-half performance in Super Bowl LI.

Not true, Pats cornerback Eric Rowe told Postmedia. Wide receiver Chris Hogan said the same thing.

"Tom wasn't breaking stuff up. He didn't do any of that," Rowe said. "He just came in here at halftime, positive, saying, 'Come on, boys. Let's keep working.'

"We got our adjustments in and he was clapping, like, 'Come on, guys. This is the last half of the season. Let's just keep working.' He wasn't (mad). I don't know where that came from."

Hogan said: "Naw, that (Brady trashing) didn't happen. It was a longer halftime, so everybody just had to kind of regroup."

Was it somebody else, not Brady?

"No. No one did it," Rowe said. "We came into the locker room saying, 'We're still in this. Twenty-one points is not enough to win against us."

Neither was 28.

JoKryk@postmedia.com

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