It isn't too hyperbolic to suggest that Super Bowl LI was the most exciting NFL title game we've ever witnessed. The game gave us both the largest comeback and the first overtime in Super Bowl history.
The game wasn't exciting from the beginning, though. At one point it appeared that the Atlanta Falcons were going to waltz away with a huge blowout victory. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were ineffective and inefficient for the better part of three quarters, and the team's chances of winning were all but nonexistent.
Yet, Brady and Co. found a way to storm back. After falling behind 28-3, the Patriots managed to rattle off 31 unanswered points and win the first ever fifth-quarter game in Super Bowl history.
Now that we've had a night to sleep on the game's action, let's take a look back at how the greatest Super Bowl of all time unfolded. We'll be running down the game's events on a quarter-by-quarter basis, focusing on big plays and scoring. First, though, let's look at the final statistics of Super Bowl LI.
Super Bowl LI Player Stats
|Tom Brady||466 YDS, 2 TD, INT||QB||Matt Ryan||284 YDS, 2 TD|
|LeGarrette Blount||31 YDS||RB||Devonta Freeman||75 YDS, TD; 2 REC, 46 YDS|
|James White||29 YDS, 2 TDS; 14 REC, 110 YDS, 1 TD||RB||Tevin Coleman||29 YDS; 1 REC, 6 YDS, TD|
|Dion Lewis||27 YDS;1 REC, 2 YDS||RB|
|Julian Edelman||5 REC, 87 YDS||WR||Julio Jones||4 REC, 87 YDS|
|Danny Amendola||8 REC, 78 YDS, TD||WR||Taylor Gabriel||3 REC, 76 YDS|
|Malcolm Mitchell||6 REC, 70 YDS||WR||Mohamed Sanu||2 REC, 25 YDS|
|Chris Hogan||4 REC, 57 YDS||WR|
|Martellus Bennett||5 REC, 62 YDS||TE||Austin Hooper||3 REC, 32 YDS, TD|
|Trey Flowers||6 TKL, 2.5 SACKS||DEF||Grady Jarrett||5 TKL, 3 SACKS|
|Dont'a Hightower||2 TKL, 1 SACK, FF||DEF||Robert Alford||11 TKL, INT, TD|
Super Bowl LI Game Stats
|40:31||Time of Possession||23:27|
Super Bowl LI Breakdown
The first quarter was uneventful in terms of scoring. There wasn't any. However, a couple of things did become apparent in the first period. The Patriots were not going to lean on LeGarrette Blount and the running game like many had predicted, and the Falcons were the faster, more aggressive team defensively.
The first quarter ended scoreless, and it marked the seventh time in seven Super Bowls that Tom Brady's Patriots failed to score in the opening period, as the Houston Chronicle's John McClain noted:
Atlanta 0, New England 0
Things got a lot more interesting in the second quarter, and they got mighty ugly for the Patriots. New England drove deep into Atlanta territory, but a Blount fumble and Atlanta recovery changed the momentum.
It took two passes from quarterback Matt Ryan to wide receiver Julio Jones to get into New England territory, and Falcons running back Devonta Freeman was able to waltz into the end zone a few short plays later to give Atlanta the lead.
Atlanta 7, New England 0
The Atlanta defense forced another three-and-out after the team's first score. It was worth noting at this point that the Falcons run defense—which was rated just 26th overall by Pro Football Focus—was outperforming the Patriots line. If New England was going to play keep-away, its wasn't going to do it on the ground.
Ryan drove the Falcons right back into the red zone and delivered a touchdown strike to tight end Austin Hooper. He was 7-of-8 passing at this point, and the Atlanta offense seemed unstoppable.
Atlanta 14, New England 0
The Patriots drove back into field-goal range and were helped immensely by a number of defensive penalties. However, a late throw from Brady was picked off by cornerback Robert Alford and returned 82 yards for another Atlanta score.
No team had ever come back from a two-touchdown deficit in the Super Bowl before, and the Patriots now saw themselves down 21 points.
Atlanta 21, New England 0
On the ensuing drive, the Patriots got into the red zone but severely mismanaged the offense from there. The team ended up getting on the board with a 41-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, but the three points felt a bit empty after the team had a 1st-and-goal opportunity.
Atlanta 21, New England 3
The New England defense forced a three-and-out to open the second half, and wideout Julian Edelman returned the ensuing punt near midfield. However, the Patriots could do nothing offensively and had to give the ball right back to Atlanta.
It only took the Falcons eight plays and a little over four minutes to reach the end zone for a fourth time. The six-yard pass to running back Tevin Coleman gave Atlanta a 25-point lead and appeared to be enough to seal the game.
Atlanta 28, New England 3
The Patriots were not going to go quietly, though. The team engineered a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a five-yard pass to running back James White to answer and pull back within three scores.
The problem was that the Falcons played a bend-but-don't-break style on the drive and forced New England to chew up over six minutes of game clock. In addition, Gostkowski missed the extra point, leaving the Patriots' chances still looking bleak.
Atlanta 28, New England 9
A failed onside-kick attempt handed the Falcons the football near field-goal range, but the Patriots defense held here. However, Atlanta did managed to run out the third quarter before giving New England another chance.
New England engineered another scoring drive to open the final period, but a pair of sacks in the red zone forced the Patriots to settle for a 33-yard field goal. The points would prove necessary, but it left the team needing two touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
Atlanta 28, New England 12
The next series for Atlanta was a complete disaster. Coleman suffered an injury, then Ryan was strip-sacked by linebacker Dont'a Hightower. New England recovered the fumble and was already in field-goal range.
"I saw Matt Ryan with the ball in his hands, I wanted it so I hit him and took it," Hightower said after the game, per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
A couple of plays later, Brady found wide receiver Danny Amendola for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt was successful after a direct snap to White.
Suddenly, New England had momentum again in a one-score game.
Atlanta 28, New England 20
The next series for Atlanta wasn't much better. Ryan found Jones for a beautiful catch near the sideline that set the Falcons up in field-goal range. However, Ryan took an awful sack, and then a holding penalty moved the offense into punting territory.
This would prove to be a critical series because the Falcons chose not to run the ball inside field-goal range. Had they done so, they might have killed some clock and added three points to their lead. Instead, the Patriots got another chance with just over two minutes remaining.
The Patriots, it turned out, only needed one more chance. Brady was making clutch throw after clutch throw at this point, and it only took 2 minutes and 33 seconds to drive 91 yards, ending with a one-yard touchdown run from White.
A pass from Brady to Amendola made for a successful two-point play, and the game was now tied.
Atlanta 28, New England 28
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The Falcons failed to move the ball on their final possession in regulation, so the game went into overtime. The Patriots won the coin toss, took the ball and never looked back.
At this point, the Falcons defense had been on the field for the majority of the game, and it was gassed. The Patriots marched 75 yards in just under four minutes to win the game on a two-yard run by White.
In the most improbable of games, the Patriots had come back to make history.
New England 34, Atlanta 28