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Super Bowl 2017 Highlights: Examining Pivotal Moments from Patriots vs. Falcons

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2017

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Head coach Bill Belichick, Tom Brady #12 and LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots celebrate after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 34-28.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

How's that for an instant classic?

The New England Patriots orchestrated a 25-point comeback in the second half of Super Bowl 51 on Sunday night, beating the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, in the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

Tom Brady (466 yards, two touchdown throws) and James White (139 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns) were the heroes. 

But two fumbles and a circus catch changed the course of this game. In the first half, the Falcons benefited. In the second half, a fumble recovery sparked the Patriots' comeback. And, of course, there was a catch that will live on in NFL history.

Let's take a look back at the key moments from an epic Super Bowl.

        

First Half

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HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts after a touchdown against the New England Patriots in the third quarter during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Image
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Outside of each team registering two sacks in the first quarter, the opening 15 minutes were rather uneventful. The quarter ended without either team putting a point on the board.

The Patriots were driving to open the second quarter when Deion Jones stripped LeGarrette Blount of the football, and Robert Alford jumped on the loose ball:

NFL Network @nflnetwork

Rookie Deion Jones comes up HUGE and forces the NE fumble. #RiseUp #SB51 https://t.co/5Qs7SajT8w

That would prove to be huge, as five plays later, Freeman scooted in to the end zone, via the NFL:

NFL @NFL

One Cut. And Gone. That's a @DevontaFreeman TOUCHDOWN! #SB51 #RiseUp https://t.co/YwOOi84B70

Blount hadn't fumbled since Week 2 or lost one since Week 1, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He picked the wrong time to break that impressive streak.

That wasn't the only streak broken by the Patriots in the first half. As ESPN Stats & Info noted, a Tom Brady-led Patriots team also hadn't gone scoreless through four drives since Week 4 of the 2014 season, a game the Pats lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 41-14.

But while Brady and the Patriots couldn't quite solve Atlanta's offense early in the contest, Matt Ryan and company were cruising. On the team's next drive following Freeman's touchdown run, the NFL MVP made a brilliant throw to Austin Hooper to double Atlanta's lead, via the NFL:

NFL @NFL

Matty Ice. + Austin Hooper. = ANOTHER @AtlantaFalcons Touchdown! #SB51 #RiseUp https://t.co/7ssaknw9dk

One thing became abundantly clear in the second quarter: New England's defense was going to have a difficult time keeping track of Atlanta's assortment of offensive weapons. That wasn't necessarily a surprise: Ryan, Freeman, Julio Jones, Tevin Coleman and the rest of the Falcons have been superb all season long.

What was more surprising, however, was that the Patriots were loose with the ball in the first half. The team's second turnover in the second quarter was even more shocking than the first, as Brady threw a pick-six to Alford. The NFL passed on the play:

NFL @NFL

🚨🚨 PICK-6 ALERT! 🚨🚨 @rockorocky takes TB12's pass 82 yards the OTHER WAY! #SB51 #RiseUp https://t.co/F3zp4FUYva

The Patriots salvaged a field goal to end the half, cutting Atlanta's lead to 21-3, but the damage had been done. The Falcons dominated the Patriots in every conceivable way in the first half, pressuring Brady, moving the ball at will in the second quarter and coming up with nearly every big play.

They appeared on their way to pulling off the upset.

       

Second Half

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots makes a catch late in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Falcons didn't relent early on in the second half. On the team's second drive, Ryan led the Falcons 85 yards in eight plays, culminating in a six-yard flip to Coleman and a 28-3 lead, via the NFL:

The Patriots found some life on their next drive, moving down the field before this James White touchdown catch, via the NFL:

NFL @NFL

James White makes a defender miss... and he's IN! Touchdown, @Patriots! #SB51 #Patriots https://t.co/Ww6LwZwTS5

But the Patriots immediately handed the momentum back to the Falcons, missing the extra point and failing to convert a surprise onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. 

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Falcons maintained their 28-9 lead. The Patriots added a field goal early in the frame, but even that seemed to be a moral victory for the Falcons, who forced the field goal despite the Pats driving the ball down to the Atlanta 7-yard line.

But on the Falcons' next drive, the Patriots finally had their key moment.

Dont'a Hightower pressured Ryan, sacking him and forcing a fumble that Alan Branch recovered. The play can be seen here, courtesy of the NFL:

NFL @NFL

Matt Ryan is SACKED. And FUMBLES! @Patriots ball! #SB51 #Patriots https://t.co/o1lgQktgrI

Everything changed from there.

Five plays after the strip-sack, Brady found Danny Amendola for a six-yard touchdown pass, and White converted the ensuing two-point conversion to narrow the gap to 28-20 in favor of the Falcons, via the NFL:

NFL @NFL

.@Patriots TD + 2 point conversion? YUP. We've got ourselves a ballgame. 🔥 #SB51 https://t.co/ViwzRv75D6

Finally, the Patriots seemed to have life. They had cracked Atlanta's code. Maybe Brady did have another magical Super Bowl performance in him.

And then he would get the ball back on his own 9-yard line with 3:30 remaining, and, not surprisingly, he and the Patriots had an answer for every question the Falcons posed.

Third-and-10? Converted.

Miracle catch by Julian Edelman reminiscent of David Tyree? Check.

The NFL passed on the incredible catch:

NFL @NFL

OH MY GOD, JULIAN EDELMAN! #SB51 #Patriots https://t.co/YtvHwsaCbT

Edelman's catch was the sort of moment that only seems to happen in the Super Bowl. For a moment, the Falcons appeared destined intercept the ball. The next, it appeared to be a simple incompletion. But no. Edelman made the catch. Heavens, Edelman actually made the catch.

If Hightower's strip-sack changed the tide, Edelman's catch was the moment a Patriots win felt inevitable.

Indeed, four plays later White plunged into the end zone from a yard out, and the Patriots were a two-point conversion away from finishing an epic comeback. Amendola took care of that, via the NFL:

NFL @NFL

A @Patriots TD. A @Patriots 2-pt conversion. WE'RE ALL TIED UP! #SB51 #Patriots https://t.co/ckkBN35U1I

The Falcons got the ball back but couldn't move the ball down the field, and for the first time in history, the Super Bowl went to overtime. The Patriots won the toss, elected to receive and the Patriots offense—suddenly unstoppable—was a touchdown away from securing a fifth Super Bowl title.

          

Overtime

James White #28 of the New England Patriots scores the game winning touchdown in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas   / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY        (Photo credit should read TIM
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/Getty Images

Brady was on fire. He painted a 14-yard throw to Amendola and an 18-yard throw to Chris Hogan. He found Edelman for 15 yards. A well-designed screen to White got 10 more. A pass interference call put the Patriots at the 2-yard line.

From there, White ended the game, ended any debate about Brady's legacy as the greatest quarterback in NFL history and ended the contentious and controversial Deflategate season:

NFL @NFL

IT'S OVER! IT'S OVER! JAMES WHITE WINS IT FOR THE @PATRIOTS! WHAT A GAME! #SB51 #PATRIOTS https://t.co/nZzQJGWRmC

What more can you say about Brady? Five titles. Orchestrating the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, and one of the most astonishing comebacks in NFL history. Doing it all at age 39, and in a season highlighted by a four-game suspension he fought, tooth and nail.

In the end, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had to hand the Vince Lombardi Trophy over to the Patriots.

It's not enough to just win for Brady and these Patriots. They have to win in style and earn a bit of vengeance in the process. Tip your cap, America: You just witnessed greatness.

Again.

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