HOUSTON, TX – FEBRUARY 05: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots catches the pass over Keanu Neal #22 and Ricardo Allen #37 of the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The Patriots defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Tom Brady has no shortage of postseason heroics, but Super Bowl 51 is in a class of its own. After becoming the first quarterback to erase a 10-point fourth quarter deficit in Super Bowl 49, Brady did something even more ridiculous by erasing a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons. After missing the first four games of the season due to the DeflateGate suspension, there was no better way for Brady and the Patriots to end the 2016 season.

Super Bowl 49: New England Patriots’ Greatest Games

New England Patriots Greatest Games: Super Bowl 51

The Buildup

After a year-long DeflateGate battle culminating in a four-game suspension, Tom Brady was out for blood in 2016. The 39-year old quarterback had perhaps the best season of his career, which is saying something. During his 12 games on the field, Brady completed 67.4% of his passes for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. When extrapolated to a full 16-game season, Brady was on pace for 4,443 yards, 35 touchdowns, and three interceptions. The Patriots went 12-1 with Brady at the helm and the former sixth-round pick finished second in the MVP voting.

The actual MVP was on the other sideline. Matt Ryan had elevated himself from good to elite in his second year under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Boasting an elite group of weapons headlined by Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, Ryan completed 69.9% of his passes for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Atlanta went 11-5 and steamrolled their NFC competition to make it all the way to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999.

The First Half

This game boasted arguably the two best offenses in the league, yet both sides came out of the gate slowly. Both teams made it into opposing territory, yet neither managed to put any points on the board in the first quarter. Interestingly enough, this marked the eighth-straight Super Bowl in which the Patriots didn’t score a single point in the first quarter.

However, the flood gates broke loose early in the second. LeGarrette Blount took a first down handoff with the ball at Atlanta’s 33-yard line. Unfortunately, Deion Jones ripped the ball loose and Atlanta recovered at their own 29. This sparked Atlanta’s offense, as Ryan connected twice with Julio Jones before Devonta Freeman put the first points of the game on the board.

The Falcons weren’t done, as they added another score after a New England three-and-out. Ryan once again moved the ball with ease, connecting with Taylor Gabriel and Julio Jones to get into the red zone. Three plays later, Ryan found tight end Austin Hooper to make it a 14-0 game.

Chaos continued to ensue when Brady threw a pick-six to Robert Alford on the next possession. In just a blink of an eye, New England was down 21-0 with 2:21 left in the half. Needing to do something to get on the board, Brady orchestrated an 11-play field goal drive to close out the half. This drive almost started in calamity as Vic Beasley hit Brady as he was releasing the ball. Fortunately, the errant pass landed in the hands of Martellus Bennett. Instead of facing a 28-0 halftime deficit, New England went to the locker room trailing 21-3.

Super Bowl 51: Third Quarter

The Patriots were down, but not quite out. New England had erased bigger deficits than this one, but they knew time was of the essence. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the offense got to work with optimal field position. Taking over at their own 47, the Patriots had the chance to drive down the field and get some quick points. However, New England’s offense couldn’t get the first down and had to punt.

The Falcons had no intention of letting the Patriots get back into this game, as they drove down the field to deliver the finishing blow. The Falcons only faced one third in the eight-play drive before Ryan found Tevin Coleman to make it a 28-3 game. With 8:31 remaining in the third quarter, this game was over.

Fortunately, the Patriots refused to die. Brady and the offense got the ball back but couldn’t get much going early in the drive. New England faced fourth and three after an incompletion on an attempted double pass. If they didn’t convert this, then any chance of a comeback would be lost.

Alas, the Patriots offense came through. Brady found Danny Amendola for a 17-yard game to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, Brady scrambled for 15 yards on third and eight to move the chains. After three straight LeGarrette Blount carries, Brady connected with James White for New England’s first touchdown of the game. Even though Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point, the Patriots finally had a pulse.

New England knew they needed some momentum and went for an onside kick. Unfortunately, the Falcons recovered and took over at New England’s 41. Getting even 10 yards would put Atlanta in field goal position, and the defense had to stand strong. Fortunately, the unit rose to the occasion and held Atlanta out of field goal range. Still, it was now the fourth quarter and the Patriots still had to erase a 19-point deficit.

The Fourth Quarter

The Falcons defense spent the whole game trying to take away Julian Edelman. New England adapted by incorporating other players like James White, Martellus Bennett, and Malcolm Mitchell into the passing attack. These three combined for all 82 yards on the drive, as New England made it back into Atlanta’s red zone. However, Grady Jarrett recorded two sacks and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal. Just like that, it was 28-12 and the Patriots were technically two scores away from tying it up.

The offense finally had life, but time was not on New England’s side. The defense needed to force a turnover if the offense could continue their comeback. Dont’a Hightower answered the call, recording arguably the second-most iconic play of the Super Bowl. Lining up wide off the edge, Hightower blew past Devonta Freeman and sacked Ryan right before the quarterback released the ball. The ball came loose, and Alan Branch recovered at Atlanta’s 25.

The offense didn’t squander this opportunity, as Brady converted a third and 11 to Malcolm Mitchell before finding Danny Amendola for a six-yard touchdown. New England went for two and dusted off an old favorite from the playbook. James White took the direct snap and, just like Kevin Faulk did all those years ago, plowed his way into the endzone to make it a 28-20 game. All of a sudden, New England was right back in it with just 5:53 left in the game.

The Falcons knew they could put this game away with another score and tried to stop the comeback. Ryan led off the drive with a 39-yard pass to Freeman before finding Julio Jones on what was one of the most beautiful catch and throws in recent memory. Just like that, the Falcons were on New England’s 22 and just needed to run three times before kicking a field goal.

For some reason, Atlanta didn’t do that. After Freeman lost one yard on first down, the Falcons went to the air on second down. Trey Flowers broke through the middle of the offensive line, pushing Ryan back and taking him down at the 35. With the Falcons no longer in easy field goal range, Atlanta opted to throw on third down. Ryan appeared to find Mohamed Sanu for nine yards, but a Jake Long holding penalty wiped away the play. Instead, Ryan couldn’t find Taylor Gabriel on third down and the Falcons had to punt.

The Patriots took over at their own nine with 3:30 left on the clock. Brady started off the drive by finding Chris Hogan for 16 on third and 10. Two plays later, Brady tried to find Edelman over the middle when Robert Alford tipped the ball into the air. Surrounded by a sea of Falcons, Edelman somehow managed to haul in the pass and haul it in just inches off of the ground.

Brady completed his next three passes before James White took it in for a one-yard touchdown to make it 28-26. The Patriots were one play away from trying it up, and the Patriots turned to Danny Amendola. With three receivers lined up on one side, Brady targeted Amendola on a quick screen. Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman created just enough blocking space for Amendola to make it across the pylon and tie the game.

Overtime

The Patriots pulled off a miracle just by tying the game, but they weren’t done yet. New England won the coin toss and opted to get the ball first. A touchdown would win the game, and everyone in the world knew that no force on Earth could stop Tom Brady.

The greatest quarterback of all time started off the drive by finding James White for six yards before dropping a dime to Danny Amendola. He then found Hogan for 18 before hitting Edelman on a 15-yard laser two plays later. After a 10-yard “rush” by James White, Brady went for the kill on a deep shot to Martellus Bennett. The pass fell incomplete, but a pass interference penalty gave New England the ball at the two-yard line. Two plays later, James White drove through three tacklers to bring home New England’s fifth Lombardi Trophy.

This was the perfect way for Brady and the Patriots to finish off the 2016 season. After dealing with DeflateGate for over a year, Brady returned better than ever and earned perhaps the highlight of his career on the game’s biggest stage. Brady earned his fourth Super Bowl MVP award, presented by none other than Roger Goodell himself. Brady put the GOAT conversion to bed after Super Bowl 49, but he made it a joke after Super Bowl 51. No other quarterback in the world could erase that deficit on the game’s biggest stage, and he did it while setting the record for pass completions, pass attempts, and passing yards.

Super Bowl 49: New England Patriots’ Greatest Games

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