Anatomy of a miracle: How the Patriots came back from the dead

Zero-point-two percent. Two in a thousand. The New England Patriots stunned the St. Louis Rams to win the first Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era during the 2001 playoffs, but even that upset can't compare to the comeback New England pulled to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 on Sunday night in Super Bowl LI. The Pats pieced together incredible play with fortuitous bounces and impeccable timing to overcome a Falcons team that had a 99.8 percent shot of claiming its first Super Bowl with 21 minutes to go.

What happened from then on was nothing short of a miracle. The Patriots needed just about everything to go right and had the vast majority of those moments swing their way. It all blurs together in the aftermath, but let's run through those big plays to piece together how the Patriots got one for the thumb.

Third quarter, 6:04 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 3

Fourth-and-3, Patriots' 46: Brady completes pass to Danny Amendola for 17 yards.
Win expectancy shift: 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent (+0.3 percent)

The first tiny shift in New England's favor came after the Patriots unsuccessfully pulled out a desperation trick pass from Julian Edelman to Dion Lewis on third down. Turning the ball over on downs probably would have ended the game, given that the Falcons would have taken over on the New England 46-yard line having scored touchdowns on three of their previous four possessions. Instead, Brady hit Amendola on an out route against Falcons cornerback Brian Poole to extend the Patriots' drive. Their win expectancy would come close to 0.3 percent later on, but never quite dip below what it was prior to that completion.

The Patriots' drive continued with Brady scrambling for 15 yards when the Falcons lost containment on a third-and-8, finishing with Brady finding James White out of the backfield on a snag concept for a 5-yard touchdown to make the score 28-9.

Two things then went against the Patriots in successive fashion. Stephen Gostkowski promptly booted the ensuing extra point attempt against the upright, leaving the score at 28-9. Given that the Patriots had incorrectly been called for an illegal formation penalty earlier in the game that gave the Falcons a second chance at an extra point, New England had lost two points on conversions. It seemed mostly irrelevant at the time, but it would loom as incredibly important later on.

Gostkowski followed that by taking an illegal touching penalty on an attempted onside kick, one which the Falcons recovered anyway. Atlanta then had a second-and-1 on the New England 32-yard line.

Third quarter, 0:59 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 9

Second-and-1, Patriots' 32: Jake Matthews commits holding penalty (10 yards).
Win expectancy shift: 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent (+0.2 percent)

In a sequence that would repeat itself in slightly different order later in the game, a Matthews holding penalty pushed the Falcons out of field goal range. Atlanta could have gone up 22 points with a successful field goal (and would have had a third-and-2 if Matthews hadn't held on this stuffed Tevin Coleman run), but Matt Ryan was sacked on the ensuing third down to force an Atlanta punt from midfield. They got nothing from the excellent field position afforded them by recovering the onside kick try.

Brady went to work as the game went into the fourth quarter, with the Patriots eventually moving the ball into the red zone. He was sacked twice on three plays by Grady Jarrett, though, leading to a play that sets the scene for the rest of the game.

Fourth quarter, 9:48 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 9

Fourth-and-goal, Falcons' 15: Gostkowski kicks 33-yard field goal.
Win expectancy shift: 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent (+0.1 percent)

Settling for three points to make the game 28-12 basically did nothing for New England's win expectancy. The field goal to bring the Patriots within 16 points worked out perfectly in the end, but it set a nearly-impossible target for the Patriots to hit. As tempting as it is to say that the Patriots are making it a two-touchdown game by kicking the field goal, it's really not accurate to lump a 16-point deficit in with, say, a 14-point margin. So much more has to go right for you to win the game. To successfully chase a 16-point target, all of the following has to happen:

  • You have to stop the other team from scoring a single point the rest of the way.

  • You have to lead two touchdown drives.

  • You have to convert on a pair of two-point conversions.

  • You have to win in overtime.

If we assume for simplicity's sake that the chance of converting each of the two-pointers is 50 percent, and the chance of the Patriots winning in overtime is 50 percent, the chances of the Patriots making the two-pointers and then winning in overtime alone reduce their shot to 12.5 percent. That's without even considering how hard it's going to be to score both of those touchdowns while stopping the Falcons from scoring once.

By definition, that 50 percent two-point rate suggests a 16-point game isn't a two-score contest. We know that each attempt is independent, and given the 50 percent conversion rate, we would expect them to convert one out of two tries and produce a total of two points. The Patriots pulled it out here, but the 2015 Patriots and 2016 Chiefs can remind you of how leaving the game to a late two-point try is far from guaranteed.

An older version of the win expectancy model developed by ESPN's Brian Burke suggests the Patriots' chances of winning with a touchdown on fourth-and-15 would have leaped to 3.6 percent, producing that 9 percent break-even rate. It's not a perfect parallel, since teams would likely be willing to settle for field goals, but since 2006, teams have converted third-and-goal from the 15-yard line five times in 45 tries. That's a 10.6 percent rate, and it's reasonable to think the Patriots are better than your standard offense. I suspect the numbers leaned narrowly toward going for it, although it would have been a much stronger case had the Patriots managed to pick up a few yards on third down in lieu of taking a sack.

Having fumbled the ball away during the first half before gifting Robert Alford a pick-six, the Patriots needed to catch a break. They finally got one on the next drive.

Fourth quarter, 8:31 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 12

Third-and-1, Falcons' 36: Dont'a Hightower strip-sacks Ryan; Alan Branch recovers.
Win expectancy shift: 0.3 percent to 1.8 percent (+1.5 percent)

Instead of moving the chains on third-and-1 and taking two more minutes off the clock with a fresh set of downs, the Falcons handed the ball back to New England with a short field. Hightower came on a blitz and sped past the middling block attempt of Devonta Freeman, who was inserted into the game after Coleman went down with an injury on the previous play. Freeman looked confused before the snap and seemed to be caught between attempting to block Hightower and releasing into the flat as an outlet receiver, and he ended up doing neither.

Hightower converged on Ryan along with Chris Long, who had gotten underneath Matthews, to force a fumble as Ryan attempted to release a pass. The Patriots fell on the fumble, which was notable because it was the first fumble of the postseason in a Falcons game that Atlanta had failed to recover, having picked up the previous six.

Brady was sacked on the first play of the next series by Dwight Freeney, but the Falcons' pass rush got to him just one more time the rest of the way. From that point forward, Brady went 15-of-19 for 170 yards with two touchdowns, the game-tying two-point conversion to Amendola, and the 13-yard pass interference call that set up the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Fourth quarter, 6:00 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 12

Second-and-2, Falcons' 6: Brady hits Amendola for 6-yard touchdown; White converts two-pointer.
Win expectancy shift: 2.2 percent to 6.1 percent (+3.9 percent)

There's still a lot of work to be done, but at 28-20, the Patriots are suddenly in business. Brady found a mismatch with Amendola aligned in the slot against the bigger Jalen Collins and took advantage, getting Amendola on a quick out (with Malcolm Mitchell arguably interfering with the outside corner) for the 6-yard score. As Matt Bowen diagrammed, the Patriots then ran a direct snap to White with a pair of double-teams to set up the first of their two-point conversions.

Again, though: The Patriots still need a stop, a scoring drive, a two-point conversion, and a win in overtime. They almost failed on the first of those prerequisites when the Patriots blew the coverage on Freeman on a 39-yard checkdown and were then victimized by an absurd Julio Jones catch for 27 yards.

After Freeman was stuffed on a first-and-10 pitch for a loss of one, the Falcons ran the clock down and had second-and-11 on the New England 23-yard line with 3:56 to go. If the Falcons had simply kneeled twice, they could have kicked what would have been about a 43-yard field goal while presumably costing the Patriots two of their three remaining timeouts. A 43-yard field goal -- which all but ends the game -- is hardly guaranteed, but Matt Bryant is 29-of-31 (93.5 percent) on kicks between 40 and 45 yards over the past five seasons.

Fourth quarter, 3:56 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 20

Second-and-11, Patriots' 23: Ryan sacked by Trey Flowers for 12-yard loss.
Third-and-23, Patriots' 33: Matthews commits holding penalty (10 yards).
Third-and-33, Patriots' 43: Ryan throws incomplete pass.
Win expectancy shift: 1.4 percent to 4.9 percent (+3.5 percent)

Instead, inexplicably, the Falcons chose to pass the ball on second down, on a slow-developing play that ended with Ryan going down for a coverage sack at the hands of Flowers, who slipped between center Alex Mack and right guard Chris Chester. The sack is partly on Ryan, who needed to get the ball out and held onto it for more than four seconds before hitting the turf.

Ryan is at fault, but so is Atlanta's highly regarded offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. I'm as aggressive as anybody when it comes to suggesting that coaches try to get their kickers in better field goal range in lieu of settling for 50-plus-yard field goal tries, but if there was ever a situation that called for conservatism given the game situation, it was this one. Shanahan admitted after the game that he couldn't remember the playcalling decisions he made at this point of the game, conflating the ensuing plays with the sack, which is fair. It seems the entire Falcons team blacked out right around this point of the game.

The situation was still salvageable given that the Falcons were in line for a 51-yard field goal and had a play to try to pick up extra yardage while burning more time, but Matthews made a bad situation worse by committing yet another crucial holding penalty, wrapping his arms around Long's neck to push the Falcons out of field goal range. The Pats held up in coverage on third down and forced a punt. New England had two plays to either force a turnover or push the Falcons back 20 yards to get out of field goal range and managed to do the latter.

After Brady beat a Falcons blitz on third-and-10 for a 16-yard completion to Hogan, the drive was off and running. You'll probably be seeing its most notable play for a while ...

Fourth quarter, 2:28 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 20

First-and-10, Patriots' 36: Brady completes 23-yard pass to Edelman.
Win expectancy shift: 6.1 percent to 8.7 percent (+2.6 percent)

Of course, no win expectancy model is going to know what Edelman had to do to bring in the greatest catch he'll ever make. Brady made the curious decision to throw into double coverage, with Alford trailing Edelman and Keanu Neal playing over the top on that side. His throw wasn't perfect, giving Alford a chance to pick the ball off. Instead, Alford tipped the ball into the air and somehow gave Edelman a chance to bring it in on a double-clutch. I've watched the play 20 times and I'm still convinced Edelman's going to drop the ball each time I watch it.

I'm of two minds regarding Dan Quinn's challenge after the catch. Ideally, Quinn would have let the clock run to the two-minute warning and spent the break watching replays before deciding to use his final timeout on a challenge. The television feed of the game doesn't make it clear whether the Patriots would have been able to run a play before the two-minute warning, although it was very clear that the Patriots were sprinting to the line in the hopes of running a play before Quinn could get a good look. (The coaches tape of the game will not be available until midweek.)

The play was obviously close, and it was literally Quinn's last chance to use a challenge. Twenty-three yards isn't an enormous swing of field position, but the Pats would have been in second-and-10. Quinn's challenge stopped the clock before the two-minute warning, and the Pats used the extra play to complete a deep crossing route to Amendola for 20 more yards versus Poole. That would push the Patriots up into double digits at 13.2 percent. Three plays later, on the Atlanta 1-yard line, the Pats punched the ball in.

Fourth quarter, 1:00 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 20

Second-and-goal, Falcons' 1: White rushes for 1-yard touchdown; Amendola converts two-pointer.
Win expectancy shift: 21.2 percent to 53.0 percent (+31.8 percent)

There's the big leap. The Patriots, who were 55.7 percent favorites to win as of the opening kickoff, are favored again to prevail for the first time since LeGarrette Blount's fumble on the second play of the second quarter. If it felt like the Patriots were destined to win in overtime, I won't blame you, but I'll also remind you of last year's Packers-Cardinals playoff game, when Aaron Rodgers converted two Hail Mary passes to tie the game up just before overtime and never touched the ball again. You may also remember Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Rams tied the score with 1:13 left and the Patriots drove 53 yards with no timeouts (against the advice of John Madden) to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal.

Atlanta still might have been able to muster a drive to at least attempt a game-winning field goal. The Patriots helped out by making a strategic mistake and snapping the ball with 21 seconds to go on the game clock during the White touchdown. It's not necessarily a good idea to run the play clock down to one second left before snapping the ball, but Brady should have shaved another 10-12 seconds off the clock before the snap. The argument that the Patriots needed to conserve time in case of a failed two-point conversion doesn't really hold water; if the Patriots failed, they were going to be stuck attempting an expected onside kick to try to get one final possession. The chances of recovering that onside kick are likely lower than the chances of giving up a meaningful drive to the Falcons with a minute left on the clock.

Instead, fortunately for the Patriots, Atlanta's drive started on the 11-yard line and sputtered out after 16 yards. New England then hoped to set up for a game-winning fair catch free kick, but Matt Bosher's punt was too far to feasibly attempt one. The Pats then sent Lewis out to run a meaningless draw with three seconds left, with Lewis suffering a game-ending hamstring injury on the play.

Overtime, 12:37 left -- Falcons 28, Patriots 28

Second-and-13, Falcons' 40: Brady hits Edelman for 15 yards.
Win expectancy shift: 58.5 percent to 75.5 percent (+17.0 percent)

The biggest play of New England's lone drive in overtime turned a difficult second-and-13 into a first down, putting the Patriots in field goal range and on the edge of the red zone. The Patriots went five-wide, and the Falcons responded by showing pre-snap pressure before dropping into a Cover 1 Robber look, with one deep safety and the impressive Deion Jones lurking in the middle of the field to take away drag routes. The Patriots went back to an impeccably timed combination of crossing routes, which the Falcons had been able to knock away during the fourth quarter. This time, though, the timing was excellent to create a subtle rub downfield, and Brady's throw was right on the money. Four plays later, the Patriots were champions.

But how?

Those are the plays that led the Patriots to their stunning Super Bowl victory, but what was changing in the broader matchup of the game that allowed the Patriots to come back? How could the Falcons allow Brady & Co. to score the final 31 points of the game after going up 28-3 halfway through the third quarter? Let's run through the ways the Patriots improved and the Falcons declined as the game went along, starting with one critical component ...

The Atlanta pass rush disappeared. I wrote in my Super Bowl preview that the game would turn on whether the Falcons would be able to get pass pressure on Brady. I was right about that, but I was wrong about whether the Falcons would be able to pester the future Hall of Famer. Quinn's defense spent most of the day in Brady's face, and it did so without blitzing. Atlanta sent an extra man on just 7.4 percent of Brady's dropbacks but was able to get plenty of pressure with its front four. Through the first three quarters, Atlanta pressured Brady on 44.7 percent of his dropbacks.

As was the case in both of New England's Super Bowl losses to the Giants, much of that pressure came up the middle. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had all of three sacks during the regular season, came up with three sacks of Brady in the Super Bowl alone, tying the championship game record. Jarrett and his teammates abused Patriots right guard Shaq Mason, who had a dismal night in pass protection. NFL sack leader Vic Beasley had a mostly quiet night, finishing with a lone knockdown of Brady and a pass breakup on a fade to Martellus Bennett on the penultimate play of the game, which was apparently Josh McDaniels' ode to Darrell Bevell.

As the game went along, though, the plays simply began to add up. Atlanta's defense faced nearly twice as many snaps as New England's; the 93-47 disparity between the two was the largest gap in NFL playoff history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Those 93 offensive plays represent the second most a team has faced in playoff history (behind only the Jets, who faced 96 against the Browns in a game that went into double-overtime in January 1987).

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Atlanta's pass rush was gassed. During the fourth quarter and overtime, its pressure rate on Brady fell from 44.7 percent down to 20.0 percent, including an O-fer on Brady's six pass attempts during the extra period. Unsurprisingly, once the pass pressure went away, Brady picked the Falcons apart. He finished the day with a 64.1 passer rating under duress and a 107.0 mark when avoiding pressure.

The Patriots successfully attacked the weaker links in the Atlanta secondary. Again, this shouldn't have been news given the expectations coming into the game, but the Falcons were able to hold up with relatively anonymous defensive backs making plays during the first half. Deji Olatoye and C.J. Goodwin played a combined 18 defensive snaps during the first two rounds of the playoffs, but with the Falcons playing more two-deep coverage at first glance and the Patriots using more three- and four-wideout sets, the Falcons rotated their backup defensive backs into the game for a combined 47 snaps. Goodwin, in particular, made his mark in the first half by knocking away a fade route to Mitchell out of the slot and tackling White in the open field on third down to end a drive.

As the game wore on, though, the Patriots began to take advantage of mismatches in the secondary. They matched up Mitchell against Goodwin for critical conversions during the comeback, including a third-and-11 pickup in the fourth quarter to extend the drive. Combinations of curl routes are a great way to beat Cover 3, and Mitchell went after both Goodwin and the larger Collins, who had trouble in space against New England's speedier wideouts. Poole also had trouble with Amendola, who had eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in what might have been his final game as a member of the organization.

They also found mismatches for White, who caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes in much the same way that Shane Vereen took over at times against Quinn's Seattle defense during Super Bowl XLIX. White became a coverage problem for Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell, much as he was frustrating against Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright versus the Seahawks.

They took Blount out of the game for White. Blount seemed like a logical fit to play a big role in this contest, given how the Falcons had the league's fourth-worst run defense during the regular season and are built around speed as opposed to strength, but it didn't work out. Blount dragged down the Patriots' offense in the first half, carrying the ball eight times for just 16 yards, including a third-and-1 stuff and a lost fumble.

The Pats trotted him out for three consecutive runs late in the third quarter, but otherwise, he was basically left on the bench as New England launched its comeback. He finished the game taking just 17 offensive snaps, while White finished with 71 snaps. To put that in context, no Patriots running back had suited up for more than 48 offensive plays in a game this year. ESPN has player participation data going back through 2007, and the only Belichick running back to top White's 71 snaps over that time frame was Danny Woodhead, who took 73 snaps during a 41-35 thriller against the 49ers in 2012.

Brady's receivers stopped dropping passes. I don't think Brady would characterize this as his sharpest game, as he missed a number of receivers downfield, notably a streaking Edelman on a wheel route. He also didn't get a ton of help early on. Brady's receivers dropped three of his 35 passes through the first three quarters (an 8.6 percent clip), and there were a number of 50-50 passes his wideouts failed to bring in. (Ryan's receivers, in comparison, didn't drop any of his 23 pass attempts.) The Patriots' wideouts repeatedly struggled on a route they clearly wanted to target in man coverage, the wheel/fade out of the slot.

Bennett caught a 25-yard pass over Neal on that very route in the fourth quarter, though, and the Pats went back to it with Bennett in overtime for the pass interference penalty that set up the game-winning score. Brady's receivers stepped up their concentration and made every catch count; they didn't drop a single one of Brady's 27 pass attempts during the fourth quarter and overtime.

The Patriots sent extra men at Ryan. The 2016 MVP dropped back 10 times during the first half, and while he was sacked twice, the other eight plays produced seven receptions for 115 yards, a touchdown and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. The Patriots blitzed just once on those 10 dropbacks for a 10 percent blitz rate. During the second half, the Pats brought in Elandon Roberts for Shea McClellin in their nickel package and blitzed far more frequently. This was also just a 17-dropback sample, but the Patriots blitzed Ryan 41.2 percent of the time and sacked him on three of those opportunities. Ryan still posted a 126.8 passer rating, but because QBR accounts for sacks, his QBR fell from 91.5 in the first half to 62.0 afterward.

Ryan's tackles were not a source of strength, particularly Matthews, who was a liability in pass protection far too frequently Sunday and committed those two critical holding penalties. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder was fine before leaving with an injury, but then the Falcons bought in Tom Compton, whom the Patriots immediately targeted with a defensive line game on that ridiculous 27-yard catch by Julio Jones. Behind the league's healthiest offensive line, Compton had been needed for only 69 offensive snaps during the regular season. The pressure prevented the Falcons from throwing more passes to Jones, who finished with four catches on a mere four targets for 87 yards.

The Atlanta running game sputtered. The biggest surprise of the game for me early on was that the Falcons had tons of success moving the ball on the ground against the league's fourth-ranked rushing defense per DVOA. Shanahan dialed up the crack toss play against New England in man coverage early on in the contest and had plenty of success, including a 37-yard run by Freeman. He and Coleman combined for 86 yards on nine carries during the first 30 minutes.

Afterward, though, the Patriots adjusted. They again faced nine rushing attempts during the second half, but this time, those runs generated a total of only 18 yards. Five of them went for no gain or a loss.

The Falcons didn't manage the clock well. While the Falcons couldn't have known that New England would make its miraculous comeback, they helped the Patriots by leaving time on the clock in the fourth quarter and snapping early in the play clock. After the 39-yard checkdown to a wide-open Freeman gave Atlanta first-and-10 at their own 49-yard line with 5:39 to go, Ryan snapped the ball with 20 seconds left on the play clock and handed the ball off for a loss of 1. The next play, the 27-yard deep out to Jones, was snapped with 13 seconds left on the clock. The Falcons did wind the play clock down inside five seconds on their next opportunity after a Freeman stuff, but that was their last chance to run clock on offense all game.

Quinn also didn't get much value for his timeouts. Atlanta had to use one timeout early in the third quarter when they were struggling to line up on defense before a third-and-long. A second timeout came after the first Matthews holding penalty toward the end of the third quarter on second-and-11, while the final timeout flew off the shelves when Quinn challenged the ridiculous Edelman catch. If Ryan hits that final drive with a minute and two timeouts, the playcalling would have been fundamentally different.

Gostkowski was a monster on kickoffs. While Gostkowski missed yet another extra point in what has been an uneven season for New England's star kicker on scoring plays, he has retained much of his effectiveness on kickoffs and created valuable field position for the Patriots' defense in Sunday's second half. Gostkowski didn't kick off until the final play of the first half, and that was a squib kick. He subsequently attempted both an onside kick and a deliberately short pop-up kick on two of his five kickoff attempts during the second half.

His other three kickoffs, though, each pinned the Falcons inside of their own 20-yard line. One was returned to the Falcons' 19-yard line, but the two truly great kicks came on Gostkowski's final two kickoffs of the game. The first, with the Patriots down 28-20, was booted to the 3-yard line with enough hang time for the coverage units to pin down Justin Hardy and limit him to a 7-yard return, starting Atlanta on the 10-yard line. Given that the Falcons finished the drive a few desperate yards away from what would have been game-sealing field goal range, Gostkowski's kickoff might have helped save the season. After the Patriots tied the score, Gostkowski delivered a similarly effective kickoff to the goal line, which Eric Weems returned to his own 11-yard line to start a disappointingly short possession.

The Atlanta offense couldn't stay on the field. More than anything, though, the Falcons blew their lead because they couldn't come through with conversions on third down. They had picked up 64.0 percent of their third downs in the playoffs heading into the Super Bowl, but went just 1-for-8 on Sunday, with a second conversion coming on a ninth third down via penalty.

Every third-down failure is bad for an offense, but these breakdowns were both wildly frustrating and eventually very meaningful. Ryan was sacked four times on third down, including on third-and-3 and third-and-5 to end Atlanta's first two possessions. The Hightower strip-sack came on a third-and-1. He also took a sack on third-and-11 from the Patriots' 42-yard line on a play where a completion, even if it were short of the sticks, might have created an opportunity for a long field goal. Nobody expected Ryan to convert third-and-33 from the Patriots' 45-yard line in the fourth quarter, but he failed to complete a pass that might have set up Bryant for a field goal or even forced the Patriots into using one of their two remaining timeouts.

Atlanta's two third-down conversions resulted in touchdowns. One was a touchdown itself, when the Falcons isolated tight end Austin Hooper against Patrick Chung on consecutive plays. The other was a pass interference call in the red zone on Malcolm Butler that set up a touchdown for Coleman on a pick play the following snap.

It's still hard to believe the Falcons actually lost this game. They're the first team in Super Bowl history to lose with a pick-six in its pocket, one that felt like an unlikely gift given that it came from Brady. Some will throw around the "choker" label, which is inelegant at best and condescendingly incurious at worst. If choking means running after a quarterback on 68 dropbacks until there's hardly any air left in your lungs, the Falcons choked.

Instead, it's fairer to say the Falcons never shut the door. They had several chances to finish this game off and never really took advantage of any of them, leaving a tiny opening that most teams wouldn't have been able to exploit. Even the Patriots, as good as they are, needed fortuitous timing with penalties and turnovers plus one of the all-time legendary catches in football history from Edelman to stay within range.

Atlanta should be proud of what it has accomplished this season and what it did in the Super Bowl. It's what the Falcons didn't do that will be keeping everyone in the organization up late at night for weeks to come. They gave Tom Brady and Bill Belichick a chance to kick their door down, and yet again, the two future Hall of Famers produced a late drive to come away with a Super Bowl victory.