There is quite a bit to unpack from Sunday night’s historic Super Bowl LI.
And though we will spend the next several days and weeks examining this game, this Patriots team, and, inevitably, the legacy of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, it was a handful of plays that helped New England’s luck turn toward a fifth Lombardi Trophy.
So here are seven plays that defined the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI win:
■ Stephen Gostkowski’s 33-yard field goal with 9:48 left in regulation. The Patriots started the drive on their own 13-yard line and marched down to the Falcons’ 7-yard line before Brady was sacked twice in three plays, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal. But these three points cut the Atlanta lead to 28-12, making it a two-score game and setting the stage for a comeback.
■ Dont’a Hightower’s strip-sack with 8:31 left. The Patriots had just cut the Falcons’ lead to 16 points when Hightower forced the Patriots’ only takeaway of the game, which set up New England at the Atlanta 25-yard line. Five plays, 25 yards, and a two-point conversion later, the Patriots were within eight points of the Falcons.
■ Devin McCourty’s tackle for loss on Devonta Freeman with 4:47 left. The Falcons started the drive by gaining 68 yards in three plays — a pass to Freeman that he took 39 yards, a 2-yard run by Freeman, and Julio Jones’s seemingly impossible 27-yard sideline catch. On the fourth play of the drive, while holding a 28-20 lead, the Falcons had a first and 10 at the New England 22-yard line. McCourty read the play the whole way, exploding out of the defensive backfield to make the solo tackle for a 1-yard loss and setting up Atlanta with a second and 11. This may seem like an inconsequential play, but it showed the heart and effort of this Patriots’ team.
■ Trey Flowers’s sack of Matt Ryan with 3:56 left. This came one play after McCourty’s tackle for loss. Flowers, who finished the game with 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hits, blasted through the Falcons’ interior line to drop Ryan for a 12-yard loss. That set up a third and 23 for the Falcons. And on that third down, Atlanta was flagged for holding, creating a third-and-33 situation, which resulted in an incomplete pass. The Falcons were knocked out of field-goal range and were forced to punt, giving the ball back to Brady & Co with more than enough time left.
■ Edelman’s miraculous 23-yard catch on the Patriots’ game-tying touchdown drive. This was just a marvelous catch.
■ Tom Brady’s pass to Danny Amendola on the two-point conversion that forced overtime. This topped off the Patriots’ 10-play, 91-yard drive and tied the game. Without this, there is no fifth Lombardi Trophy in Foxborough.
■ James White’s game-winning, 2-yard touchdown run in overtime. It capped an eight-play, 75-yard drive, on which White had four touches for 15 yards, and completed the Patriots’ unfathomable comeback in extra time. The touchdown run was White’s 20th touch (six carries, 14 catches) and third touchdown of the game, to go along with his 139 all-purpose yards.
Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.