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“This Week in Sports History: The Patriots’ historic comeback”

Super Bowl week is one of the most hyped-up times of the year for sports fans, especially if you are a Chiefs or Buccaneers fan this time around. In New England, early February has brought more than freezing temperatures over the last two decades. It has also brought exhilarating memories to a region of rabid sports fans.

Since 2000, the NFL’s annual Super Bowl has taken place on the first Sunday of February. In that time, the Patriots have advanced to nine Super Bowls, winning a record breaking six out of the nine games they played. Of these games, the 2017 Super Bowl which took place in Houston, Texas is one of the rare games that most fans remember where they were and with whom they celebrated.

While most are familiar with the fact that the Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit, there are several interesting facets of this game that magnify the difficulty of the comeback and highlight the heights that can be reached by a team with incredible perseverance.

Firstly, the Patriots were recovering from a disheartening loss in the AFC Championship in 2015, in which a missed extra point cost what may have been another signature Patriots playoff victory. The Patriots went into 2016 with a sharpened focus aided by an experienced group of veteran leaders, including Rob Gronkowski, who completed a fourth-and-10 play on the final drive of the 2015 game.

In 2016 the Patriots qualified for the playoffs, but along the way Gronkowski was lost to injury. The Patriots adjusted their offense and defeated the Texans and Steelers on their way to the 2017 Super Bowl. However, as the game unfolded, they found themselves trailing 21-3 at halftime and 28-3 in the third quarter.

The Falcons estimated win probability was 99.8% with about six minutes remaining in the third quarter, according to ESPN. From that point on the Patriots needed to be near perfect while having almost everything go their way. In a game with seemingly countless game-changing plays, these fourth-quarter plays are most notable:

  • Trailing 28-12, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower forced a fumble while sacking Falcons quaterback Matt Ryan. The Patriots needed to recover the ball, and in a 50-50 scrum, they did. Brady could be seen on the sideline exclaiming “our ball!” with the exuberance of a child discovering he has an hour more of daylight to play wiffle ball in the backyard.
  • With the Falcons holding on to a 28-20 lead, an incredible catch by Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones seemingly sealed the game. It was another improbable catch versus the Patriots in a Super Bowl; fans recall David Tyree, Mario Manningham, and Jermaine Kearse snaring incredible grabs late in championship games putting the Patriots’ chances in jeopardy. However, in a surprising strategy, rather than running the ball and attempting a clinching field goal, the Falcons stayed aggressive and allowed a sack by Trey Flowers – eventually forcing them to punt.
  • During that Falcons drive, Brady implored his teammates on the sideline to maintain a “laser focus.” When they gained possession after the Falcons’ punt, they were 91 yards and a 2-point conversion away from tying the game. On third and 10, Brady converted to wide receiver Chris Hogan while throwing from his own end zone. A few plays later, a miracle catch by Julian Edelman advanced the ball to midfield. The catch most certainly showed a laser focus as Edelman snared a tipped pass an inch from the ground while he and three defenders were falling to the ground. The drive ended in a tying touchdown.
  • After forcing overtime, the Patriots won the coin toss and as they headed to the field Edelman can be remembered shouting to Brady, “Let’s go win this for your mom.” Brady’s mother had been battling cancer and was in attendance. The Patriots marched down the field and won the game on a 2-yard run by running back James White in which he incredulously broke several tackles. The touchdown run itself was a microcosm of the game, in which a never-give-up attitude was required, and every inch mattered.

Several records for a Super Bowl were set in that game, some of which have since been eclipsed.

  •       Most games by a player: seven, Tom Brady
  •       Most games by a coach: seven, Bill Belichick
  •       Most games won by a quarterback: five, Tom Brady
  •       Most games won by a coach: five, Bill Belichick
  •       Most points in a game: 20, James White
  •       Most passes in a game: 62, Tom Brady
  •       Most completions in a game: 43, Tom Brady
  •       Most passing yards in a game: 466, Tom Brady
  •       Most receptions in a game: 14, James White
  •       Largest deficit overcome by the winning team: 25 points, Patriots

The Patriots went on to the Super Bowl the following two seasons, winning one, and this year Brady has qualified for his 10th Super Bowl with the Buccaneers. Discounting his rookie season on the bench and the 2008 season in which he tore his ACL in the first quarter of the first game, Brady has advanced to the final game in an astounding 10 of 19 seasons.

Overall, the 2017 Super Bowl title stands alone as an ultimate story of team achievement. After a lost fumble and an interception seemingly had them buried, the team’s coaches and leaders did not give up. The sight of Falcons owner Arthur Blank on the sideline as his team’s grasp on the Lombardi trophy slipped away in torturous fashion showed the devastation of their loss. He had come down to the field to celebrate what appeared to be a sure championship. As Edelman predicted to Brady at halftime, “It’s going to be a great story.”

All nine of the Patriots Super Bowls have come down to the fourth quarter, and all but one has been decided by only one score. Brady has walked off the field in the fourth quarter having led the Patriots to a lead or a tie in all of them. This shows how close the Patriots are to having won all nine, but with all the games being so closely contested their 6-3 record seems fitting.

The sting of the Patriots 2020 season, their first losing campaign since 2000, only amplifies the success of the past twenty years. Now the quest is on for teams to match the feats of seasons past, and on Sunday, Brady stands as a contestor to the Chiefs’ budding dynasty.



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