by Rob Woollard
Agence France Presse
HOUSTON, United States (AFP) — Tom Brady inspired the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history on Sunday as the New England Patriots stunned the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in an epic overtime duel.
In an extraordinary finale to the most challenging season of his career, Brady confirmed his right to be regarded as the best quarterback gridiron has ever seen with a fifth Super Bowl crown.
Brady rallied the Patriots brilliantly to overturn a 28-3 third quarter deficit, completing a thrilling win on a night of improbable drama at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Brady, 39, collapsed to the turf with emotion after James White burrowed over from close range to score the winning touchdown on the opening drive of overtime.
“We all brought each other back,” Brady said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle.”
The win capped a tumultuous season for Brady, who was banned at the start of the campaign for four games over the “Deflategate” saga.
National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell — widely viewed as Brady’s arch-nemesis — was subjected to deafening boos as he presented the Patriots with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Brady, who threw for 466 yards and two touchdowns, shrugged off suggestions that the win amounted to a personal redemption.
“This is all positive,” he said. “It took a lot of mental toughness. We’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives.”
The Falcons meanwhile were left shellshocked after snatching a defeat from the jaws of victory which ensures they remain on the list of teams never to have won a Super Bowl.
“There’s nothing you can really say,” said dejected Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
“That’s a tough loss. Obviously very disappointed, very close to getting done what we wanted to get done, but it’s hard to find words tonight.”
Back from the dead
The Patriots had looked dead and buried after the Falcons scored three first half touchdowns and an early score in the third quarter to power 25 points clear.
No team had ever come back from more than 10 points to win the Super Bowl before, and the Patriots looked to be heading for a crushing defeat as the Falcons ran riot.
But Brady, who had looked a pale imitation of himself for much of the game, suddenly fired into life in the second half to produce a performance that will go into National Football League folklore.
The Falcons, who had gone into the game boasting one of the most potent offenses in history, were left distraught and still waiting for their first Super Bowl crown.
They had appeared to be roaring to the championship with quarterback Ryan pulling apart the Patriots in the first half.
The Falcons scored touchdowns through Devonta Freeman and Austin Hooper before Robert Alford picked off Brady for an 82-yard interception score.
The Patriots could only muster a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to go into half-time 21-3 down.
A shellshocked Brady looked bereft after his interception blunder and it got worse for the Patriots early in the third quarter.
The misfiring Patriots offense again squandered their next possession and Atlanta were back on the charge, powering forward with a nine-play drive that ended with Ryan lobbing a six-yard pass to Tevin Coleman for a touchdown.
New England grabbed what looked like a consolation score when Brady found running back White to make it 28-9.
But Gostkowski missed the extra point afterwards, and it seemed as if all Atlanta had to do was ride out the clock.
But a further Gostkowski field goal made it 28-12 and when Brady hit Danny Amendola for a six-yard touchdown, with a successful two-point conversion to follow, it had suddenly become a one-score game.
Now the Falcons were flustered and a crucial drive faltered and the Patriots won the ball back.
An epic drive hinged on a logic-defying 23-yard reception to Julian Edelman, who somehow gathered a deflected pass to put the Patriots in enemy territory.
Brady marched his team forward and White scampered in from one yard to make it 28-26. Another two-point conversion followed to make it 28-28 and take the game to overtime for the first time in Super Bowl history.
The Patriots won the toss and elected to receive and with momentum clearly on their side, there was only going to be one outcome.
Brady, just as he had done in his first Super Bowl victory in 2002, nervelessly led his team forward and soon they were camped on the Atlanta line.
It was left to White to score his third touchdown of the night to clinch an amazing victory.
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