HOUSTON — The Falcons blew a perfect opportunity to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
New England quarterback Tom Brady led a furious rally from a 25-point deficit to pull out a 34-28 victory over the Falcons on Sunday in overtime before 70,807 fans at NRG Stadium.
It was the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history. It was the Patriots’ fifth NFL championship.
Under the guidance of second-year head coach Dan Quinn the Falcons fell apart after holding a 28-3 lead with 8:31 to play in the third quarter.
Brady completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards, and was named Super Bowl MVP. The Patriots rally was capped when running back James White slammed into the end zone on 2-yard in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who had a key fumble on sack by Dont’a Hightower, completed 17 of 23 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns.
The Falcons, on just the franchise’s second time in the league’s grandest game, had a rash of miscues, penalties and bad coaching calls that led to their demise.
“We just made some mistakes that put us behind the chains,” Ryan said. “This is a tough loss.”
Here are the 5 things that changed the outcome of the game:
1. Stripping the ball.
With the Falcons ahead 28-12, Ryan dropped back to pass on third-and-1 from their 36. Hightower came on a blitz and leveled Ryan and knocked the ball loose.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch recovered the fumble to ignite New England’s rally. The Patriots added two touchdowns and two two-point conversions to force overtime. The Patriots won the toss and scored on their first possession to earn the Vince Lombardi trophy.
They used two turnovers to build their lead.
With the Patriots on the move and at the Falcons’ 33 yard line, linebacker Deion Jones pulled the ball out from New England running back LeGarrette Blount and cornerback Robert Alford recovered.
That was the play that “set things off” as Quinn likes the say.
The Patriots and the Falcon had only 11 turnover this season.
The offense knew what to do with the ball and promptly marched in for the first score.
After the Falcons built a 14-0 lead on a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper, Alford stepped in front on a pass intended for New England wide receiver Danny Amendola and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown.
It was the second-longest interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Alford waltzed in from about 30 yards out.
The Patriots had scored in the first quarter of 16 of 18 games this season, 14 were touchdowns. The Falcons shut them out in the first quarter.
2. Offense picked up the tempo.
After scoring touchdowns on the opening possession in eight straight games, the Falcons were thwarted in the Super Bowl and held scoreless in the first quarter.
Left tackle Jake Matthews playing in front of family and friends in his hometown struggled early in the game as Ryan was sacked two times in the first quarter.
The Falcons got their third possession after Jones’ forced fumble.
The Falcons came out running tempo and Ryan completed passes to Julio Jones of 19 and 23 yards. Freeman then broke loose for runs for 15 and 9 yards to move to New England’s 6-yard line. On the next play, Freeman started up the middle and then bounce outside and drove into the end zone untouched for a touchdown.
With the game on the line, the offense sputtered. There was big sack by Hightower and a penalty by right tackle Tom Compton that kept the Falcons out of field goal range.
Ryan was sacked five times.
3. Who had White?
The Falcons knew they had a speed advantage against New England’s slow linebackers. They attacked Shea McClellin and Rob Ninkovich laterally with tosses and other outside runs.
Then in the third quarter, Ryan found Coleman out of the backfield in the flat. He caught the ball and out-ran Ninkovich to the corner of the end zone. The play-action fake force the other linebacker to the left side of the field and that left Ninkovich isolated on Coleman in a speed mismatch.
Coleman’s score in the third quarter put the Falcons 28-3 and cheers of “ATL, ATL” rang throughout the stadium.
It was the last highlight for the Falcons, who had trouble with White, who caught 14 passes for 110 yards and couldn’t stop the Patriots from scoring 31 unanswered points.
4. Pressure on Brady.
After an exchange of punts, the Falcons were able to mount a pass rush against Brady on their second possession of the game.
Defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw steamrolled Shaq Mason for the franchise’s first Super Bowl sack. Grady Jarrett added the second and force the Patriots to punt.
Jarrett added two more sacks, including a key one in the fourth quarter that stop a Patriots threat and forced them to kick a field goal.
During the Patriots’ rally, the pass rush was not a factor.
5. Goodwin the secret weapon.
Converted Cornerback C.J. Goodwin, a former wide receiver, was one of the Falcons’ secret weapons against the Patriots.
They used him as the sixth defensive back and had him cover running backs Dion Lewis and White out of the backfield.
Goodwin was solid in coverage, but eventually the Patriots attacked nickel back Brian Poole and got a spectacular catch by Julian Edelman after Alford tipped the ball up in the air. Quinn challenged the play and lost the teams third and final time out.