Here’s going to be the most forgotten aspect of the New England Patriots’ epic comeback in Super Bowl LI:
Bill Belichick’s decision to send Stephen Gostkowski out for a 33-yard field goal rather than make a desperate attempt at fourth-and-15, even considering the 28-9 deficit the Patriots faced against the Atlanta Falcons with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. Desperate times call for measures much the same, and the Patriots were just that.
What good was the sure-thing considering the astronomical odds the Patriots were facing?
Well, everything, as it turns out.
It was 28-12 with 9:44 on the clock when the Falcons got the ball back on their own 27. They went three-and-out, on a drive highlighted by Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s (pay the man his money) perfectly-timed sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. It caused a fumble on the Atlanta 25-yard line, recovered by Alan Branch. Falcons running back Tevin Coleman had gained nine yards on the first two plays of the drive, leading to Atlanta’s inexplicable decision to put the ball in Ryan’s hands at third-and-1 from the 36-yard line. But that’s when the slightest sliver of hope began to spark within the hearts of Patriots fans.
Still, only 8:24 remaining with 16 points to make up? Nah.
Dwight Freeney sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on the first play of the drive, digging the hole a little bit deeper. A loss of five.
Then, the magic. Short pass to James White up the middle for four yards. Pass to rookie Malcolm Mitchell, who made a diving catch for a gain of 12. Pass to Danny Amendola for eight yards, and again, firing to Amendola in the left corner of the end zone for the touchdown. Direct snap to James White completed the two-point conversion, and suddenly, it was a 28-20 game, but with only 5:56 on the clock.
Surely the Falcons, who ran all over the Patriots defense in the first half, could chew up some clock by rushing with Coleman and Devonta Freeman (11 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown) in the backfield.
Oh, things started fine for the Falcons, with Ryan completing a 39-yard pass to Freeman. But four plays later (which included a miraculous grab by Julio Jones), Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers sacked the quarterback again, leaving the Falcons looking at third-and-23 from the New England 35-yard line, hoping to get into field goal range and seal the Super Bowl win.
The Patriots used their first timeout. And less than a minute later, the Falcons were punting again thanks to a holding penalty that drove them further back.
Brady was incomplete on his first two attempts from the 9-yard-line, with a little more than three minutes remaining. Then he found Chris Hogan for 16 yards, Mitchell for 11 more, and then the catch that will go down in Boston lore, Julian Edelman’s juggling scoop of the ball just an inch from the carpet for a gain of 23 yards.
You hoped by then. You maybe even knew.
Time didn't seem to matter so much by that point. White ran it in for the score, and Amendola scored the second-straight conversion for the Patriots, something that a year ago caused so much heartbreak in the AFC title game in Denver.
No so much this time. The Super Bowl was tied, heading into its first overtime.
Once New England won the coin toss, it was only a matter of watching the Patriots finish off the clearly-gassed Falcons.
34-28. The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history was complete.
All thanks to a field goal that, originally, didn’t seem like anything at all.