New England Patriots complete historic comeback, beat Atlanta Falcons to win Super Bowl LI

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HOUSTON (AP) Tom Brady led one of the greatest comebacks in sports history highlighted by an unbelievable Julian Edelman catch that helped lift New England from a 25-point hole against the Atlanta Falcons to the Patriots’ fifth Super Bowl victory, the first ever in overtime.

The Patriots scored 19 points in the final quarter, including a pair of 2-point conversions, then marched relentlessly to James White’s 2-yard touchdown run in overtime to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 Sunday night.

Brady, the first quarterback with five Super Bowl rings, guided the Patriots (17-2) through a tiring Atlanta defense for fourth-quarter touchdowns on a 6-yard pass to Danny Amendola and a 1-yard run by White, which came with 57 seconds remaining in regulation. White ran for the first 2-pointer and Amendola did the deed with a reception on the second.

Brady, winning Super Bowl MVP for a record fourth-time, finished 43 for 62, the most attempts in Super Bowl history, for 466 yards, also a record, and two touchdowns.

“You know, we all brought each other back,” Brady said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle. They have a great team. I give them a lot of credit. We just made a few more plays than them.”

Before the stunning rally – New England already held the biggest comeback in the final period when it turned around a 10-point deficit to beat Seattle two years ago – the Falcons (13-6) appeared poised to take their first NFL championship in 51 seasons. Having never been in such a pressurized environment, their previously staunch pass rush disappeared, they stumbled on offense and Brady tore them apart.

“Deflategate” far behind them, Brady and coach Bill Belichick won their 25th postseason game, by far a record. The Falcons added to Atlanta’s long history of pro sports frustration.

Belichick became the first coach with five Super Bowl crowns.

The Patriots won the coin toss for overtime and it was no contest. Brady completed six passes against an overmatched Falcons secondary. A pass interference call took the ball to the 2, and White scooted to his right and barely over the goal line.

His teammates streamed off the sideline to engulf White as confetti streamed down from the NRG Stadium rafters.

It was almost an impossible dream for the Patriots a bit earlier. But helped by Matt Ryan’s fumble on a sack, a Edelman’s catch off of a defender’s shoe, and Brady’s passing, they never stopped coming.

White scored three touchdowns and had 14 receptions for 110 yards, but Brady hit seven different receivers.

Until the Patriots took charge with their late surge, league MVP Ryan was outplaying Brady. It didn’t last.

Atlanta’s string of touchdowns on its opening drive ended at eight, though Devonta Freeman sprinted for 37 yards on the Falcons’ first offensive play. The drive was stunted when Ryan was sacked by Trey Flowers, New England’s leader in that category.

Then it was Atlanta’s D that went sacks-happy, getting two on the Patriots’ next drive in what would be a scoreless opening quarter. Who expected that? Well, New England has not scored a point in the first 15 minutes in Brady’s seven Super Bowls.

It sure looked as if the Patriots would get on the board immediately in the second period as Brady and Edelman connected twice for 40 yards. But Blount’s fumble turned the momentum to the Falcons, who then took their biggest lead in a Super Bowl – yeah, we know, they have been here only twice – on Freeman’s 5-yard run to cap a quick 71-yard drive on which Jones came alive.

Jones showed why he is an All-Pro receiver with a tough leaping catch over the middle for 19 yards, then got open on the sideline for 23. Freeman did the rest.

Before New England could catch its breath, Ryan had the Falcons up by 14. Using the no-huddle attack to perfection, he threw for 51 yards on a 52-yard drive, hitting Hooper with a pinpoint pass in the left side of the end zone.

Then Brady was victimized by his own poor decision, a rarity on the big stage. Atlanta was called for defensive holding three times on third downs to keep the drive alive. From the Falcons 23, under pressure Brady tried to squeeze a throw to Danny Amendola. Alford stepped in and sprinted, then glided 82 yards for the second-longest pick-6 in a Super Bowl – and Brady’s first.

Shockingly, it was 21-0.

New England gathered its wits for a 52-yard drive to Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal. Still, it was 21-3 when Lady Gaga took the stage.

There was smoke hanging over the field when both teams had three-and-outs to open the third quarter. It was a mirage regarding Ryan and Co., who marched 85 yards to Coleman’s 6-yard TD catch on a swing pass. While New England scored the next nine points on James White’s 5-yard TD reception – the extra point was missed by Gostkowski, who later made a 33-yard field goal.

Five NFL players who could become stars in 2019

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By Sam Monson, PFF Senior Analyst

One of my favorite aspects of PFF data and grading is how it can spot the obvious coming when it’s still some ways off on the horizon—getting ahead of the curve and identifying talent before it becomes self-evident. Every year there are players who excel in limited snaps before ultimately being handed a larger role and workload for their teams. When they continue dominating, we wonder how they were ever seen as anything other than superstars.

Case in point: When Joey Porter was a star and the sack leader for the Miami Dolphins back in 2009, coming off a 17.5-sack season, we at PFF were clamoring for his backup –- a former undrafted pass-rusher who had not long before been playing in Canada -– to get more snaps because he was generating pressure at a far greater rate than Porter. Cameron Wake ultimately went on to be one of the best pass rushers of the past decade and looked it from Day 1 if you were seeing beyond the box score numbers.

Such examples are everywhere, and each year it’s always an interesting exercise to take a look through the PFF grading and predict the players that could take that next step if they get the right opportunity. This past week we unveiled our PFF 50—a list of the best 50 players in football entering the season—but in this case let’s look a year from now and predict some players who could make that list in 2020.

Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills: If there’s a player with the backstory to rival Wake’s, it’s Wallace. With precisely zero scholarship offers coming out of high school, Wallace walked on at Alabama, and eventually earned a starting job. Then he had to do it all over again when he went undrafted before signing as a collegiate free agent with Buffalo. As a rookie in 2018, he earned the highest PFF grade of any first-year cornerback, along with the highest coverage grade, and wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 29 yards all season. Though he played far fewer snaps than first-round selection Denzel Ward of Cleveland, Wallace looks like a potential star in the making if he’s given greater opportunity in year two.

Vita Vea, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Changing positions in the NFL can be a significant adjustment, and sometimes it takes time. The Vikings drafted Alexander in 2016’s second round and moved him inside to the slot after he principally played outside at Clemson. His transition wasn’t smooth, but he has now seen his overall PFF grade improve each year of his NFL career: from 47.5 as a rookie, to 54.1 in 2017, climbing to 78.1 last year. Over the final half of the season, he was the highest-graded cornerback in the league at 88.2, surrendering just 80 receiving yards in a seven-game span. Alexander could emerge as a force with the right opportunity in 2019.

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.

Jon Halapio, C, New York Giants: The Giants are revamping their offensive line in a major way, but one of the unsung components of the rebuild is at center, where Halapio could emerge as a foundation piece to the new-look front. He began last year as New York’s starter before going down with an injury after just 116 snaps of action. But in those snaps, he didn’t allow a single pressure, despite almost 50 pass-blocking snaps against the Jaguars and their array of pass-rushing weapons. With vastly improved players beside him, Halapio could prove to be a significant upgrade as a player who isn’t being talked about much heading into 2019.

Why Jameis Winston could win NFL passing title in 2019

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By Pro Football Focus

We think Jameis Winston will challenge for the passing yardage title in 2019. Last year he trailed only Josh Allen in average depth of target. These throws put Winston in a position to do great things at times (he was second among quarterbacks in the percentage of throws we grade as “positive”), as well as bad things (he was 21st in limiting negatively-graded throws). New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of succeeding with high-variance quarterbacks like Winston.  In 2015 Carson Palmer had an MVP-caliber season under Arians, posting roughly the same average depth of target as Winston in 2018 and leading the league in percentage of positively-graded throws.  With Mike EvansChris Godwin and O.J. Howard a very capable trio of pass catchers, look for Winston to either make good on his 2015 draft position or give the Bucs no other option but to find his replacement the following year.