Super Bowl LI, or Super Bowl 51, was an American football game played between the American Football Conference (AFC) champions New England Patriots and the National Football Conference (NFC) champions Atlanta Falcons to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 2016 season. The Patriots defeated the Falcons, 34–28, in the first Super Bowl ever to go into an overtime period.
Super Bowl LI was played at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, February 5, 2017. It was the second Super Bowl to be held at NRG Stadium, the other being Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, which also featured the New England Patriots; and also the third time the Super Bowl has been played in Houston, after Super Bowl VIII in 1974 was held at Rice Stadium.
Super Bowl LI broke several NFL records. The Patriots rallied back from a 25-point deficit, trailing 28–3 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter—the largest deficit overcome to win a Super Bowl (the Patriots tied the previous record of 10 points in Super Bowl XLIX). The Patriots won their fifth franchise championship, all under the leadership of starting quarterback Tom Brady; the most by a single quarterback. Brady won his fourth Super Bowl MVP, also an NFL record, completing 43/62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns, with 1 interception, while also rushing for 15 yards.
The event marked the 50th anniversary year of the first Super Bowl, which was played on January 15, 1967. Super Bowl LI was the Patriots’ record-setting ninth Super Bowl appearance, their second in three years, and their seventh under the leadership of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The Falcons entered the game trying to win their first Super Bowl title, having lost their only previous appearance in Super Bowl XXXIII.
The Super Bowl LI halftime show was headlined by Lady Gaga.
NRG Stadium in January 2017
The NFL selected the sites for Super Bowl 50 and Super Bowl LI at the owners’ spring meetings in Boston on May 21, 2013. On October 16, 2012, the NFL announced that Reliant Stadium in Houston, which was renamed NRG Stadium in 2014, was a finalist to host Super Bowl LI. Houston then competed against the runner-up for the site of Super Bowl 50: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The South Florida bid for either Super Bowl partially depended on whether the stadium underwent renovations. However, on May 3, the Florida Legislature refused to approve the funding plan to pay for the renovations, dealing a blow to South Florida’s chances. The NFL ultimately selected Houston as the host city of Super Bowl LI.
Proposition 1 controversy
Proposition 1, an ordinance which would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Houston’s housing, employment, public accommodations, and city contracting, was rejected by voters (60.97% opposing) during the November 3, 2015 elections. Subsequently, the NFL announced it would not alter plans to have the city host Super Bowl LI.Houston Texans owner Bob McNair donated $10,000 to Campaign for Houston, an organization that opposes the ordinance, which he later rescinded. McNair has a long history of supporting conservative political causes. Corporate sponsorship and entertainment backlash against Super Bowl LI still exist.
New England Patriots
Patriots QB Tom Brady was playing in his record seventh Super Bowl.
New England had recorded at least 12 wins in every year of the 2010s decade, and the 2016 season would be no different. Despite starting quarterback Tom Brady missing the first four games due to a suspension and the mid-season loss of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to injury, the Patriots still recorded an NFL-best 14–2 record with their only losses coming from the Buffalo Bills in Week 4 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. They scored 441 points (third in the NFL) while allowing the fewest in the league (250).
Brady missed the first four games of the year on suspension due to a 2014 postseason incident known as Deflategate. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett each started two games in Brady’s place. After his suspension ended, Brady took back command of the offense and went on to earn his 12th Pro Bowl selection, passing for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns, with only two interceptions, while his 112.2 passer rating ranked second in the NFL. The team’s leading receiver was Julian Edelman, who caught 98 passes for 1,106 yards and added 135 more returning punts. Wide receivers Chris Hogan (38 receptions for 680 yards) and Malcolm Mitchell (32 receptions for 401 yards) were also significant receiving threats. Gronkowski had caught 25 passes for 540 yards before suffering a season-ending back injury in the eighth game of the year. Tight end Martellus Bennett had stepped up in his absence, hauling in 55 receptions for 701 yards and a team-leading seven touchdown catches. Running back LeGarrette Blount was the team’s top rusher with 1,168 yards and a league-leading 18 touchdowns. In passing situations, the team relied heavily on running back James White, who caught 60 passes for 551 yards and added another 166 on the ground. Running back Dion Lewis was also a valuable asset to the offense, rushing for 283 yards on offense and catching 17 passes for 94 yards.
Despite trading All-Pro outside linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns in the middle of the season, the Patriots defensive line was led by tackle Trey Flowers, who ranked first on the team with seven quarterback sacks, and Jabaal Sheard, who recorded five sacks of his own. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower earned his first Pro Bowl selection and made the second All-Pro team, compiling 65 tackles and 2½ sacks. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich also made a big impact, recording 34 tackles, two forced fumbles, and four sacks. In the secondary, cornerback Malcolm Butler led the team with four interceptions, while Logan Ryan led the team in tackles and intercepted two passes. Safety Devin McCourty ranked second on the team with 83 tackles and notched one interception while earning his third career Pro Bowl selection. The team also had a defensive expert on special teams, Matthew Slater, who made the Pro Bowl for the sixth consecutive year.
By advancing to play in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots earned their NFL-record ninth Super Bowl appearance, as well as their seventh in the last 16 years under Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots have also participated in the only other Super Bowl to be held at NRG Stadium; they won Super Bowl XXXVIII over the Carolina Panthers by a 32–29 score thirteen years earlier. The Patriots have a record of 4–4 in their previous Super Bowl appearances, and 4–2 under the leadership of Belichick and Brady.
With his appearance in Super Bowl LI, Belichick broke the tie of six Super Bowls as a head coach that he shared with Don Shula. It was his record tenth participation in a Super Bowl in any capacity that overtook the mark of nine that he shared with Dan Reeves. This was also Brady’s seventh Super Bowl appearance, the most appearances by a player at any position in Super Bowl history.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan was named the 2016 regular season MVP
The Atlanta Falcons, under second-year head coach Dan Quinn, finished the 2016 season with an 11–5 record, earning them the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. It was a big reversal of declining fortunes for the team, who had failed to qualify to play in the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
The Falcons were loaded with offensive firepower, leading all NFL teams in scoring with 540 points. Nine-year veteran quarterback Matt Ryan earned the NFL MVP and the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award, as well as his fourth career Pro Bowl selection, leading the league in passer rating (117.1). While he ranked only ninth in completions (373), his passing yards (4,944) and touchdowns (38) both ranked second in the NFL. His favorite target was receiver Julio Jones, who caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards (second in the NFL) and six touchdowns. But Ryan had plenty of other options, such as newly acquired wide receivers Mohamed Sanu (59 receptions for 653 yards) and Taylor Gabriel (35 receptions for 579 yards and six touchdowns). Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman was the team’s leading rusher, with 1,078 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 4.8 yards per rush. He was also a superb receiver out of the backfield, catching 54 passes for 462 yards and two more scores. Running back Tevin Coleman was also a major asset on the ground and through the air, with 520 rushing yards, 31 receptions for 421 yards, and 11 total touchdowns. The Falcons also had an excellent special teams unit led by veteran kick returner Eric Weems. His 24 punt returns for 273 yards gave him the sixth highest return average in the NFL (11.4), and he added another 391 yards returning kickoffs. Pro Bowl kicker Matt Bryant led the league in scoring with 158 points, while also ranking third in field goal percentage (91.8%). Atlanta’s offensive line featured center Alex Mack, who earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection.
The Falcons defensive line was led by defensive ends Adrian Clayborn, who recorded five sacks and a fumble recovery, and long-time veteran Dwight Freeney, who ranks as the NFL’s 18th all-time leader in sacks (122½). Behind them, linebacker Vic Beasley was the team’s only Pro Bowl selection on defense, leading the NFL in sacks with 15½; Beasley also forced six fumbles. Rookie linebacker Deion Jones was also an impact player, leading the team in combined tackles (108) and interceptions (three). The Falcons secondary featured hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal, who had 106 tackles and forced five fumbles. Safety Ricardo Allen added 90 tackles and two interceptions. But overall, the defense ranked just 27th in the league in points allowed (406).
This game marked the Falcons’ second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, after having lost Super Bowl XXXIII in January 1999 to the Denver Broncos.
The Patriots, with the AFC’s #1 seed, began their postseason run by defeating the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round, 34–16. The next week, the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, 36–17, in what was the third AFC Championship Game matchup between the two teams (the other two matchups occurred after the 2001 and 2004 seasons and both were also won by the Patriots).
The Falcons, with the NFC’s #2 seed, began their postseason run by defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round, 36–20, racking up 422 yards. The next week, in the last NFL game ever played at the Georgia Dome, they defeated the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, 44–21, racking up 493 yards.
As the designated home team in the annual rotation between AFC and NFC teams, the Falcons elected to wear their red home jerseys with white pants, which meant that the Patriots wore their white road jerseys. The game featured Atlanta’s #1 scoring offense versus New England’s #1 scoring defense. This was the sixth Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to feature a #1 scoring offense against a #1 scoring defense, with the team with the #1 scoring defense winning four of the previous five matchups.
Houston Super Bowl Host Committee
The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee is the centralized planning entity for Super Bowl LI and acts as the liaison between the National Football League (NFL), the city of Houston, Harris County, Texas and the local community. The Host Committee is a private non-profit 501(c)(6) Texas corporation, and is responsible for Super Bowl LI festivities and logistics. The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee is led by Honorary Chairman James A. Baker, III, Chairman Ric Campo, and President and CEO Sallie Sargent. Four countdown clocks have been installed around the City of Houston to countdown the days until Super Bowl LI. The LED screen shows the number of days until kickoff and displays other important messages related to preparations for Super Bowl LI. The countdown clocks are located at NRG Stadium, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, William P. Hobby Airport, and Discovery Green.
Super Bowl LIVE is a fan festival that will run from January 28 until February 5 in downtown Houston centered in and around Discovery Green. Super Bowl LIVE is a free event with food, music, entertainment, attractions, and more to allow the whole city to experience the excitement of Super Bowl LI without a ticket to the game. More than one million people are expected to attend the event. The Touchdown Tour is a way to excite the Houston community about the 2016–2017 football season culminating in Super Bowl LI. These are free events located around the City of Houston with music, food, entertainment, and interactive games. The first Touchdown Tour occurred at Space Center Houston on August 27, 2016. The second Touchdown Tour occurred in Sugar Land at Constellation Field on September 2, 2016.
Volunteers are crucial to the success of Super Bowl LI. The committee will utilize up to 10,000 volunteers during the 10-day period leading up to Super Bowl LI. On August 22, 2016, the recruitment center opened to begin the process of interviewing all volunteer applicants. More than 15,000 individuals will be interviewed to create the 10,000-person volunteer team needed to assist in the events leading up to Super Bowl LI and be ambassadors of the Houston region.
Business Connect is a program designed to provide minority, female, LGBT, and disabled veteran-owned businesses opportunities to bid for contracts on events related to Super Bowl LI. Super Bowl LI Business Connect is a partnership between the National Football League and the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee to link diverse Houston area suppliers to contracting opportunities related to Super Bowl LI. The program’s intent is to provide networking, educational and other business development opportunities to encourage greater business success for each participant.
Touchdown Houston is the Host Committee’s charitable giving program committed to donating $4 million to Houston region non-profit organizations. The program focuses on three key areas: education, health and wellness, and community enhancement.
TD is the mascot for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee. TD wears a football jersey with the number “51” to represent Super Bowl LI. He can be found at a majority of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee’s events as well as other events leading up to the game.
The NFL and law enforcement announced that tickets to Super Bowl LI would feature heat-sensitive logos to deter counterfeit tickets. On the front of each ticket is a full polymer graphic that is raised and the back features a true color security label with Houston’s skyline and the Super Bowl logo. The final security feature is a graphic on the lower portion of the back of each ticket which is printed with thermochromic ink. The HTX logo and the NRG Stadium image will fade when heat is applied and will return when the heat source is removed.
In the United States, Super Bowl LI was televised by Fox, as part of a cycle between the three main broadcast television partners of the NFL. The game was carried in Spanish by sister cable network Fox Deportes. Online streams of the game were provided via Fox Sports Go; although normally requiring a television subscription to use, Fox made the service available as a free preview for the Super Bowl. Due to Verizon Communications exclusivity, streaming on smartphones was exclusive to Verizon Wireless subscribers via the NFL Mobile app.
As with Super Bowl 50, the stadium was equipped for Intel freeD instant replay technology, using an array of 36 5K resolution cameras positioned around the stadium to enable 360-degree views of plays. Fox introduced a new feature utilizing the system known as Be the Player, which composited the various camera angles into a single view of a play from the point-of-view of a player on the field.
Fox set the base rate for a 30-second commercial at $5 million, the same rate CBS charged for Super Bowl 50. Snickers announced that it would present a live commercial during the game. Nintendo broadcast an ad showcasing its upcoming Nintendo Switch video game console. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles broadcast three spots for Alfa Romeo, as part of an effort to re-launch the Italian brand in the U.S.
A spot from longtime advertiser Budweiser garnered controversy before the game for depicting Anheuser-Busch co-founder Adolphus Busch’s emigration to the United States from Germany, its broadcast coming on the heels of President Donald Trump signing an executive order that bans travelers from several Muslim nations. Meanwhile, 84 Lumber aired a commercial depicting a mother and daughter journeying from Mexico to the United States, responding to Trump’s executive order that orders a physical wall to be built between Mexico and the United States. The second half of the commercial, depicting Trump’s border wall, was rejected by Fox Network.
Lady Gaga performed the National Anthem at the previous Super Bowl
Before the game, American country music singer and songwriter Luke Bryan sang the national anthem. Bryan was the first male performer to sing the national anthem at a Super Bowl since Billy Joel at Super Bowl XLI. Immediately before Bryan sang the national anthem, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones, who originated the roles of the Schuyler sisters in the Broadway musical Hamilton, performed “America the Beautiful”.
Before the game, former President George H. W. Bush performed the coin toss alongside his wife, Barbara.
On September 29, 2016, Lady Gaga, who had performed the national anthem the previous year at Super Bowl 50, confirmed that she would be performing at the Super Bowl LI halftime show on her Instagram account with the message: “It’s not an illusion. The rumors are true. This year the SUPER BOWL goes GAGA!” Fox Sports president and executive producer of the show, John Entz, confirmed Gaga’s involvement adding “[She] is one of the most electric performers of our generation, and we couldn’t be happier with the choice to have her headline the Super Bowl LI Halftime Show… It is going to be an incredible night.”
Lady Gaga opened the halftime show with a combination of “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land”. Her performance also included some of her biggest hit songs, such as “Poker Face”, “Born This Way”, “Million Reasons” and “Bad Romance”.
The first quarter of the Super Bowl would be a scoreless defensive match with each team punting twice. The longest play from scrimmage was a 37-yard carry by Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, which did not lead to any points, though it would be the longest run of the game. On the first play of the second quarter, New England’s quarterback Tom Brady completed a 27-yard pass to Julian Edelman on the Falcons 33-yard line. But on the next play, linebacker Deion Jones forced a fumble from LeGarrette Blount that was recovered by defensive back Robert Alford on the 29. Over the next two plays after the turnover, Matt Ryan completed passes to Julio Jones for gains of 19 and 23 yards. The next three plays would put the ball in the hands of Freeman, who covered the final 29 yards to the end zone, the last carry a 5-yard touchdown run that put Atlanta up 7-0.
New England failed to get a first down on the first series following the Freeman score, and the Falcons moved the ball 62 yards in five plays. Ryan started the drive with a 24-yard completion to Taylor Gabriel, and then completed a pass to Jones for an 18-yard gain. Then on 3rd and 9, he threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper, giving the Falcons a 14-0 lead. New England responded with a drive to the Falcons 23, but on 3rd and 6, Brady threw a pass that was intercepted by Alford and returned 82 yards for a touchdown, putting New England into down by a score of 21-0.Getting the ball back with 2:20 left in the second quarter, Brady completed a 15-yard pass to Martellus Bennett, and then a short pass to running back James White, who took off for a 28-yard gain. New England was also aided by three defensive holding penalties against the Atlanta defense, each one giving them a first down on a third down play. The drive stalled at the Falcons 20, but Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal with a few second left on the clock to send the teams into their locker rooms with the score 21-3.
The Falcon’s received the kickoff to start the second half. Each team would punt on their first drive of the third quarter. Following the Patriot’s punt, the Falcons started their drive on the Patriots 15, Ryan completed two long passes to Gabriel to bring the ball to the New England 28-yard line. Four plays later, he finished the 85-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Tevin Coleman, giving the Falcons a 28-3 lead with 8:31 left in the quarter. On the next series, Brady led the Patriots 75 yards in 13 plays for a responding touchdown, completing 5 of 7 passes for 43 yards, the biggest a 17-yard completion to Danny Amendola on 4th and 3 from the New England 46. Brady also made a big play with his legs, rushing for a 15-yard gain (which would be the longest rushing play by the Patriots on the day) on 3rd and 8 from the Atlanta 35. Three subsequent carries by Blount moved the ball 15 yards to the 5-yard line, and then Brady threw the ball to White for a touchdown, making the score 28-9 after Gostkowski’s extra point attempt hit the right goalpost for a miss.
New England then attempted an onside kick, but the ball was recovered Falcons linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, and a penalty against Gostkowski for touching the ball before it went 10 yards gave Atlanta even better field position. Then Ryan completed a 9-yard pass to Hooper on the Patriots 32. But on the next play, a holding penalty on Atlanta lineman Jake Matthews pushed the team back 10 yards. Then after an incompletion, Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy shared a sack on Ryan that forced the Falcons to punt on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Matt Bosher’s 42-yard punt pinned the Patriots back on their own 13. Brady led the next drive down the field, completing three passes to Malcolm Mitchell for 40 yards and one to Bennett for 25 to bring the ball to the Falcons 7-yard line. However, Brady was sacked twice by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett over the next three plays, and they ended up having to settle for Gostkowski’s 33-yard field goal that cut their deficit to two scores, 28-12, with less then 10 minutes left in the game. After just two plays on Atlanta’s ensuing drive, linebacker Dont’a Hightower sacked Ryan as he was winding up for a pass, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Alan Branch on the Falcons 25. New England soon cashed in their scoring opportunity, with Brady throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Amendola. Then White ran the ball in for a 2-point conversion to make the score 28-20 in favor of Atlanta with 5:56 left on the clock.
On the first play of Atlanta’s next possession, Freeman caught a short pass from Ryan for a 39-yard gain. Then on 2nd and 8 from the Patriots 49, Bryan threw a deep pass to Jones at the right sideline, who made an acrobatic catch for a 27-yard gain. On the next play, Freeman ran for a 1-yard loss on a tackle by Devin McCourty. Then Atlanta tried to pass the ball, but Flowers sacked Ryan for a 12-yard loss on the Patriots 35. Ryan then completed a 9-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu, but this was eliminated by a holding penalty on Matthews. Now out of field goal range and faced with 3rd and 33 from the New England 45, Ryan threw an incomplete pass, and the team was left with no choice but to punt the ball to New England.
Bosher’s 36-yard kick gave the Patriots the ball on their own 9-yard line with 3:30 left on the clock and all three of their timeouts left. After two incompletions, Brady picked up a first down with a 16-yard pass to Chris Hogan. Then after an 11-yard pass to Mitchell, he threw a pass that was deflected up in the air by Alford, but fell into the arms of Edelman, who made a diving catch and just barely managed to get his hands under the ball before it hit the ground, picking up 23 yards. Brady’s next pass went to Amendola, gaining 20 yards to Falcons 21 as the clock ran down to the 2-minute warning. Two more passes to White gained gave New England a first down at the 1-yard line. Then with 1 minute left, White scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, and Brady completed a 2-point conversion pass to Amendola, tying the score at 28. Atlanta failed to get in range to score themselves, resulting in a tie score at the end of regulation time, and leading to the first Super Bowl overtime game.
The Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime, and elected to receive the ball. Starting at their 25-yard line after a touchback, Brady completed passes to White, Amendola, and Hogan for gains of 6, 14, and 18 yards. Then after White was dropped for a 3-yard loss, Brady completed a 15-yard pass to Edelman on the Falcons 25-yard line. White then ran the ball to the 15. An incomplete pass to Martellus Bennett resulted in a pass interference call on Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, giving the Patriots first-and-goal from the Falcons’ 2-yard line. On first down, Brady threw another incomplete pass to Bennett that was nearly intercepted by Vic Beasley. On second down, James White took a pitch and ran the ball right, he was hit by Falcons defenders at the 1, but managed to stretch forward and just barely get the ball across the goal line before his knee hit the ground, scoring a touchdown to give the Patriots the 34–28 victory.
Statistics and Records
Super Bowl LI had 31 records either broken, set, or tied by the time it was done. Brady completed 43/62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns, with 1 interception, while also rushing for 15 yards. His completions, attempts, and passing yards were all Super Bowl records. He also set the career Super Bowl records for games played (7), completions (207), attempts (309), yards (2,071), and touchdowns (15). James White caught a Super Bowl record 14 passes for 110 yards, rushed for 29 yards, and tied a Super Bowl record with 3 touchdowns. He also set the record for most point scored with 20. After the game, Brady said he felt White deserved the MVP award more then he did. Edelman caught 5 passes for 87 yards and returned 3 punts for 39. Amendola had 8 receptions for 78 yards and a score. Flowers had six tackles and 2.5 sacks.
For Atlanta, Ryan completed 17/28 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns. Freeman was the top rusher of the game with 11 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 2 passes for 46 yards. Jones was Atlanta’s leading receiver with 4 receptions for 87 yards. Robert Alford had 11 tackles (9 solo), an interception returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery. Grady Jarrett had 5 tackles and tied a Super Bowl record with 3 sacks.