Anatomy of a miracle: How the Patriots came back from the dead

Third quarter, 6:04 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 3

Fourth-and-3, Patriots’ 46: Brady completes pass to Danny Amendola for 17 yards.
Win expectancy shift: 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent (+0.3 percent)

The first tiny shift in New England’s favor came after the Patriots unsuccessfully pulled out a desperation trick pass from Julian Edelman to Dion Lewis on third down. Turning the ball over on downs probably would have ended the game, given that the Falcons would have taken over on the New England 46-yard line having scored touchdowns on three of their previous four possessions. Instead, Brady hit Amendola on an out route against Falcons cornerback Brian Poole to extend the Patriots’ drive. Their win expectancy would come close to 0.3 percent later on, but never quite dip below what it was prior to that completion.

The Patriots’ drive continued with Brady scrambling for 15 yards when the Falcons lost containment on a third-and-8, finishing with Brady finding James White out of the backfield on a snag concept for a 5-yard touchdown to make the score 28-9.

Two things then went against the Patriots in successive fashion. Stephen Gostkowski promptly booted the ensuing extra point attempt against the upright, leaving the score at 28-9. Given that the Patriots had incorrectly been called for an illegal formation penalty earlier in the game that gave the Falcons a second chance at an extra point, New England had lost two points on conversions. It seemed mostly irrelevant at the time, but it would loom as incredibly important later on.

Gostkowski followed that by taking an illegal touching penalty on an attempted onside kick, one which the Falcons recovered anyway. Atlanta then had a second-and-1 on the New England 32-yard line.

Third quarter, 0:59 left — Falcons 28, Patriots 9

Second-and-1, Patriots’ 32: Jake Matthews commits holding penalty (10 yards).
Win expectancy shift: 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent (+0.2 percent)

In a sequence that would repeat itself in slightly different order later in the game, a Matthews holding penalty pushed the Falcons out of field goal range. Atlanta could have gone up 22 points with a successful field goal (and would have had a third-and-2 if Matthews hadn’t held on this stuffed Tevin Coleman run), but Matt Ryan was sacked on the ensuing third down to force an Atlanta punt from midfield. They got nothing from the excellent field position afforded them by recovering the onside kick try.

Brady went to work as the game went into the fourth quarter, with the Patriots eventually moving the ball into the red zone. He was sacked twice on three plays by Grady Jarrett, though, leading to a play that sets the scene for the rest of the game.