HOUSTON – There were more than a couple of Patriots writers and followers who felt James White's job was in jeopardy during training camp. At least two major publications left him off their final 53-man roster projections. On Sunday night on the game's biggest stage, no one performed better in the Patriots indescribable 34-28 overtime comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons to capture their record-tying fifth title in Super Bowl LI.
The historic victory was made possible by literally dozens of little plays that if they had gone another way would have spelled defeat, but no one made more of them than White.
Trailing 28-3 late in the third quarter, all White did was score three touchdowns, add a two-point conversion and fulfilled a life-long dream by having the ball in his hands with the championship on the line.
"It was a toss play and the offensive line did a great job blocking, the receivers did a great job blocking so I just had to find a crease," White explained of his historic game-winning touchdown in overtime. "I had one guy and I just needed to get past him and get in.
"It was just a great team effort," White continued. "The defense got some stops and we put up some points. We knew we were driving the ball but we just kept making mistakes. We stuck with it and finally finished some drives.
White finished with 14 catches for 110 yards to go along with 29 yards on six carries, including two for touchdowns. He also had a huge 2-yard plunge for the two-point conversion off a direct snap.
But it was the final play that he – along with the rest of the world on such an historic occasion – will remember forever.
"I knew I got in and I just started running," White said after scoring the first game-winning touchdown on the final play in Super Bowl history. "I didn't know what to do, so I just started running. It's an amazing feeling. We have a great group of guys on this team. I wouldn't want to have it any other way with these guys."
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was not among those who had any doubts about White's abilities. Last year in the AFC title game loss in Denver, White was famously targeted 16 times but managed just five catches. This time he grabbed 10 of the 14 balls thrown in his direction, and making that performance even more impressive was the manner in which McDaniels said some of them came about.
"James will do whatever you ask him to," McDaniels said. "He did some chipping, got out in his routes and caught a lot of passes. We didn't even practice some of those plays with James in the game. He just made so many route adjustments that he needed to make.
What can you say about James. He's just so dependable. Anytime it's a big James White game you know he's catching a lot of passes and working well with Tom."
Obviously Tom would be Brady, and the greatest of all time pulled off his biggest fest yet by engineering a stunning comeback that will go down as the greatest of all time as well. So what did Brady think of White's night?
"We just kept going to him. I think that speaks for itself," said Brady, after securing his fourth MVP by setting Super Bowl records for completions (43), attempts (62) and yards (466) to along with a pair of touchdowns.
"You know, there are a lot of eyes on Tom and as we're heading into the locker room guys are looking at him as the leader," McDaniels said. "There was no flinch in him at all. We didn't play very well in the first half but we never lost faith. We wanted to finish a drive and make them play with some pressure on them – make them drive the ball and make some plays under pressure."
Meanwhile the Patriots had to accomplish the first part to make Atlanta do so, and whenever the Patriots needed a play, White generally was the man Brady targeted. He was elusive and powerful, finding the end zone with some grit and determination four times.
"It's something I dreamed about as a kid," White said of his hero status. "We just made some adjustments. We knew we just weren't playing Patriots football in the first half.
"Tom did a great job of reading the coverage and finding the matchups that were to our advantage. We got the ball first in overtime, we had all the momentum and all I had to do was run through one guy to find the end zone. To have the ball in my hands with the game on the line is just a dream come true."
And as result, the Patriots made dreamers out of all of us, coming back from a 25-point deficit to cement the organization as the greatest dynasty in NFL history.