How James White Won Super Bowl 51

Tom Brady was without a doubt the MVP of Super Bowl LI, but many would have given the award to Patriots running back James White.

White’s stat line included a Super Bowl record 14 receptions to go along with 110 receiving yards (72 after the catch), 3 total touchdowns, and one massive two-point conversion that paid homage to Pats Hall of Famer Kevin Faulk. White’s 20 total points also set a Super Bowl record.

The most impressive aspect of White’s performance was versatility. The Patriots were able to use their shifty running back as a pass catcher out of the backfield, flexed out as a wide receiver, and as a runner.

Let’s take a look at how the Patriots unleashed James White for his career day on the biggest stage of all.

White’s massive day actually started before the Patriots improbable comeback. The first sign of life for the Patriots offense was their longest play from scrimmage on the day, a 28-yard catch and run by White late in the second quarter. White comes out of the backfield and has man coverage against speedy Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. Tom Brady, as he so often does, throws White open on the play, and then White uses Jones’ aggressiveness against him to get yards after the catch.

A huge part of the Patriots offense is taking their pass catching backs and lining them up outside as a wide receiver. This often creates matchups with safeties and linebackers that are favorable to players like James White or Dion Lewis. The Pats rolled with White in the second half of Super Bowl LI and he didn’t disappoint. Falcons safety Keanu Neal is matched up with him here and White shakes him easily with a quick route to the inside. One area of the Falcons defense that really dropped off during the comeback was their tackling, and on this play White makes Neal miss for some extra yards.

White was also a problem for Atlanta’s defense in the red zone. All three of his touchdowns came inside the five yard line, but he was also key to getting the Patriots closer in some big spots on the final two drives of regulation (excluding final play of 4th quarter). The Patriots are right outside the red zone here, but when they got closer to the end zone the Falcons started playing more zone coverages. In between the 20’s the Patriots were mostly seeing man coverages throughout the game. The Falcons really leave White wide open on this play underneath the zone as the Pats spread out the Atlanta secondary drawing a lot of attention to the sidelines. White sneaks out of the backfield and is uncovered, he then jukes linebacker Deion Jones to gain some extra yards.

On the game-winning drive in overtime Josh McDaniels made a great call with a screen pass to White out of the backfield. The Falcons pass rush came after Brady all night long registering five sacks and nine quarterback hits in the game. Brady flips the screen pass to White over the rush and catches the Falcons defense by surprise. White gets up field and gets a nice block on the outside from Julian Edelman for a big gain.

A few plays later James White ended Super Bowl LI with a game-winning touchdown on a goal line toss. Most of this breakdown has been about White as a pass catcher, but Patriots fans have seen him make plays in the passing game all year. The real surprise of White’s Super Bowl performance was the power than he ran with on his two rushing touchdowns and the two-point conversion. White is not known for his ability to get yards after contact, and just five of his 64 career carries came inside the five yard line prior to Super Bowl LI. On the Super Bowl winning touchdown, White is contacted at the two yard line but lowers his shoulder and somehow runs through two Falcons players to get in the end zone. That type of power and decisiveness was what really made this a break out game for James White.

When they tell stories about Super Bowl LI they’ll talk about how Tom Brady and the Patriots came back from 25 down in the third quarter to stun the Falcons. Although Brady may get the headlines and the MVP, James White will, at least for now, be in the Super Bowl record books as having one of the best individual games for a running back in Super Bowl history.