HOUSTON — The fans who made it seem like a home game for the New England Patriots never lost hope, roaring at the smallest piece of good fortune even when all really did seem lost. They had Tom Brady, after all, and anything seemed possible, even the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
For it to unfold the way it did Sunday night was astonishing, sure. But there was Tom Brady leaping in the air in unbridled joy as the glitter began falling, and suddenly it didn't seem so astonishing after all.
This was a game football coaches will show their players for years to come, with the lesson that nothing is impossible. This was a game that forever cemented the legacy of the greatest quarterback ever to play and the best coach ever to prowl the sidelines.
Yes, they needed a holding call and an inexplicable play-calling decision by the Falcons to pull it off. A trick play to score the first 2-point conversion didn't hurt either.
The biggest coin flip in football history went their way, too.
But it was really just a case of Brady and his receivers finally finding their rhythm at just the right time that made it all possible. Time and time again he found them and they delivered after the catch as the Patriots marched up and down the field in a furious rally unmatched in 50 previous Super Bowls.
"This is unbelievable," Brady said, and he's never been more right.
This was a script Hollywood would have rejected, a comeback from 25 points down to force the first overtime in the history of the Super Bowl, and give Brady and Belichick a record fifth ring. If it could be even sweeter, it was made so by Roger Goodell having to swallow his pride and present owner Robert Kraft the trophy that New England fans swore he was trying to steal from them.
Want another reason to remember this one for a long time? You'll see it replayed every time the NFL's greatest moments are on display.
Nine years ago, the Patriots had a Super Bowl taken away from them by a catch David Tyree of the New York Giants made against his helmet. This time a circus catch by Julian Edelman against a defender's foot while smothered by defenders helped them take one away from the Falcons.
"We've been on the other end of a few of those catches," Brady said. "It was one of the greatest catches I've ever seen. I don't know how he caught it."
For the better part of three quarters, the Patriots had seemed old and slow. The dynasty they built in New England seemed on the verge of collapse.
No way the Falcons could blow a 28-3 lead. No freakin' way, even if the fans continued to believe.
Not behind Matt Ryan, so cool under pressure that he got the nickname Matty Ice. Not after the usually automatic Stephen Gostkowski hit the goal post on an extra point after the Patriots finally scored their first touchdown late in the third quarter.
Not when an onside kick failed and time finally seemed to be running short on a coach and quarterback in search of ring No. 5.
Somehow, though, they found a way to make magic one more time.
"It's the microcosm of our life, our season," Edelman said. "Mental tougness, believe, do your job, work hard and we'd be champions in the champion game."
The Patriots never led in regulation, and needed everything they had to somehow get the game to overtime. Once there, there wasn't anyone in the stadium wearing either team jersey that didn't believe they were going to go all the way to score a winning touchdown when given the ball.
Not with No. 12 behind centre, and a group of receivers who kept catching everything thrown their way.
"He was the same as he always is, cool, calm and collected," receiver Danny Amendola said of Brady. "He's the leader, the general, the best ever, and that is the end of the story."
It was hard to argue with that before the game, and now there will be no argument at all. Five rings and four Super Bowl MVP titles put the issue to rest for good, and the way this one was won simply adds an exclamation point to it all.
In the end, it won't be a game remembered because the Falcons gave it away, though the Patriots wouldn't have won without a crucial fumble by Ryan and a decision to pass while in field goal range may have cost them a field goal that would have put it away.
No, this was simply Brady and Belichick in all their glory. They were simply unwilling to lose when all seemed lost.
On a magical night in Houston, the fifth one was the sweetest of them all.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
By Tim Dahlberg, The Associated Press