Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- James White has heard it before.

He has trouble fighting through contact. He goes down too easily. He's more a receiver than a runner.

But when the Patriots had the ball, second-and-goal from the two-yard line in overtime, with a chance to win the Super Bowl, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called White's number.

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He took Tom Brady's toss to the right, followed right tackle Marcus Cannon outside the numbers, and was met by safety Ricardo Allen right at the line of scrimmage. For an instant, it looked like McDaniels might have to dial up a play for third-and-goal. 

That's when White churned his legs, lowered his shoulder, and reached for the end zone. His last-ditch effort, a rare show of power at the goal line, earned his team its fifth Lombardi Trophy. Confetti rained. 

The play capped what was the game of White's life. He was Tom Brady's most reliable target, catching a Super Bowl record 14 passes for 110 yards, and will head to Disney World on Monday morning for his efforts. But the goal-line touchdown, the type of short-yardage play that the Patriots typically don't ask him to execute, was a retort of sorts for the criticism he's received when it comes to his perceived lack physicality. 

"I mean, people are going to say a lot of things," White said. "I kind of tune it out. I know what I can do. Coaches know what I can do. When I get the ball in my hand, I just try to make a smart play.

 

"I'm not the biggest guy so I'm not going to try to run through people all the time. At that point on the goal line, got three yards to go, you just gotta find a way to get it in the end zone. I had blocks in front of me. They made the perfect blocks, I just put my shoulder down and ran through it."

Bill Belichick explained after the game that the play probably would have been called for Dion Lewis had Lewis not injured himself on the last play of regulation, a fake kneel-down. LeGarrette Blount was typically the go-to back for the Patriots on the goal line throughout the season, but with Atlanta's defensive line getting penetration, and with its linebackers chasing down plays from behind, the speedier Lewis would have been the No. 1 option for the toss. 

With Lewis out, it fell to White. 

"We just didn't subtitute at that point, where Dion went out there right at the end of the game, cramped up a little bit," Belichick said. "But look, James is a good runner. He has good vision. He does a good job of finding the openings.

"He's not a guy that's going to run over a lot of defensive linemen, but he's quick and he's got good balance . . . He's a good football player. Two years ago [in the Super Bowl] he was inactive. He's had two great years for us."

White gashed the Falcons for large chunks of the game, running angle routes out of the backfield and forcing multiple missed tackles to pick up 75 yards after the catch, per Pro Football Focus.

But he was also the go-to option on the goal line late in the fourth quarter to bring the Patriots to within a two-point conversion of a tie in the final seconds. He was also the choice for a crucial two-point conversion off of a direct snap in the fourth quarter to make the score 28-20 -- a throwback to when Kevin Faulk ran a similar play for two in Super Bowl XXXVIII, also in Houston.

In the biggest game of his life, the player who saw more than twice as many targets as he did rushing attempts (86-to-39), White was an all-purpose back. 

"James will do whatever you ask him to do," McDaniels said. "He did some chipping, he hit the defensive ends in protection. He caught the ball out of the backfield. He ran the ball in some critical situations for us. He's a guy that I would say epitomizes the be-ready-to-do-whatever's-asked-of-you role.

"We didn't practice some of those plays with James White in the game, but that's the way the game went, you know? James stayed in there, knew what to do -- always knows what to do -- and made the plays in critical situations to help us win."