Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona promised to deliver a classic, and it most certainly didn’t disappoint. A sensational fourth-quarter comeback saw the New England Patriots topple the defending champions, the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24, but not without incredible drama in the closing seconds.
The build-up to the game had been overshadowed by ‘deflate-gate’, but thankfully all the post-game talking points were centred on the incredible ending to a topsy-turvy affair. The main points of discussion, aside from the Patriots alleged use of deflated footballs in their AFC Championship blowout win against the Colts, were the matchups which included two of the game’s premier cornerbacks lining up opposite each other: the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman and the Patriots’ Darrelle Revis.
Heading into Super Bowl Sunday, the key to laying the foundations for victory arguably involved stopping the Seahawks’ monster running back Marshawn Lynch. Succeed in slowing him down and you disable a key component of Darrell Bevell’s offense: the play-action pass.
As it happens, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was extremely effective at utilising the deep pass to the game’s biggest surprise, wide receiver Chris Matthews, who hauled in four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, as well as the read-option in which Wilson used his legs to scramble for positive gains.
However, it was the Patriots who started strongly. Quarterback Tom Brady drove the team down the field, and it looked certain that the AFC Champions would put up the first points of the game. However, both team’s exchanged punts before Brady finally connected with wideout Brandon LaFell on an 11-yard pass to put the Patriots up 7-0.
Wilson, who struggled in the first half completing only two passes, was making good use of the man dubbed ‘Beast Mode’, Lynch, and it was the running back who tied the game up at 7-7 with a three-yard burst. Lynch may have made headlines for repeating the same answer to questions on Media Day with: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”, yet it was on the field where he did the talking on Sunday night.
While the key for the Patriots was to stop Lynch from running riot, the Seahawks knew they had to find a way to stop tight-end Rob Gronkowski. With half-time approaching, Gronkowski broke Bobby Wagner’s coverage to haul in a 22-yard touchdown pass, but it was to be a short lived lead.
With the clock winding down, Wilson dialled up the deep ball to Matthews who evaded cornerback Kyle Arrington’s man to man coverage to knot the game up at 14 apiece at the half.
A critical moment occurred at half-time that played a big role in ultimately deciding the outcome of this one. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia made some adjustments, switching ex Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner to cover the imposing Matthews.
It was to pay major dividends later in the half, particularly in nullifying the wide receivers yards and restricting him to just four catches in the game.
However, the momentum gained from scoring right before the interval seemed to carry over into the second period as Seattle scored 10 points in the third quarter (17 answered) to lead the contest 24-14.
Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka converted a 27-yard chip shot field goal to put them up 17-14, and when Doug Baldwin was the grateful recipient of a breakdown in communications in the Patriots secondary, the game appeared to be only heading one way.
The game plan employed by the Patriots offense was primarily the use of short out and slant routes to combat the imposing Seahawks secondary, particularly the hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor.
With the run game stalling, and with LeGarrette Blount unable to carve out the yards that they had anticipated, there was greater emphasis on future Hall of Famer Brady to drag the team back into the contest.
Seattle, who had lost cornerback Jeremy Lane to an arm injury sustained after his first half interception of Brady, was to prove a big loss. Tharold Simon, his replacement, made some plays to his credit, but was also an area the Patriots continuously targeted throughout the second half. In many ways then, Brady’s interception in the first quarter arguably worked in their favour in the long run.
When Brady was picked off for a second time in the game, this time by Wagner, mid-way through the second half, it appeared their hopes of a comeback were stalling before they ever got started. However, the 37-year-old quarterback rolled back the years with a fine record-breaking performance.
Among the records that Brady broke were: the most completions in a game (37), most completions in a half (20), most Super Bowl starts (6) and most career touchdown passes in the Super Bowl (13). The last record surpassed the great Joe Montana and further elevates Brady into discussion for the distinction of being called the greatest quarterback of all time.
His performance was simply stunning. Hauling the Patriots back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit took some doing. In order to lift the Lombardi Trophy, they would have to overcome the biggest fourth quarter deficit in Super Bowl history. That they did.
Brady instigated long drives of 68 and 64 yards to propel the Patriots into a lead with just over two minutes to play. Firstly, Brady carved open the Seahawks secondary before finding Danny Amendola in tight coverage to put the Patriots within three.
Yet, they required a big defensive stand in order to give the ball back to Brady and the Patriots offense. The Patriots defensive line led by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, defensive end Chandler Jones and birthday boy Rob Ninkovich forced tremendous pressure on the Seahawks offensive line and limited Wilson’s time in the pocket.
When Brady received the ball back, time management would have been top of the agenda. Score and, while you regain the lead, you potentially leave just enough time for one last Seahawks possession for the game winner.
With the two-minute warning approaching, Brady tossed his fourth touchdown of the game to Patriots star man Julian Edelman from three-yards out to give them a slender 28-24 advantage. That grab was Edelman’s ninth of the game for 109 yards.
The wide-receiver, who was a quarterback while in college at Kent State, highlighted just why he is so dependable in the red-zone, once again taking advantage of a mismatch with four-string corner Simon.
The defending champions, sensing an opportunity with a couple of time outs and the two minute warning, required an 80-yard drive for the go ahead score. In a sensational twist to events on the field, Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse who made an improbable grab for 33-yards, after again getting the better of the Patriots secondary in one on one coverage. The wide-receiver who had largely been upstaged by Matthews, incredibly hung on despite being wrestled to the ground.
The catch brought back memories of David Tyree’s ‘helmet catch’ back in Super Bowl XLII in 2007 which set up the game winning connection between Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress. Ironically, that was also against the Patriots.
With the Seahawks deep in the red zone, and with the Patriots struggling to contain Lynch who had rushed for over 100 yards in the game, it appeared Pete Carroll’s side would simply run out the clock, force the Patriots to use their allotted timeouts and then use Lynch for the go ahead score and notch up the probable game winner.
In one of the most extraordinary finishes in Super Bowl history, the Seahawks offensive coordinator Bevell and head coach Carroll dialled up a slant-post pass pattern instead of the expected run. Wilson, from around the 2-yard line, dropped back to pass and was picked off by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler at the 1-yard line to ice the game.
To most spectators watching around the world, and commentators and pundits alike, the obvious choice seemed to be a hand-off to Lynch up the middle for the score. After all, with a run play the clock continues to run. Ordinarily, being more aggressive isn’t uncommon, but at the end of a game with such big magnitude it seemed a monumental risk.
One that, for the Seahawks, backfired spectacularly. Ricardo Lockette was the intended receiver, and while the Patriots had stacked the box expecting the run, Butler pounced to break the route and pick-off Wilson for the first time in the game and end any hopes of the Seahawks winning back to back Super Bowls.
Carroll had the chance to go down in history as the first head coach to win two Super Bowls and two College National Championships. Had the Seahawks scored, it would have left Brady with 20 seconds to work with, and not even a player of his stature would have likely been able to salvage something.
To some extent, I can understand the decision in that the Patriots, as alluded to, were expecting the run. The Seahawks were trying to catch the Patriots off-guard with a bold call. In times like this though, it’s not difficult to see what the better option was. And that was to run the ball, like the Seahawks do so well with arguably the best back in the league in Lynch.
That interception by Butler served up one of the finest and most dramatic endings to a Super Bowl ever. Take a moment to consider how big that play was, by a guy from West Alabama who wasn’t even drafted in 2014. Its stories like that in sport that conjure up improbable stories, unlikely heroes, and incredible drama.
Tom Brady and the Patriots were victorious having fought back from a 10 point deficit, which against this Seahawks defense, is no mean feat to overcome.
In the process, the Patriots recorded their fourth Super Bowl triumph of the Brady-Bill Belichick era, but their first since the 2004 season. It adds further weight to calls that claim Brady and Belichick are among, if not the greatest quarterback-head coach combination in NFL history.
Brady himself was named Super Bowl MVP for a third time after completing 37-50 passes, for 328 yards and 4 touchdowns, although Edelman and Butler would surely have been in the MVP conversation.
A nice touch then, that Brady recognised the match-winning play by the 24-year-old defensive back and handed him the Chevrolet he was awarded for being named the MVP.
Super Bowl XLIX will live long in the memory for Patriots fans who arrested the memories of their two defeats to the New York Giants in the showpiece game in 2008 and 2012. It will also be one that even the neutral will be able to recollect in the years to come.
Without question, Super Bowl XLIX served up a thrilling contest, and will certainly go down as a modern Super Bowl classic, but perhaps even has an argument for being among the very best of all time, simply because of its drama, back and forth nature and surreal ending.
It was a game that promised as much, and certainly delivered what everyone was hoping between two number one seeds. All the build-up was tarnished by accusations regarding the ‘deflate-gate’ scandal. However, the New England Patriots were worthy AFC Champions in thrashing the Colts 45-7 and are worthy Super Bowl champions for their part played in an epic showpiece game.
Whatever the outcome of the NFL’s investigation, the Patriots took on the best and toppled them. A 37-year old veteran quarterback who embodies the old school style of player, upstaged his younger, more versatile and athletic opposite in the Seahawks’ Wilson.
The former dynasty versus the team trying to create one was how this one was billed. Brady, though, rolled back the years to propel the Patriots to a triumph that seemed unlikely when they were thrashed by the Chiefs 41-14 in late September.
That was a turning point in their season. Now they can revel in the celebrations in overcoming a tough, resilient Seattle team in sensational fashion.
Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, thank you for serving up such an incredible contest.