PHUKET: The New England Patriots sealed a come-from-behind victory, 28-24, over the defending champions Seattle Seahawks with a goal line interception in the final seconds on a pass play that will go down as one of the most questionable offensive play calls in NFL playoff history.
This was a game for the ages and one with more ebb and flow suspense than a Hollywood scriptwriter could ever invent.
The Patriots defense was largely able to contain the Seahawks offence in the first half and both teams traded ‘three-and-outs’ in the first quarter until the Patriots drew first blood on an 11-yard pass play to Brandon LaFell with just about four minutes left in the first half.
New England seemed to be in control in terms of possession for most of the first half, but the first of quarterback Tom Brady’s two interceptions on the night led to an eight-play seventy yard drive that saw the league’s best running back Marshawn Lynch slam it in from the three yard line for the tying score, 7-7.
The Patriots, having largely given up the run game with LaGarrette Blount unable to penetrate the Seahawks D-line, went back to the air in another impressive drive (8 plays, 80 yds) that culminated with a 22-yard TD catch to Rob Gronkowski to put the Pats up 14-7 with just seconds left on the clock.
But Russell Wilson somehow managed to drive his team 80 yards through the air and tie the game with an 11-yard TD pass to journeyman receiver Chris Matthews. Playing in his first NFL game ever after being cut by a team in the Canadian Football League, Matthews hauled in four big catches on the night and emerged as Wilson’s primary target.
That score seemed to give the Seahawks the momentum, as they came out to dominate the Pats on both sides of the ball in the third stanza, building up a 24-14 lead with one TD and one field goal.
However, with Tom Brady’s place in history on the line he engineered a classic Q4 comeback drive that brought the Pats to within a field goal after he hit Danny Amendola to cap off a 9-play, 68-yard drive to bring the Pats to within a field goal, 24-21.
The Pats defense continued to contain Wilson in the pocket and again forced the Hawks to punt, which led to another long drive (10 play, 64 yards) ending with a TD pass to Julian Edelman to put the Pats up 28-24 with just 2:02 remaining.
With their title on the line, Seahawks QB Wilson maintained the poise he has shown all season to somehow pick apart the Pats highly-rated secondary. The tension continued to build after Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse made an improbable 33-yard reception while on his back to put the Seahawks first and goal at the Patriots five yard line.
That ball seemed to have been broken up, but it somehow managed to be juggle-caught into possession by the supine Kearse in a play that had Pats fans (including this one) thinking back to and the infamous ‘helmet catch’ that helped the NY Giants upset the Pats 17-14 Super Bowl XVII.
With plenty of time on the clock and the best running back in the game in the backfield, it seemed a forgone conclusion that the Seahawk would just ‘pound in the brick’ with Lynch, who had already run for 102 yards on 24 carries and scored a TD, leaving no time left for the Pats to stage a come back.
But on second down the Seahawks chose to run a slant pass play that led to a shock interception by Pats unknown rookie corner Malcolm Butler, who smartly lunged forward from behind the goal line to land on the one.
It was one of the most stunning turnarounds in NFL Super Bowl history and what transpired actually took everyone watching time to process – including the NBC announcers.
But they were quicker to recover than this observer, and immediately began questioning why the slant play was called in such a situation. A review of the play showed that Butler, who sat on the practice squad most of the year, was expecting the throw based on the formation and just took a gamble that paid off in big, big way – and will make him a New England sports hero for the ages.
With the Patriots only needing to kneel on the ball and run out the clock to seal the win, the furious and frustrated Seahawks instigated a brawl that saw their linebacker Bruce Irvin become the first player in Super Bowl history to be ejected.
On the other end of the legacy spectrum, it was Tom Brady’s fourth Super Bowl title and his third time as the game’s MVP. He proved his brilliance in the fourth quarter, when he went 13-for15 for over 120 yards and the two touchdown receptions.
Despite that, he is well aware that the new laurels to his legacy were cemented by the clutch interception by Butler, to whom he hopes to give the Chevrolet Colorado truck he won as game MVP.
He told reporters after the game that he had not even considered the possibility of hanging up his cleats and going out on top as, according to some pundits, the best quarterback ever.
As this goes to press, the Patriots planned victory parade through the streets of Boston has been postponed due to heavy snow in the city, which was hit hard by two blizzards in the snowiest week (34 inches, or 79cm) since weather records began there in 1891.
The Seahawks fans are still reeling from the loss, and conspiracy theories have emerged from sources in the locker room that the play was called to make the lovable, bible-thumping Wilson the game MVP instead of media-hating Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. Both are in the final year of their contracts.
The Seahawks will still maintain one of the best corps of talented young players, especially on defense, but how they react to such a staggering loss remains to be seen.
— Somchai Huasaikul