By Dave O’Regan
Superbowl XLIX is done and dusted and the New England Patriots won the Vince Lombardi trophy in the most dramatic of circumstances. The game came down to the very last minute and will go down as one of American Football’s classic encounters.
The Worst Play Ever Called
It’s the last minute of the Superbowl and the Seattle Seahawks are half a yard from scoring what will surely be the championship-winning touchdown. All season long your team has boasted the most potent rushing attack in the league. Max Unger and the ‘Hawks offensive line have been enjoying a solid performance against Vince Wilfork and company. Marshawn “BEAST MODE” Lynch is in the backfield having already racked up 102 yards and a TD on the ground. Averaging 4.25 yards per carry in the game (and 4.7 ypc all season), the world was waiting for #24 to punch the ball in and secure back-to-back Superbowl wins for Seattle… but it never happened.
The play (inexplicably) called by the Seahawks sideline was to throw the ball to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette rather than run it. Russell Wilson threw what he felt was the game-winner and rookie Patriots safety Malcolm Butler jumped the route and snatched a New England victory from the jaws of defeat. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll accepted the blame for the ill-advised call (possibly covering for his offensive co-ordinator Darrell Bevell – whoever is at fault is ultimately immaterial) and the Seahawks must now try to pick up the pieces after their season ended in such heartbreaking fashion.
It will go down in NFL history as one of the worst playcalls to grace the field but it is typical of Pete Carroll. The Seattle head coach is always liable to go for the high-reward play. At the end of the first half Carroll had his team go for a game-tying touchdown rather than settle for a field goal. The previously unheralded Chris Matthews hauled in an 11-yard touchdown grab to tie the game up going into half-time. Before Superbowl Sunday, Matthews had NEVER caught a ball in a competitive game in the NFL. He wasn’t even in the league as recently as November when the Seahawks picked him up. He finished the game with four catches and over 100 receiving yards. Sometimes a gutsy call works out and other times it doesn’t. On this occasion Carroll lost out in the worst way.
Defense Wins Championships
The old adage proved true once again. It was phenomenal defensive play married to the running of Marshawn Lynch that brought the Seahawks their title last year and they maintained those same levels this year… until the final game. The “Legion Of Boom” were the best defense against the pass all season and their standing as the league’s third-best rush defense meant they were the best overall unit in the league coming into the Superbowl. All year they allowed a miserly average of 185.6 passing yards per game, but when it came to meeting Tom Brady and his Patriots they gave up 328 yards and four touchdowns (albeit with two interceptions). This time last year the Seattle defense was rightly lauded for shutting down Peyton Manning and his record-breaking Broncos offense in the big show and in 2015 they allowed Brady to throw TD passes to four different receivers (a Superbowl record). Rob Gronkowski enjoyed a productive day against Kam Chancellor. Julian Edelman (who would have been a deserved MVP) was a constant thorn in Seattle’s side with nine receptions for over a hundred yards and running back Shane Vereen consistently picked up yardage on short throws with an amazing 11 catches.
The Seahawks were hindered by losing nickelback Jeremy Lane to a broken forearm following his interception of Brady and things got worse when influential defensive end Cliff Avril left the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a concussion. The Seattle defense is an elite unit but when your team is lining up against Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl you need everyone to be firing on all cylinders. Put simply, if you allow a quarterback of Brady’s calibre to complete 37 passes out of 50 then you’re going to be in trouble.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense had some wobbles but accounted for the threat of Russell Wilson’s runs well. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones combined well to stop Wilson picking up significant yardage off the edges. Keeping the athletic Wilson to just three rushes for 37 yards constitutes a good day at the office.
What is there left to say about #12? He has four Superbowl wins from six appearances, three Superbowl MVP awards and has re-written the Superbowl record books to such an extent that it could be confused for his autobiography. He broke the records for most Superbowl starts (six), most career touchdown passes in the Superbowl (13), most completed passes in the Superbowl (37) and most completed passes in one half of the Superbowl (20). These are just added to the records he already holds and he joins Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to have won four Superbowls as a starter.
Brady was given time to complete throws all day and the Patriots offense was methodical and relentless compared to the big-play potential of Seattle’s air attack and New England looked to the run just enough times to keep the Hawks defense honest. Shane Vereen was a menace catching balls out of the backfield and Seattle failed to come up with a response for either Vereen or Edelman, the New England QB had chosen his battles well.
Brady threw a pair of uncharacteristic interceptions on Sunday and Patriots fans could have been forgiven for experiencing a sinking feeling when Jermaine Kearse made a spectacular bobbling catch while on his back. It was in 2008 that David Tyree made the iconic “helmet catch” to help the Giants defeat New England, and in 2012 Mario Manningham hauled in a spectacular sideline grab as the Patriots once again lost out to New York, was a third miracle catch going to down their hopes yet again? As the game moved into it’s final minute it certainly looked like that was the case. Luck was on the Patriots side this time around and with a 4-2 Superbowl record, it’s difficult to argue against Brady’s case to be considered the greatest quarterback ever. A career such as Tom Brady’s may never be equalled and we should consider ourselves lucky to be able to watch him play.
Image courtesy of S.A.F.E. Management