Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots Win After Wild Finish


Super Bowl XLIX was a tremendous game of football, one of the great NFL finales in recent years. Here is our review of all the action:

The Patriots came out with a clear game plan in mind. Offensively, they probed and prodded at the weak spots in the Seattle defense. Using Shane Vereen lined up out wide and Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman to clear the middle of the field with darting drives, New England created room in the middle of the field to feed the likes of Danny Amendola, who had four catches for 44 yards by half time. The Patriots were executing well on quick passes and long, precise drives, taking the Seattle defensive line out of the equation by having Tom Brady throw the ball extremely quickly.

The teams exchanged two short drives to start the game, before the Patriots drove into the Seahawks’ red zone on the back of a drive lasting over seven minutes. But here, New England’s game plan was held up, as Brady held the ball for much longer on 3rd and 6, felt the pressure from Michael Bennett for the first time and tossed a really poor interception to Jeremy Lane, leaving at least three points on the field.

Unfortunately for Lane, he was injured on the interception return, and that inadvertently helped the Patriots offensively. Seattle failed to find a groove and were soon punting again, and Brady began picking on Tharold Simon, who was in to replace the injured Lane. This led to a big play on a crossing route to Julian Edelman, which set up a touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell. Simon was in coverage on both receivers.

The Seahawks were still a bit limp offensively, with a great deal of effort going into stuffing Marshawn Lynch in the run game, with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones containing Russell Wilson. As the Patriots secondary continued to win against the Seahawks receivers, it left Seattle with nowhere to go.

But Super Bowl Sunday often makes heroes from previously anonymous players, and it was Chris Matthews, who had zero catches in the regular season, who caught a bomb from Russell Wilson to take the Seahawks deep into Patriots territory. Lynch began making gains in the run game, and eventually punched it in for the equalising touchdown.

The momentum began to switch to Seattle and the tension in the stadium increased. We now had a Super Bowl, and New England needed to respond. They did so in the two-minute drill just before half time. On the back of a Cliff Avril jump on 3rd and 3 which gave New England a new set of downs, Brady exploited the coverage out wide on Rob Gronkowski when KJ Wright was lined up against him, throwing to the corner for Gronk to catch in stride, taking a 14-7 lead with 31 seconds remaining.

Instead of merely kneeling, as so many teams do in that situation, Seattle tried to make some plays before the half. After Robert Turbin found a gaping hole and exploded through the Patriots defensive line, Wilson scampered up the sideline for a big gain. The Seahawks continued into the end zone, and were once again brave when it mattered. With six seconds left, Pete Carroll opted to take a shot into the end zone, instead of settling for a field goal. Wilson rocketed a pass to Matthews for the touchdown that sent us into half time with a tied game.

The Seahawks received the second half kickoff, and came out with a new level of ferocity that they had been building to throughout the second quarter. Matthews continued to stake his claim to be the Super Bowl MVP by catching another bomb, ensuring his three completed passes brought him 100 yards receiving and giving undersized cornerback Kyle Arrington the longest game of his life. The Seahawks had to settle for a field goal, but it was a key time to take the lead for the first time.

On the ensuing New England possession, the Seattle defense answered the bell with a couple of serious plays that took the game away from the Patriots. The ‘Hawks were ratcheting up the pressure, and with LeGarrette Blount failing to establish himself as a dominant ground threat, Tom Brady was required to throw more and more. Michael Bennett continued to win with ease on the defensive line, hitting Brady a couple of times and making the veteran quarterback aware of the pressure in his face. Under this pressure, Brady slung a ball towards Gronkowski that, from his point of view, was a clear throw, but Bobby Wagner recovered magnificently to jump in front of the pass and pick it off.

As has been a hallmark of the Seahawks under Pete Carroll’s tutelage, Seattle cashed in the turnover for points. The Wilson to Matthews connection continued with a nine yard reception, despite the much bigger corner Brandon Browner now being in coverage. Lynch found more holes and made more yards, and they secured the touchdown score with a clever play that got Doug Baldwin some natural separation from Darrell Revis, who had held him without a catch up to that point.

The Patriots haven’t been so successful in the Belichick years by simply folding in the face of adversity. With the unusual combination of outstanding coverage allowing the pass rush to get going, instead of the other way around, the Pats were able to get to Wilson throughout the game. The great coverage(on everyone except Chris Matthews) meant that they prevented the Seahawks from extending their lead in the next couple of drives, before adding a gutsy drive of 68 yards over 4:15 minutes to reduce the lead to 3 points once more. Despite playing behind an offensive line that was struggling to cope with incessant pressure, the Pats offense strung together their drive off the back of screen passes to the elusive Shane Vereen and brave step-ups from Brady to drive the ball into Julian Edelman a couple of times, before finding Danny Amendola in the end zone with a great throw, to ensure a fantastic finish to Super Bowl XLIX.

As Shane Vereen became more and more of a factor for New England, the Seahawks offense continued to look less and less in tune. The Patriots bet the farm on stuffing Marshawn Lynch, with Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower filling gaps across the trenches, and forcing Wilson to make connections on the outside, which he couldn’t do. With the ball back, the Patriots launched another long drive off the back of Vereen’s jinky plays. After completions to Edelman, Gronkowski and LaFell, they finished a ten play, 4:45 minute drive with a pass to Julian Edelman, who beat the corner Simon all ends up, to take the lead for the first time in the second half, with just 2:02 remaining.

Seattle were left with 2:02 minutes to retain the Super Bowl, and had to get in rhythm fast. With Browner now man-marking Matthews, the first great heave from Russell Wilson went nowhere. Then, one of the great miracle plays in the history of the Super Bowl, as Jermaine Kearse had a pass broken up at the five yard line, only to catch the ball with a one-man tip drill, catching the ball as it bounced off his legs a couple of times, as the aghast defensive players recovered to stop him scoring the touchdown. Marshawn Lynch capitalized on the momentum with a run to the half-yard line, with the Seahawks on the verge of taking the lead with just twenty seconds remaining. But then, in a stunning finish befitting an outstandingly competitive Super Bowl, Wilson threw an interception as Seattle opted to take the aerial route over Beast Mode. Malcolm Butler picked off the pass and, after a scuffle was broken up, Brady kneeled to end the game, with New England emerging as champions.

Seattle only really played well in patches in the game, although they did take a big lead when they were on top. The Seahawks won the second and third quarters, but New England definitively took the first and fourth quarters, and secured the game in the key junctures. Seattle’s coaching staff will rightly be criticized for the play call that led to the turnover, but this was a tremendous come-from-behind win for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports

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