It was the unlikeliest of heroes that sealed the New England Patriots’ fourth world championship on Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIX. With Seattle at the 1-yard-line and threatening to steal yet another Super Bowl from Brady and the Pats, Malcolm Butler stepped in front of a Russell Wilson pass into the end zone to seal New England’s 28-24 victory.
The play-call has been the topic of second-guessing throughout the NFL, but had Seattle elected to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch, who moved Seattle to the 1-yard-line on a 4-yard first down carry, or tried to go play-action and freeze the linebackers, it likely wouldn’t have been the scoring play that fans would have looked back on for years to come.
The play that put Seattle within striking distance of repeating as world champions was a 33-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse in which the ball was juggled and deflected before ultimately landing in Kearse’s lap with over a minute to play. Immediately, the flashbacks to Super Bowl XLII were occurring for fans in the greater Boston area.
In Super Bowl XLII, New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning escaped pressure and fired downfield to David Tyree, who made a one-handed catch clinching the football to the side of his helmet for a 32-yard gain. The Giants scored four plays later on a 13-yard Manning pass to Plaxico Burress to upset the Patriots 17-14 and end their perfect season, but it’s the Tyree catch that sticks out from that contest and not the scoring play.
The Giants beat the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI, 21-17. Ahmad Bradshaw fell into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, but it was again a miraculous catch by a New York receiver that made the comeback possible.
The Giants trailed 17-15 and were backed up to their own 12-yard-line when Manning fired deep for Mario Manningham, who caught the pass on the sideline near midfield and made a terrific tip-toe to stay in bounds. Eight plays later, the Giants were in the end zone and 57 football seconds after that, they were world champions for a second time in five years.
Thanks to a questionable play-call and a timely interception by Malcolm Butler on Sunday, the New England Patriots were able to avoid being on the losing end of a Super Bowl scoreboard for the third straight time. Tom Brady was able to tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most Super Bowl victories ever by a starting quarterback and Bill Belichick drew even with Chuck Noll for the most ever by a head coach.
Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s play-call will be scrutinized the entire offseason as the Seahawks narrowly missed becoming the first team in a decade to repeat as Super Bowl champions. But as close as Seattle came to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for a second straight year, the Patriots finally made the play they had hoped for in their previous two Super Bowl appearances.
Kearse’s juggling catch turned out not to be the dagger for New England on Sunday and the sting in the Pacific Northwest is sure to last awhile. Had New England not felt that same sting twice in the previous seven seasons however, Brady, Belichick and the Patriots would be 6-time world champions and unarguably the greatest dynasty ever.