New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) intercepts a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (83) late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz., in February 2015. After Seattle eschewed giving the ball to hard-running Marshawn Lynch at the goal line, Butler made the game-saving interception for New England. AP file photo

Editor’s note: During the coming weeks, Sun Journal staff writer Randy Whitehouse will count down the New England Patriots’ top five playoff wins of the past 20 years — in other words, the Tom Brady Era. No. 4 on the list is the Patriots’ 28-24 win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in 2015.

It is virtually impossible for anyone to view Super Bowl XLIX objectively.

The most neutral of fans, the ones who somehow resisted rooting interest for the first 59 minutes and 40 seconds, had their objectivity forever altered by the Seahawks’ call at the goal-line.

Most fans from New England to Washington state agree Seattle should have run the ball on second-and-goal from the 1. They had one of the great battering rams of all-time for the situation, Marshawn Lynch. The  clock was running, but they had a timeout left if Lynch was stopped. And they seemingly had the Patriots still reeling from a fluke catch that was giving everyone flashbacks to David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII.

Those who defend Seattle’s decision to throw the ball do so passionately. They have good reason, too. But more than five years have passed and it’s clear that Super Bowl XLIX will be remembered as the Super Bowl the Pete Carroll ended a potential Seattle dynasty and sparked the second half of the New England Patriots dynasty with one, at worst, debatable call.

It’s a shame that call overshadows everything else about this game, which should be on the very short list of greatest games in NFL history given everything that happened before Malcolm Butler jumped in front of Ricardo Lockette.

And yet here it is as low as No. 4 in our Patriots Playoff Countdown. Only Patriots fans will understand.

THE PATRIOTS

We covered a lot of what the narrative of the 2014 Patriots was in No. 5 on the countdown, New England’s 35-31 win over Baltimore in the divisional round. Winning that game in the way that they did, then steamrolling Andrew Luck and the overmatched Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship the following week hadn’t erased questions that had built up over a decade that saw two crushing Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants.

In real time, Super Bowl XLIX was the most agonizing Super Bowl win a Patriots fan lived through. On top of all of the anxiety we brought with us into the game, what transpired in the game was a series of punches to the diaphragm.

The Patriots’ defense dominated most of the first half, yet thanks to a Tom Brady interception that took at least a field goal off the board and a Kyle Arrington-led defensive meltdown that allowed Seattle to drive 80 yards in 29 seconds for the tying touchdown, they went into halftime even at 14-14 with the defending champions, then had to rally from 10 points down in the second half.

Arrington’s awful coverage helped make Seattle receivers Lockette and Chris Matthews look like John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, and he was eventually benched for Malcolm Butler. Arrington retired after one more season in the NFL and, if Google can be trusted, appears at peace with his ignominious place in Patriots and Super Bowl history. Even if he has the perspective that he could be in Pete Carroll or Russell Wilson’s shoes instead, it still has to be a little weird looking at his championship ring.

THE OPPONENT

The national media spent the 10-year gap between Patriot Super Bowl wins debating who the next New England Patriots would be. The Seahawks nearly had everyone convinced they were the ones. They were sure convinced they were the ones.

The Seahawks rode a historically great defense to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title a year earlier. The Legion of Boom was this generation’s Steel Curtain and a second consecutive Super Bowl would have put them in that kind of elite company. Who knows? With Wilson later emerging as one of the game’s premier quarterback, they may have had another Super Bowl title or two in their future.

New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (75) celebrates after Malcolm Butler intercepted Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX football game in Glendale, Ariz., in February 2015. AP file photo

Instead, the franchise virtually self-immolated in the battle of egos and finger-pointing that followed Super Bowl XLIX. The defense blamed the offense, the offense resented the defense’s dominance of the team brand, Carroll threw his support behind Wilson as the face of the franchise, the Legion of Boom broke up and the Seattle Seahawks became just another team again.

The entirety of the Seahawks’ “dynasty” is summed up in the still-satisfying clip of Richard Sherman’s reaction to Butler’s interception.

FRANCHISE/NFL IMPACT

Ending the Seahawks’ dynasty in its infancy and the Patriots’ 10-year championship drought only addresses part of the game’s impact.

If the Patriots had lost, Bill Belichick would have been 3-3 in the Super Bowl with Tom Brady as his quarterback at the time, instead of 4-2. We may never know when Belichick was ready to move on from Brady or whether he could have convinced Robert Kraft it was time to move on based on that difference. But there was no way Kraft, for all of his mistakes in the entire Deflategate affair, was going to abandon Brady completely while he was under siege from Roger Goodell.

Many doubters of Brady’s status as the greatest quarterback of all-time had no choice but to acknowledge it after this game. He had led a second-half comeback against the Legion of Boom while carving up the very same defense that obliterated Peyton Manning one year earlier. He had three more titles than Manning and was now tied with Joe Montana. Brady converted a few more holdouts after Super Bowl LI against Atlanta, but this performance redeemed two mediocre efforts in the losses to the Giants.

SIGNATURE  PLAY

When I rewatch this game, I still find a part of me begging and pleading with Belichick to call a timeout just before the fateful play from the 1-yard line. Lynch scoring a touchdown from the 1 was a fait accompli, and I couldn’t believe at the time that Belichick would allow precious seconds to tick away from any hopes of the Patriots driving for a tying field goal.

The Hoodie’s strategy has since been well-documented. The Seahawks went from two tight ends on the previous play (read below) to three wide receivers. The Patriots sent in Butler (“Malcolm! Go!”) as a nickel back, but still had eight defenders in the box, lined up against six blockers. Belichick was daring the Seahawks to throw.

If you don’t know why Belichick was daring them to throw, watch the first “Do Your Job.” Also, consider that Lynch was not the sure thing in short-yardage goal-line situations that is commonly believed. During the 2014 season, he got the ball at the 1-yard line five times and scored once.

The Seahawks having one timeout left also factored into both teams’ options in that situation. With one time out left, the Seahawks knew if Lynch did not get in on second down, they would have to use it there. That would leave them two plays to score with no timeouts and about 20 seconds left. Could they have run Lynch again on third down and, if they had not gotten in, scrambled for one more play before time ran out? Who cares? If you can’t get in from the 1 with Marshawn Lynch on two plays, you don’t deserve to win the Super Bowl.

But then if Lynch does get stopped twice at the 1 and Seattle doesn’t get a play off on fourth down or doesn’t score, Pete Carroll is still being raked over the coals to this day for being too conservative.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAY

Even though it was in a losing cause, Jermaine Kearse’s catch that set up the goal-line sequence is recognized by many as one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl, if not NFL, history. What too often goes unsaid is that the Seahawks were so disorganized after that catch they had to burn a timeout to get back on the same page. If they didn’t have to use that timeout, what followed may have played out completely different.

But it’s all moot if Dont’a Hightower doesn’t trip up Lynch at the 1 on the subsequent play (the play immediately before Butler’s interception). The Patriots linebacker shed his blocker and reached out for Lynch’s legs just in time to cut him down shy of the goal line. And he did it while playing with a torn labrum.

Also, on a tangential note, I wonder if Cris Collinsworth listens to himself calling this game and thinks “Man, I really am just a shill for the NFL.”

UP NEXT

Tuck luck.


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