GLENDALE, Ariz. – They were one yard away — and then it burst. The magic bubble that Seattle had been living under, the immortal elixir it had been drinking, the string of amazing finishes, the incredible touch of Russell Wilson and decision making of Pete Carroll, the karma that seemed destined to take the Seahawks to a second-straight NFL title — it all ended in a blink, on the most unlikely of plays, a forced pass by Wilson with just 20 seconds left that was snatched at the goal line by New England rookie Malcolm Butler.
“I put the blame on me,” Wilson would tell the media.
“That’s my fault, totally,” Carroll would insist.
Quarterback. Coaching staff. Whoever. Suddenly, like a call from the governor, a death sentence was commuted and the New England Patriots were Super Bowl champions Sunday night. The Patriots? Really? It happened so fast, I’m not sure they believed it themselves. Tom Brady, still reeling from watching a ridiculous circus catch by Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse moments earlier — one that looked like the final dagger to the Patriots’ hopes — suddenly threw his hands in the air and screamed. So did every New England fan.
And so, for that matter, did every Seattle fan. Because a team with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, a team that needed only one yard to win a championship, a team with 26 seconds and one timeout left, should not be knifing a pass into coverage in the most crowded part of the field.
But the Seahawks did. And they paid for it.
Final score, 28-24.
“I hate that we have to live with that,” Carroll told NBC, “because we did everything right to win the football game at the end.”
Instead, contrary to the way Seattle got here, the way its mojo had been working for the last two years, the incredible finish to an incredible Super Bowl was a bad call and a bad pass.
Oh, and a few key players you likely never heard of. Butler is in his first year out of West Alabama. Ricardo Lockette, the intended receiver for Wilson’s pass, is an undrafted free agent out of Fort Valley State.
If you said, “Who?” … you’re not alone.
But it was that kind of Super Bowl. These two teams, the best in the business, with the best coaches, the best quarterbacks and the best defenses, were so adept at taking away each other’s strengths, it left the stage vacant for the second-tier guys.
Or in some cases, the end of the bench.
You know how the Super Bowl is supposedly about every red-blooded American, for one night, engaging in the same activity? Well, Sunday it was true. Midway through Super Bowl XLIX, the entire nation was simultaneously Googling the name “Chris Matthews.”
Not the MSNBC guy. Chris Matthews, another undrafted Seahawk, a 6-foot-5 receiver who was working in a shoe store when Seattle called him for a tryout. He didn’t catch a pass all year. All year!
Yet there he was Sunday night, making four huge catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. He broke the offense out of its early torpor with a long reception, scored his touchdown to tie the game at 14 just before halftime, and, had Seattle won, might have been the MVP.
It was that kind of Super Bowl…
Instead, the MVP honor went to Brady, again, for the third time in his four Super Bowl victories, although honestly, given the way this game ended, a lot of people had to stop and remember what Brady, the former Wolverine, did besides cheer like a banshee at the final interception.
Oh, yeah. That’s right. He went 37-for-50 for 328 yards and threw four touchdowns. He also singlehandedly carried the Patriots’ offense when it became clear this would not be one of those games where an unknown New England running back would save the day.
Even more impressive, he did not sink when Seattle and its vaunted defense had him down 10 points in the fourth quarter, with just over 12 minutes left.
Instead, he trotted onto the field, trailing, 24-14, and on first down-and-legacy to go … he got sacked. Yep. Lost eight yards. Seattle celebrated. The crowd stirred. It felt like the moment a Super Bowl tilts and tilts and finally falls off its axis. Maybe it was going to end this way for Brady. Maybe, for all the accolades, for all the magazine covers, for all the NFL records he was knocking over even on this night, maybe he would lose his third straight try at a ring, unable to overcome his only two mistakes, the only two turnovers of the game to that point, two interceptions, both of them costly. One came in first quarter, in the end zone, killing the Pats’ first long drive. The other came in the third quarter and led to a Seattle touchdown.
Maybe this was how Tom Brady would go over the mountain and toward the sunset, the loser of his last three Super Bowls.
“It wasn’t the way we drew it up,” he would tell the media. “Certainly, throwing a few picks didn’t help.”
But it was one of those Super Bowls.
The last gasp
Brady, 37, had told the media he wanted this game more than any in his career. And from the moment he got up from that sack, he played like it. He drove the Pats 68 yards for a touchdown, twice converting third-and-longs with 21-yard strikes to Julian Edelman. Then he drove them 64 yards in 10 plays for the game-winner, never reaching a third down and finding Edlelman in the end zone for what would prove to be his final pass of the season.
Then came the hard part. He had to watch Seattle march downfield in the final two minutes, the way you watch the end of Liam Neeson’s “Taken” movie. You know how it goes. You know the script. The good guy kills off everyone and lives. The only mystery was which quarterback was the good guy.
Golden Lad Russell Wilson began with a 31-yard completion to Lynch, who caught favorable coverage with a linebacker on him. The Pats held the next two downs. But on third-and-10, Wilson found Lockette for 11 yards.
Then Wilson heaved a long pass to Kearse that was batted in the air by Butler, bounced off Kearse’s hands, then one leg, then the other leg, then the fingers, the other fingers, and finally landed in his grip as he lay on his back near the 5-yard line.
Butler looked up in disbelief.
“I felt like if we would have lost that game, it would have been my fault,” he told ESPN.
Meanwhile, Brady and everyone in Patriot Nation was flashing on the same nightmarish thought: David Tyree, the Giants receiver who caught a bomb off his helmet and ruined the Patriots perfect season in 2008, the last time they played a Super Bowl in Arizona. Again? Could it really be happening again? There were 66 seconds left and the Seahawks only had to go five yards.
But that was to be their last drop of enchantment. Somewhere a wizard smashed a crystal ball. Somewhere a sorcerer took off the blue and green. The Seahawks reached the 1 on a Lynch bull rush, and the Patriots, amazingly, did not call time out to save time for a comeback of their own.
Instead, the clock ticked down to 26 seconds as Seattle took the snap. And then, despite having the toughest running back in the game, despite a timeout in their pocket and three downs to win it, they called for a quick slant pass to Lockette, and Butler, who moments ago thought he’d lost the Super Bowl for his team, stepped in front of it and stole all the marbles.
“I had to make a play so I did it,” he said, seemingly overwhelmed. “I know it’s big…”
Big? The only thing bigger is the explosion on the Internet over the Seahawks not giving the ball to Lynch. Asked whether he was surprised he didn’t get the ball, the usually wordless Lynch told the media, “No… because football is a team sport.”
And once again, it proved too difficult for a team to repeat as NFL champions. The Patriots were the last team to do it 10 years ago. They’ll try again next season.
Meanwhile, Seattle goes home without a crown, and few outside of the Pacific Northwest will weep. The Seahawks’ attitude rubbed many the wrong way. Their fighting at the end of the game didn’t help. Lynch embarrassed himself and the league with his behavior all week. And Richard Sherman, for all his talent, hit a new low in bad sportsmanship when he called out Darrelle Revis on camera during the game, yelling his number “24! 24!” after Revis gave up a touchdown.
That’s all right. Revis can yell “21!” at Sherman — he can yell it all winter long. That’s Malcom Butler’s number. And in the end, when it counted, Butler had the ball, New England had the win, and Seattle was left rubbing its eyes. One of the best Super Bowls ever played came down to the unlikeliest destiny, the 1-yard line, a bad idea, a stolen pass and The End.