The 28-24 result was definitive but the narratives which spun out of a gripping four quarters for both teams will be a work in progress for the foreseeable. On the one hand, the debate over whether Brady and Belichick can lay claim to the greatest quarterback-coach combination of all time might have edged closer to definitive affirmation. On the other hand, there was much agonising and second-guessing over the game-defining decision of the Seattle Seahawks to throw the ball instead of running it when they were one yard from glory.
As is the way with big moments in sport, the latter kerfuffle was all the more intriguing. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had three opportunities in his pocket to somehow advance the ball one solitary yard and all but win the game. Instead, he was ordered to throw near, slanting right but sadly for him and his team, right into the hands of an unlikely hero, rookie Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Given that Seahawks fans travelled to Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium in greater numbers, that shock finale was greeted by a mixture of confusion and the relatively muted exhalations of the Patriots fans.
There was a lot to take in but essentially after a fourth quarterback comeback — orchestrated by the supremely-patient Brady — turned a 14-24 deficit into a 28-24 lead, the Seahawks somehow managed to eke out one final opportunity to regain the lead with less than a minute left.
During this drive, Russell Wilson was as composed as his veteran opposite number, the young quarterback leading his team down the field while also benefiting from the outrageous luck of Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse juggling and catching the ball while prone on the turf after a 33-yard throw. That led to the final make-or-break moment on the one-yard line set up by the last contribution of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, a seven-yard run, capping his brilliant contribution of over 100 yards and a score.
However, Lynch wasn’t offered the chance to be the hero. Instead the ball was thrown during a play which was reportedly anticipated by the Patriots coaches last week. Butler saw it a mile away and gobbled up the interception and the historic victory was complete.
The last two times Brady and the Patriots had chances to win a Super Bowl, the New York Giants triumphed on the back of memorable catches, one of which — David Tyree’s “helmet catch” seven years ago — was at the same venue. So Brady will be forgiven for admitting afterwards a sense of déjà vu took hold.
“I felt like we were going to win the whole game, and then they made that catch. Then I had a little bit of a doubt,” Brady said yesterday.
“Then we made a great play. We’ve been on the other end of some great catches and not being able to finish it out. This time we made the play.”
Brady, who will turn 38 prior to next season, was named Most Valuable Player and was keen to express his desire to keep going at the top level for a few more seasons. His joy contrasted sharply with the soul searching in the other camp as Seattle coach Pete Carroll, lauded for last year’s victory at the same stage, was forced to explain away what every outside observer failed to understand.
“I made the decision,” Carroll said. “I said, ‘throw the ball’, and we went with the play that we thought would give us a chance to get in the end zone. We were going to run the ball in to win the game, but not on that play,” he continued. “I didn’t want to waste a run play on their goal-line guys. It was a clear thought, but it didn’t work out right. The guy (Butler) made a play that no one would have thought he could make.”