Looking back at game film always helps bring clarity to a football game. Sometimes, when you see a play happen live, at full speed, you think you see things you don't.
For instance, on New England's fourth-quarter drive when they still had the lead, right before Seattle scored for the final time, they faced a 3rd-and-8 from their own 43. QB Tom Brady threw a pass to wide receiver Deion Branch who looked like he'd been interfered with before the ball got there. Upon viewing the game tapes, it's evident that he is struck by cornerback Brandon Browner well before the ball arrives.
Pass interference should have been called, and New England's drive would have continued, perhaps all the way to the end. Seattle may never have gotten the chance to possess the ball at the end of the game.
But that's not how it unfolded, and here are some other key reasons why the Patriots eventually lost 24-23.
WILSON'S GAME-WINNING BOMBS
One of the main reasons the Seahawks were able to stay in the game Sunday was rookie QB Russell Wilson. His scrambling to avoid New England's constant pressure was impressive, but the Patriots did themselves in by allowing Wilson to complete passes of 50, 51, and 46 yards, that last one being the game-winning touchdown to Sidney Rice, plus a 40-yard gain on a pass interference penalty by safety Patrick Chung.
Without those huge plays, Seattle doesn't stand a chance of coming back to win that game.
On the touchdown, Seattle lined up in what looked like a run formation on 1st-and-10 from the Patriots' 46. They had backs in an I-formation behind Wilson, a tight end, and just two receivers, one on either side of the formation. But the o-line was in two-point stances – a clear indication that this would be a pass.
New England was in its base 4-3 defense, with a notable exception – Chung was out with a shoulder injury and replaced by rookie Nate Ebner. Wilson play-actions to his left, then bootlegs back to his right, buying himself time to throw as the Patriots defense rushed just four men.
The secondary was playing a zone. Rice was initially covered by Devin McCourty, who allowed the receiver to run by him. The responsibility now fell to rookie safety Tavon Wilson, starting in place of injured Steve Gregory yet again. Rice, whose route was unaffected by McCourty at the line, was going full speed and faked like he was going to a corner route. Wilson bought the move and turned his body in that direction, but Rice cut back to run a post.
Wilson was forced to swivel around to give chase, which allowed Rice to separate from him and Ebner, who tried to close in from the other side of the field. QB Wilson's perfect spiral was right on target for Rice to haul it in for the score.
Brady was intercepted twice against Seattle, doubling the number of INTs he'd thrown in New England's previous five games.
His first was simply a poorly thrown pass intended for Branch. He was tightly covered by Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, who was to the inside of Branch as they ran down the right side yard-marker numbers. Brady's ball was underthrown and Sherman was in the perfect spot to come down with it. Had Brady put more air under the ball, it might have been picked by safety Earl Thomas, who was closing in fast on Branch from deep in the secondary.
It looked as if Brady's better option would have been Wes Welker coming on a crossing route from left to right. He had a step on his defender and might've been able to turn up-field and pick up some extra yardage. All other receivers were well covered on the play.
The second, and perhaps more costly interception, came on the very next offensive possession. Again, New England was moving the ball very well with their no-huddle and shotgun formations. They'd gone from their own 34 down to the Seattle 6-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
Brady had three receivers split out, tight end Rob Gronkowski in a three-point stance next to left tackle Nate Solder, and running back Danny Woodhead beside him to his right in the backfield. Tight end Aaron Hernandez was the lone receiver to the right of formation, with Brandon Lloyd and Welker to the left.
At the snap, Welker runs a simple in-pattern and finds a soft spot in the Seahawks' zone around the 4-yard line. The pass is a little high, forcing Welker off his feet to attempt the catch, and the ball was no doubt a bit slippery from the steady rainfall. It sailed through Welker's hands and into Thomas', who just happened to be in the right spot in the end zone where the deflected ball ended up.
END OF FIRST HALF
After Seahawks punter Jon Ryan bungled a snap and was devoured by the Patriots punt coverage unit, New England took over at Seattle's 24-yard line with 40 seconds left in the half. From the shotgun, Brady completed two straight passes, the first for 15 yards to Welker, the second for six to Woodhead.
That got the ball down to the 3 with 12 seconds remaining. The Patriots called their final two timeouts after both of those plays, so, there was little doubt they would have to throw the football on the next play. If they ran the ball and didn't get in the end zone, there likely wouldn't be enough time to get the field goal unit out for an attempt.
Brady goes back into the gun on 2nd-and-goal from the 3. He has Woodhead in the backfield to his right, Lloyd and Welker split wide to his left, with Branch coming in motion from left to right, and Gronkowski in a three-point stance next to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
The o-line does a nice job of forming a pocket for Brady, who had a clear look at the end zone. Gronk had run a crossing route to the left and was comfortably free of his defender for a moment, but Brady was stepping up in to the pocket. That slightest of delays allowed Seattle's safety, Earl Thomas, to recover in time to deflect and nearly intercept Brady's eventual pass to Gronk.
We're down to six seconds now, and you assume the Patriots will play it smart on the road and get the easy three points with a field goal. Instead, head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels roll the dice and try for one more shot at the end zone. There's time, but just barely.
Again, with no timeouts, the call must be made quickly.
Brady is sent back into the gun. He has the same personnel in virtually the identical positions.
This time, Gronk runs a corner route and is wide open. He's the only Patriot open, in fact. However, the QB feels the pocket collapsing to his left – defensive end Chris Clemons does a nice job of speed-rushing Solder, who is slow to react.
Brady takes his eyes off Gronk and loses sight of him in the confusion. In a panic, Brady heaves the ball out of the back of the end zone. One second remains, but the refs decide this is intentional grounding, which, with under two minutes to go in the half, adds the insult of a 10-second runoff of the game clock to the injury of not picking up the touchdown.
New England squanders the gift Seattle had given them and goes to the locker room empty-handed. Had they gotten at least an easy three points there, the entire dynamic of the game's final drives might have been so altered that the Patriots could've come away with a victory.