…OC Josh McDaniels did a fine job mixing up his play-calling in the opening quarter. New England ran the ball rather effectively early on against Seattle's stout front, employing obvious running personnel packages (sometimes with extra blocker Cameron Fleming) when they did.
…Yards-after-catch were important for New England on their first two drives of the game, both in the first quarter. Patriots receivers, including RB Shane Vereen, made nice moves to avoid Seattle tacklers and pick up extra yardage to keep moving the sticks.
…QB Tom Brady's first of two INTs on the day came at the end of the second possession, after New England had moved the ball well into the Seahawks' red zone. Brady was pressured from his left side by DE Michael Bennett, who came on a delayed stunt from the tackle position. At the snap, he stood straight up in front of rookie C Bryan Stork. This allowed a teammate to bull rush LT Nate Solder all the way over to the right hash marks, clearing a space on the left side of the o-line. When this happened, Bennett looped around left guard Dan Connolly, who wasn't blocking anyone and failed to recognize what was happening. Stork attempted to pursue Bennett, but was shielded by Connolly. With Bennett bearing down on him, Brady seemed to panic and fired the ball into the end zone. Either he didn't see CB Jeremy Lane standing around the goal line, or thought he could get the ball to the back of the end zone to WR Julian Edelman. Either way, Lane was in the right place at the right time to seize the ball out of the air.
…New England's mostly nickel D did a fine job bottling up RB Marshawn Lynch on his first four carries. QB Russell Wilson scrambled twice and was actually brought down for a two-yard loss by CB Darrelle Revis on the second run. Both plays were the result of excellent down-field coverage by the Patriots, meaning Wilson had to hold onto the ball before deciding to tuck and run with it. That was the extent of Seattle's offensive plays from scrimmage in the first stanza. Good game plan execution by the Patriots defense.
…The short passing game was very effective for Brady and the Patriots' offense. New England chose not to test Seattle's best corner, Richard Sherman, but instead relied on short throws underneath to receivers and to Vereen out of the backfield, as well as a couple of screens, to move the ball on their first possession of the second quarter, which resulted in a touchdown. In particular, backup CB Tharold Simon, who came on in relief of Lane after he was injured on the INT, was victimized more than once.
…Brady's first of four TD tosses went to WR Brandon LaFell on 2nd-and-9 from the SEA 11. LaFell was split wide left, with WR Danny Amendola in the left slot. Brady was in the shotgun with RB LeGarrette Blount to his immediate left. TE Rob Gronkowski was in a three-point stance next to RT Sebastian Vollmer, and Edelman was wide right. Brady play-actioned to Blount at the snap, while Amendola, ran a short dig route to the sideline. Brady looked that way, but was more focused on LaFell, who had inside leverage on Simon. FS Earl Thomas tried to race to Simon's aid from his deep position in the end zone, but was a couple steps too late, as LaFell made the catch and split the two defenders to slide over the goal line.
…From their base 4-3, the Patriots managed to sack Wilson on the first play of the next Seattle drive. The Seahawks were in an apparent run formation with an I behind Wilson. But he dropped back and play-action faked to Lynch. LT Russell Okung kicked out to block OLB Akeem Ayers, leaving DE Chandler Jones 1-on-1 with LG James Carpenter. Lynch bumped into Carpenter while finishing up the fake, giving Jones an opening to chase down Wilson and bring him down for a three-yard loss.
…Good pressure by the Seattle front forced the Patriots into a three-and-out on the ensuing possession. Brady's first pass was batted at the line of scrimmage incomplete, and on 3rd down he had to throw the ball into the ground with LB Bobby Wagner in his face.
…Lynch started running harder on the next drive, on which Seattle scored to tie the game. That was set up by a great catch deep down field by WR Chris Matthews. He made a nice adjustment on his corner route to a ball thrown to his inside shoulder. Matthews' 180-degree turn in mid-air allowed him to come down with ball over the much shorter CB Kyle Arrington. To his credit, Arrington played as tight a coverage as you can legally give, but Matthews just made an athletic play and used his size to his advantage.
…Lynch didn't do anything spectacular on his TD run. He was in the shotgun to Wilson's left, and the QB handed off to him on a read-option play that Lynch took to the right side. Three Patriots defenders were there to meet him at the 2-yard line, but Lynch spun through them to reach over the goal line with the football.
…Brady and the O responded with a touchdown of their own to reclaim the lead. Again, this drive featured short passes, significant YAC, and a nice run by Blount to go 80 yards in 8 plays. The TD was a deep throw to Gronkowski, who was single-covered by LB K.J. Wright on the right side. Mismatch if there ever was one. Gronk just ran a go-route and Brady lofted a pass that Gronk high-pointed in the end zone after beating Wright by a step. Whenever Gronkowski is alone on one side of the field and in a 1-on-1 coverage situation with any defender, Brady almost always goes there with the football. Everyone knew this was coming and Gronkowski delivered.
…A big run by backup RB Robert Turbin, then another big run by Wilson on a read-option keeper, preceded a deep throw to WR Ricardo Lockette on which Arrington committed a face mask penalty, and just like that, Seattle had a 1st-and-10 from the NE 11 with 6 seconds to play in the half. Wilson, as seen on NFL Films' Sound FX program, convinced head coach Pete Carroll to call for a pass. Wilson wanted to throw a back-shoulder pass to Matthews on the left side. The play worked perfectly for Seattle because CB Logan Ryan was playing soft, about seven or eight yards deep. Thought he recovered in time to attempt to swat the ball as Matthews caught it, the large cushion he gave the receiver allowed Wilson to make a safe throw that the taller receiver easily snagged out of the air. That tied the score for just the third time ever in Super Bowl halftime history.
…Arrington was again step-for-step with Matthews, this time down the left sideline, but the big receiver was able to come down with another tremendous deep ball to set up Seattle's lone field goal of the game.
…Lynch ran well on that opening drive of the second half, but DE Rob Ninkovich made a great play, coming across the line of scrimmage from the back side, to bring Lynch down for no gain on 3rd-and-1 to force Seattle to kick the three-pointer. Ninkovich anticipated the play at the snap and was unblocked by Seattle, which certainly helped his cause.
…Brady was picked again on the Patriots' first drive of the half when he tried to thread a pass over the middle and down the seam to Gronk. Wagner was sitting back in a zone coverage, and when Gronk made his cut to the middle, he was open for a split-second. Brady saw this and threw, but Wagner was close enough to step in front of the pass and wrestle the ball away from Gronkowski. RB Brandon Bolden made a nice diving tackle to prevent Wagner from taking the ball any further than the six yards he did because there was a lot of open field in front of Wagner.
…Revis gave up his only pass of the day on Seattle's final score of the game. Playing man-to-man on WR Doug Baldwin, Revis was inadvertently screened by a member of the officiating crew as Baldwin ran a crossing route in the middle of the end zone. This allowed Baldwin to get wide open on the right side. Wilson tossed a soft pass to his receiver for an easy score.
…Perhaps one of the most pivotal plays of the game happened on Seattle's next drive, when, facing a 3rd-and-2 from the NE 47, Wilson looked deep down field for WR Jermaine Kearse. Wilson's man had beaten rookie CB Malcolm Butler by a half-step and Wilson dropped a perfect pass into Kearse's hands, but he couldn't hold onto the ball. Had he made the catch, Seattle would have had a first down inside the Patriots' 20. The game may have ended there. Instead, the Seahawks punted and never scored again.
…Another crucial play came on the Seahawks' first possession of the fourth quarter. Facing 3rd-and-7 from their own 39, Seattle dropped back to pass. Ninkovich, lined up in his customary LDE spot, stunted first to the center. When that lane was clogged, he continued over to his right, where there was an opening between the left tackle and left guard. The coverage by the Patriots' secondary was excellent once again, meaning Wilson had to hold onto the ball and was a sitting duck in the backfield as Ninkovich came firing through the hole. Wilson was looking down field and didn't realize Ninko was there until the last second. At that point, it was too late to run and he collapsed under Ninko's onslaught. Seattle punted.
…Brady was then sacked on the first play of the next drive. LB Bruce Irvin tried to bull-rush Solder, and when that didn't work, he tried to spin to the inside. Solder stifled Irvin again, but Brady, by this point, had drifted to his left and there was a clearing there for Irvin to lunge at him and bring him down. Overall, however, the Patriots' O-line did a wonderful job protecting Brady all evening.
…Edelman came up with a pair of clutch catches, both for 21-yard gains, on 3rd downs on the next Patriots scoring drive. Essentially, there were the same play, with Edelman coming across from the left side and making a catch in the middle of the field.
…Amendola caught Brady's next TD pass with a well-run route on 2nd-and-goal from the SEA 4. With Seattle in a zone, Amendola, from the left slot, initially faked as if he was running a dig to the outside, which fooled CB Byron Maxwell, then cut upfield and instantly raised his arm to alert Brady he was open. Brady fired and again, Thomas was late coming over to help. Amendola had to jump for the ball and secured it safely just as Thomas swatted at his arms.
…Vereen had his best game ever catching the ball out of the backfield. A one-handed grab on the first play of the final scoring drive epitomized the kind of day he had in this department. This shouldn't be understated, given how Vereen has struggled holding onto passes in his previous three seasons with New England. He came up big on the biggest of stages.
…Edelman, meanwhile, was fantastic all night running routes. None better than the one on which he scored his game-winning touchdown against Simon. On the previous scoring drive, he'd executed the same move, but Brady overshot him just before throwing to Amendola. But the play worked so well, the Patriots went back to it when they needed it for the win. On 2nd-and-goal from the SEA 3, Edelman, wide left, ran a slant, then planted his left foot and pivoted clockwise. Simon's momentum kept him moving to the inside as Edelman turned to the outside and a wide open space. Falling backward over the goal line, Edelman caught Brady's pass and landed on both feet for the score.
…Butler made a nice play to break up a deep pass to Kearse just two plays before the ridiculous bobbling grab Kearse made down the right sideline. On the incompletion, Butler was a step behind Kearse, running down the right seam, but he jumped over and in front of the receiver to knock the pass down as it arrived. Really underrated play by the rookie. He then made a nice play falling backward on the crazy completion, as he tipped the ball up as he and Kearse fell to the ground. His best play, however, was his last one.
…Recognizing that the Seahawks were trying to run a pick-route on the goal line, Butler, in man coverage against Lockette, was behind fellow CB Brandon Browner in the end zone. Browner was locked up with Kearse this time, and the intent was for Kearse to drive Browner into Butler to give Lockette the room to catch the ball untouched for the touchdown. But Butler read the play before the snap and jumped the route. Wilson's pass was a bit ahead of Lockette, which gave Butler an extra advantage as he and Lockette collided as the ball arrived. Butler was in much better position to make the catch than the intended receiver. Butler then made a very alert play to come out of the end zone with the football. When he made the interception, he was in the field of play. It was his momentum from colliding with Lockette than knocked him back into the end zone. This could have been ruled a safety had he just fallen in the painted area, but he had the presence of mind to advance the ball back into the field of play. Remarkable all-around effort by the undrafted youngster.