GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ten years later, they did it again.
Overcoming all kinds of obstacles and odds, the Patriots scaled the summit of the football world once again.
An entire decade after Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won their last Super Bowl they did it again. With offense AND defense. With big-time players and less heralded ones.
And Seattle, to their credit, took every New England punch and responded with solid body shots of their own.
In the first quarter, the Patriots dominated on defense with great pass coverage, forcing QB Russell Wilson not to throw a single pass and bottling up RB Marshawn Lynch. They also did a fairly good job of keeping Wilson from beating them with his feet.
Offensively, OC Josh McDaniels mixed up his play-calls nicely, effectively utilizing heavy packages for runs and spread looks for passes. If not for a Brady INT in the red zone, the Patriots would have gotten on the board in the first quarter. However, New England controlled the clock in a fast-moving opening quarter.
Both teams stepped it up in the second quarter, with New England moving the ball nearly at will and putting 14 points on the board with two TD passes by Tom Brady. But each time, Seattle responded offensively with touchdowns of their own, making this just the third Super Bowl ever to be tied at halftime.
WR Chris Matthews, who never had caught an NFL pass before this Super Bowl, made several tremendous ones against CBs Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington to set up Seattle in scoring position and to put points on the board for the Seahawks. On defense, it was DL Michael Bennett who was causing trouble for Brady all night.
Brady threw another pick early in the third quarter, setting up another Seattle touchdown to put the Seahawks up by 10. As well as New England dominated the first half, the Patriots threw it away in the third quarter – literally.
A Rob Ninkovich sack in the early fourth quarter (and on his birthday, no less) – gave New England a glimmer of hope…
But on the very next play from scrimmage, Brady was sacked. However, Julian Edelman saved the drive with a clutch, head-rattling catch over the middle on 3rd-and-14, then again on 3rd-and-8 to give New England a goal-to-go opportunity, which Danny Amendola converted with a nice touchdown grab.
That was a gut-check drive for the Patriots, pulling them within 3 points of the defending champs with just under 8 minutes to play. Brady was poised and focused, and so were his receivers.
New England's defense came up equally big on the ensuing Seattle possession, forcing a three-and-out in less than a minute.
The Patriots had the ball at their own 36 with just under 7 minutes to play and a chance to tie or take the lead. Could Brady, who early in his legendary career was known as The Comeback Kid, do it one more time?
He did what he had to do. He went to his big man, TE Rob Gronkowski, a couple of times on big play catches that kept the drive going. Edelman then used a great move on CB Tharold Simon which nearly resulted in a touchdown on the previous scoring drive to give the Patriots the lead again, 28-24.
Just like the last time in Arizona in 2007, the Patriots had a lead with a late drive, but a fluky catch gave the Seahawks the ball inside the Patriots red zone.
With seconds ticking down, Wilson had the ball just outside the goal line and decided to throw. Undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler – MALCOLM BUTLER!!! – made a fantastic read on the slant pass and jumped in front of the intended receiver to seal the game with an interception.
"I felt like the game was going to be my fault if we lost," an incredulous Butler said afterward, in reference to the miracle catch by Seattle late in the game. "We had another play, so, I remembered from goal line preparation that the formation they were in, a two-receiver stack, I just knew they were running a pick route. I just beat him to the route and made the play. I knew they were going to throw it.
"I was so emotional. I knew I was going to make a big play," he asserted, "but not THAT big."
"I knew it would be a battle," defensive end Chandler Jones said. "Malcolm Butler's first career interception is in the Super Bowl in his rookie year. That shows a lot of mental toughness… a LOT of mental toughness. For him to go out there and play after that huge catch on him – and he played the ball perfectly – and go back and pick it off… it was great."
After two weeks of nearly incessant talk about deflated footballs, the game itself, between the NFL's best two teams, was all but overlooked. And it shouldn't have been, because it promised to be one of the best Super Bowls of all time.
It more than lived up to the hype.
Either team could easily have claimed victory and the other side would have no reason to dispute it.
"It definitely feels real to me right now, man," wide receiver Brandon LaFell smiled. "We won this, we deserve it. It's a great feeling."
"It feels great, man," echoed cornerback Darrelle Revis. "It's surreal, but we worked so hard for it. We did. Since I sat down with Mr. Kraft and Bill… this was the reason: to be part of this legacy. To be a part of something great. It's been an awesome ride."
A shocked Ninkovich shook his head when asked if he could have imagined the game unfolding the way it did.
"No… it's still hitting me right now. It… it… it was an amazing game," he stammered, trying to find the right words. "Coming in, we knew it was going to be a great game. That's what it's supposed to be with two great teams playing each other in the Super Bowl.
"Our team has been through so many ups and downs," Ninkovich added, "I'm happy that we came out on top."
"We've been hit in the mouth a bunch of times, but we've always been able to get back up," an exhausted Edelman remarked. "And we proved it again today."
Unbelievably, the Patriots overcame a 10-point second-half deficit, with Brady leading the way again. At the ripe age of 37, he was once again The Comeback Kid.
"In my opinion," Edelman declared, "Tom's the best quarterback on this planet. He's won four Super Bowls in the salary cap era, he's been in six, played with a whole bunch of different guys. I mean, I don't know how you can argue with that."
It was an instant classic, as the Patriots captured their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
It was truly one for the ages.