Despite the noise of the ongoing “Deflate-Gate” investigation and the raucous 12th Man chorus which was in full rally gear in Glendale, Arizona, on Sunday, the New England Patriots hunkered down to do what they do best: win a football game. The scene was Super Bowl XLIX and the AFC Champion Patriots were returning to the same field where they lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants, 17-14. There were ghosts in the University of Phoenix Stadium – and you really had to wonder if God was, in fact, the 12th man for Seattle when wideout Jermaine Kearse came down with a miraculous, 33-yard circus catch on New England’s five yard line with 1:06 left on the clock. With the score reading 28-24 New England, the game seemed primed for yet another lead change.
But fate had a different ending this time around for the Patriots, who had lost their two previous Super Bowl appearances to the G-Men inside of the last two minutes of both games. On first down, the Seattle hand-off went predictably to their top running back, Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, who ricocheted his way to about the 18-inch line. However, on second down and less than a yard to go for the go-ahead score, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll decided to shake things up and not hand the ball off to Lynch, but instead go for a slant route across the middle to wideout Ricardo Lockette. His rationale, if you didn’t know the play’s outcome, seemed almost plausible:
“It wasn’t the right match-up for us to run the football,” he said, acknowledging that the Patriots had stacked the line against the run, “so on second down we were throwing the ball really to kind of waste that play. If we score, we do. If we don’t then we’ll run it in on third or fourth down.”
And maybe run down the clock. A little. But a wasted play it was. The fate of the game changed on that very decision. Instead of the ball going for a completion and touchdown to Lockette or getting knocked down for an incomplete pass, it was picked off by a very astute rookie cornerback by the name of Malcolm Butler. The play started with 26 ticks on the clock. It ended with Butler landing with possession of the ball at about the one-yard-line. Twenty seconds showed on the clock. The momentum of the game had reversed course once again. Maybe this really was supposed to be a storybook ending for New England quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft.
After the preceding two weeks of intense media scrutiny regarding deflated footballs, the Patriots were now heading back to the field to run out the clock. To win their fourth Super Bowl in 14 years. And that’s just what they did.
But what seems to be lost in all the finger-pointing in Pete Carroll’s direction is a missed blocking assignment on the fateful play by Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse. Instead of blocking his defender, Brandon Browner, back into Butler to take both men out of the equation, Kearse simply led Browner away from the play and seemed almost indifferent to the rookie DB lurking nearby. Butler watched Wilson’s eyes, made a break on the ball and corralled it just in the nick of time as he slammed shoulders with Lockette, knocking the receiver to the ground and collapsing himself.
If Green Bay Packers special teams player Brandon Bostick is taking all the heat for not blocking his man during Seattle’s unlikely onside fumble recovery late in the NFC Championship game, then blame needs to go in the direction of Kearse for the Super Bowl. He failed to do his assignment properly and allowed an unknown first-year player from West Alabama, a former batter fry cook at Popeye’s Chicken in Vicksburg, Miss., to become the unlikely hero of Super Bowl XLIX. Yes, Tom Brady was named the game’s MVP, but it was Malcolm Butler who made the game’s most valuable play.