The team of this era captured its fourth Super Bowl trophy thanks to a finish for the ages.
The New England Patriots are again champions of the world. Four rings for Tom Brady. Four rings for Bill Belichick.
The Seattle Seahawks? Simply deflated.
Malcolm Butler, a little-known, little-used rookie cornerback, intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line with just 20 seconds remaining, preserving a 28-24 victory for the Patriots in Super Bowl 49 at an electric University of Phoenix Stadium.
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The second-guessing began as soon the pass — a slant to Ricardo Lockette — was thrown.
The Seahawks had second-and-goal at the 1 with one of the best running backs in football, Marshawn Lynch, in the backfield. Lynch had run for 102 yards on his 24 previous carries. Why not trust him to get one more yard?
Seattle got cute, and the Patriots made the Seahawks pay. And in doing so, the Patriots flushed out a decade’s worth of bad Super Bowl karma — and proved that they can win, no matter the PSI.
After two weeks of attacks on their integrity, the Patriots proved once again why they’re the class of the NFL.
“I’m so proud of Brady and Belichick for handling everything the way they did,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “I love them. All of our Patriots fans should be proud.”
Not to mention a bit delirious. The Patriots did more than simply snap a two-game Super Bowl losing streak. They survived another one-in-a-million catch instead of letting it beat them.
Seven years ago, David Tyree seemingly had velcro on his helmet, using his head to pull in a game-changing catch on this very field. Tyree’s Giants would go on to beat the Patriots on that day.
On Sunday, it nearly happened again.
On Seattle’s final drive, Wilson targeted Jermaine Kearse deep down the right sideline. Butler was in coverage, and the pass seemed destined to fall harmlessly incomplete. But as Kearse was going to the ground, he batted the pass at least three times before catching it flat on his back. The gain was for 33 yards and put the Seahawks on the New England 5.
The next play was a Lynch carry, and he stretched to the 1. It would be his final carry of the night.
The Patriots defense made sure of that.
And in doing so, it preserved a fourth title in 13 years — and Brady’s third Super Bowl MVP.
Brady threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns — including a 3-yarder to Julian Edelman that put New England ahead for good — to rally the Patriots from a double-digit fourth-quarter hole.
“It wasn’t how we drew it up,” Brady said with a grin. “It took a lot of mental toughness. We never doubted each other. That’s what it took.”
Brady is now one of three quarterbacks to win four titles. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are the others.
Any conversation about the best quarterback in history now begins win Brady — and might end there, too.
He won Sunday without his best stuff. He threw two interceptions, including an egregious one to Jeremy Lane at the goal line in the first half.
But he rallied to complete 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, giving him an NFL-best 13 in his six Super Bowl appearances.
The 37 completions, also an NFL record, went to seven receivers. Edelman caught nine balls for 109 yards. Shane Vereen had 11 catches for 64 yards.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were predictably balanced. They had 234 yards through the air and 162 on the ground.
Wilson had played great before that last pass; he still completed 12 of 21 attempts for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
Chris Matthews — a first-year player who didn’t even have an NFL reception before Sunday — led Seattle with 109 yards and a touchdown on four catches.
And despite Brady’s heroics, the Seahawks were three feet away from becoming the first back-to-back champions since the Patriots did it in 2003 and ’04.
Butler made sure they would get no closer.
“These guys have been counted out many times throughout the course of the season,” Belichick said. “They believed in themselves. … Great, great competitors. Never gave in. Never lost their will.”