The heroes this Super Bowl were Tom Brady and Malcolm Butler. And that’s absolutely right because that, as much as anything, is the Patriot Way we all keep hearing about.
This franchise has been consistently among the best in the NFL and often the undisputed best in the league because it does what it does with an extraordinary quarterback who will go down in NFL lore and a litany of other guys whose names you never recall after a couple of years.
They win because Brady can throw four touchdowns against the most fierce defense in the NFL as he did Sunday and then some anonymous guy invariably makes a huge play to help the star and the team seal the game.
We’ve seen it dozens of times.
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It’s Brady and then it’s some other dude doing something unexpected.
In the past the names David Patten, or David Givens or Antowain Smith came out of nowhere. It’s always someone that nobody believes in or knows except the Patriots. It’s always someone who fades into relative anonymity soon afterward.
But the point is ... it is always somebody.
This night it was Malcolm Butler. He was an undrafted rookie out of mighty (not really) West Alabama. He’s all of 24 years old. He’s a former All-Gulf South Conference cornerback.
And he collected an interception, the first of his NFL career, with 26 seconds to play to seal this championship.
“I just had a vision that I was going to make a big play, and it came true,” Butler said afterward. “I’m just blessed. I can’t explain it right now.”
Don’t bother explaining, because we don’t need an explanation. We get it.
This is what the Patriots do. This is what the bleeping Patriots do.
It obviously starts with Brady.
He is the cornerstone. He is the rock. And he is the rock star.
He burst on the scene at 25 out of a reserve role. And thrust into the limelight because someone else faltered, Brady won his first Super Bowl as an underdog. And then he won another, and another.
And on Sunday the Patriots won their fourth Lombardi Trophy in 14 years.
Brady brought the Patriots back from a 10-point deficit to win this one.
“We never doubted each other,” Brady said.
Yeah, we know. Brady does this comeback thing a lot. Ask Baltimore, who took not one but two 14-point leads against the Patriots in the divisional round only to see those margins evaporate.
The quarterback who grew up admiring Joe Montana passed his idol’s 11 career Super Bowl touchdowns by bringing his career total to 13 Super Bowl touchdowns. He was 37 of 50 for 328 yards against the Seahawks. The 37 completions is also a Super Bowl record.
Eight of Brady’s completions came on the drive to give his team the lead. He completed those eight passes on eight attempts.
“I didn’t think about that,” Brady said. “It’s a team effort. There’s never one player. It took a whole team. We blocked great all day against a great front, and I’m just proud of the way we overcome things.”
Brady also won the Most Valuable Player award.
The two interceptions Brady threw, terrible plays that seemed so significant at the time, are just a memory now.
Kind of like the Seattle dynasty that was supposed to manifest after this game but won’t.
That’s how it has been for 14 years with these Patriots. They have been glorious years in New England. They have been 14 dark years in the rest of the AFC East, including in Miami.
“The first one we won, I thought it was pretty special because it came a time in the history of country when it was so important,” New England owner Robert Kraft said. “But this one is equally special. It matches that one. It absolutely does. Every true Patriots fan understands it.”
Every Patriots fan should also understand that the Seahawks lost this game as much as the Patriots won it. By that I mean the Seattle interception was riddled with understandable second-guessing.
The Seahawks, supremely talented and so confident, trailed with 2:02 to play and then drove 79 yards to the New England 1-yard line.
There were 26 seconds left in the game. Only 36 inches separated Seattle and a win. And despite having the best and perhaps most physical running back of his day in the backfield, the Seahawks called a pass.
Somebody passed on giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch.
Somebody decided Russell Wilson should try a slant pass to Ricardo Lockette.
The pass was fine. Lockette failed to beat Butler on the slant. And then he failed to keep Butler from intercepting the ball.
Blame Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who made the decision.
“I’m a little bit surprised,” a stunned Richard Sherman said afterward. “It was an unfortunate play. Their guy made a heck of a play, and that’s all you can ask for.”
And suddenly the Patriots were champions.
That too, as we’ve come to see four times the past 14 years, is the Patriot Way.