The two best teams in the NFL are probably meeting in the Super Bowl, helping to make this one of the best matchups in years.
But the New England Patriots almost lost in the playoffs to their nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens:
The Ravens beat them handily in the first round in 2009. And they beat them again, 28-13, in the 2012 AFC Conference Championship Game.
In the 2011 AFC Championship game, a botched catch by Lee Evans – as well as a strong play by an undrafted rookie cornerback who had been waived by the team that originally signed him – changed who went to Super Bowl XLVI (46).
The Ravens were also not very good this year. Yet quarterback Joe Flacco, who had been near super human in the playoffs (and otherwise often in key regular season games) had a chance to win at the end three weeks ago against the Patriots. But Flacco finally showed he was human in the playoffs, and came up short, throwing an interception instead of a winning touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks had their own troubles getting to the Super Bowl: specifically in the NFC Conference Championship game, after easily handling the Carolina Panthers 31-17 in the divisional round. (Although the Seahawks won solidly, it wasn’t really a rout, as a long interception return for a TD by Safety Kam Chancellor took the Panthers, who had been on the Seahawks 13 yard line, out of easy field goal range and gave the Seahawks a touchdown, amounting to what in effect was probably more than a 10 point swing in the score with just over 6 minutes left to play.)
The Packers, who the Seahawks faced in the Conference Championship, were a very good team this year; but not a good road team. Yet on the road, and in Seattle where the Seahawks have still lost only two times in three seasons (2013 against the Arizona Cardinals in week 16, and 2014 against the Dallas Cowboys in week 6) – the Packers almost beat the Seahawks.
Not only did they almost beat them, they probably outplayed Seattle overall – even if assisted by two somewhat fortunate tipped ball interceptions. Save for some horrendous early game strategic decisions, and a complete meltdown at the end of the game – including a desperation Seattle onside kick attempt that fell harmlessly into the arms of Packer Brandon Bostick, who unfortunately couldn’t hold onto it – Seattle would not have won that game and wouldn’t be in the Super Bowl either.
But those games notwithstanding, this Super Bowl probably does ultimately pit the best team from each conference against each other. And it’s a great matchup, for a number of reasons. As noted in the link above:
“It pits the dominant team of the past 15 years against their former head coach, himself leading a team seeking to be the first NFL team to repeat since none other than that dominant team – the Patriots – themselves did it back in 2003- 2004, and a dominant defense that in last year’s Super Bowl dismantled what had been one of the best offenses of all time.”
The teams have of course also met before; but not often since long former Patriots head coach Pete Carroll became the Seahawks head coach.
In fact, since Carroll took over in Seattle in 2010, a period now covering five full years, his Seahawks have only faced the Patriots once. It was in 2012, quarterback Russell Wilson’s Rookie season. Seattle went 8-0 at home that year. (They’ve gone 7-1 at home each year since, and haven’t lost at home in the playoffs yet – though but for that late recovered onside kick, they would have lost against the Packers in the NFC Conference Championship Game two weeks ago.)
But Seattle did have a few close games at home in Wilson’s rookie season.
One was against the Packers on an extremely controversial TD pass on the final play of the game for the win under replacement referees, and came just three games into Wilson’s career. (Note, on the controversy, the illustrative but near outraged video leaves out WR Golden Tate coming down with the ball also simultaneously – in which case possession does go to the receiver. And sometimes offensive pass interference doesn’t get called. It’s not a travesty.)
Another was their next home game 3 weeks later, in week 6. It was the one against the New England Patriots, Wilson’s only game against them, and the Seahawks only one in the past six seasons.
In the game the Patriots uncharacteristically blew a large 4th quarter lead. And, also somewhat uncharacteristically, after getting the ball back with 1:14 remaining and trailing by less than a field goal (24-23), starting out on their 20 yard line the Patriots couldn’t advance the ball; and actually went backward and turned the ball over on downs.
But the key play in the game, if not on the last play as in the controversial Green Bay game just week earlier, was also a long TD pass. This one came with 1:27 remaining on a 1st and 10 from Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice for 46 yards. and it that erased a 6 point deficit, and put the Seahawks up on top to stay, by a point.
The Seahawks had several close games that 2012 season, including the first of three, over three years, at the Carolina Panthers. But by the end of 2012, they were cranking on all cylinders. They beat the (by then hapless) Cardinals 58-0. The Bills 50-17. The 49ers 42-13, and the Rams 20-13 to close out their season. They then beat the Redskins 24-14, in Washington, in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Then they went to face a strong Atlanta Falcons team – and an extremely strong team at home – in the divisional round. The Seahawks fell behind, then pulled off what would have been the biggest 4th quarter comeback in NFL history after Marshawn lynch scored with 31 seconds left.
But, they kicked off, and Atlanta started from their 28 yard line with 25 seconds in the game. Then they played too soft and Matt Ryan hit Harry Douglas for 22 yards on their first play, and Atlanta called a timeout. On the next play Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez for 19 yards, and the Falcons called their last timeout with 13 seconds left.
Instead of taking a shot at the sidelines and another 5-8 yards (which Ryan has done countless times, and he’s fully capable of making quick decisions out of the shotgun and simply throwing the ball away if the play wasn’t there), the Falcons went ahead and tried the field goal from the 31 yard line on 1st down.
Matt Bryant’s 49 yarder was good, 8 seconds remained after the field goal try, and the Falcons won 30-28. (The ensuing NFC Conference Championship game versus the 49ers also came down to the wire, with the 49ers, of course, winning, then going on and losing 34-31 to the Ravens in the infamous “power outage” SuperBowl, No 47.)
Not long after the Seahawks season ending loss at Atlanta, I heard a Pat Kirwan interview with Pete Carroll. Carroll, very earnestly and believably, said it was almost as if the season was not over, that his guys couldn’t wait to get back into another season and play, and that they were, “chomping at the bit.” It was at that moment, in combination with how the Seahawks had finished out the season and improved, that they became my pick as next year’s (2013) Super Bowl champ. A lucky one, in hindsight, and a lot of people made it.
But it didn’t look like they were going to repeat. The team lost a few key players (a lot was made of the loss of super athlete Percy Harvin, but they would have easily won the 2013 Super Bowl without him, and he barely played a game in the regular season), and struggled early in the season. As a result they were 3-3 after week 7, and after a close loss to the Chiefs in a great game in week 11, they sat at 6-4, 3 full games back of the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals first lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer – a key part of their success – and then lost his backup, Drew Stanton, and all but fell apart, helped by the fact that they still had to play the Seahawks twice, losing both games.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks may have had four losses after 10 games, but they went on a 6 game winning streak (and 9 of 10 since week 7) finished up the season with only 4 losses, and clinched the number one seed in the NFC for the second year in a row. (That No. 1 seed likely helped, because given how close that game was at home, where they have a great home field advantage, Seattle probably would have lost at Green Bay where the Packers have been exceptional this season – while Seattle has not been the same team on the road as at home.)
The Patriots for their part are up against history in a big way. It would be their 4th Super Bowl win in 6 tries in this millenium alone. But this wouldn’t be like the brief Steel Curtain era nearly 40 years ago where the Steelers won 4 Super Bowls in a 6 year period. The Patriots have dominated over a longer period of time, winning their division 12 times since 2001.
The Patriots were also the first team to go undefeated in the regular season since the 1972 dolphins, and first ever in a 16 game season – although they almost lost to a still under rated and upstart New York Giants team in the season finale: The same Giants team who as a wild card, squeaked into the playoffs that year and wound up “stunning” the at that point 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl 42. (The Giants did it again in Super Bowl 46, showing themselves to be somewhat aptly named giant killers; for if any team has been giant this millennium, it’s been the Patriots. The only other team to somewhat have the Patriots number is the Ravens, who oddly enough defeated the Giants in the Giants 3rd, and only other, Super Bowl appearance of this millennium.)
All of this has been with the same quarterback, a guy named Brady, and the same head coach, a guy named Belichick – both of whom joined the team in 2000. (Brady’s rookie year, although he didn’t start until early in his second season after a fluke chest injury to then starter and former Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe – where the former 6th round pick then early on shocked the hell out of football analysts who were paying very close attention, watching as a likely future NFL super star was born.)
Call them the B&B years. And if B&B tries again after this season, although Brady will be 38 before the season starts, great. And they likely will try again regardless. But a win here in this Super Bowl against the now defending champion Seattle Seahawks, and this era will be cemented in football lore as one of nearly unique modern domination, by the Patriots, in a league of overall “relative” parity.
The record will still be extremely strong if the Patriots lose this Super Bowl . But it won’t be quite the same.
And while the Patriots will still again have had a great season, they won’t have won a Super Bowl in 10 years. A win here, giving them a 4th, redeeming their last two losses, and not just four total in the 2000s alone, but a winning Super Bowl Record in the 2000s, with six total and 11 playoff appearances, would be remarkable.
To do so they need to beat a Seattle team that jelling at the end of the season and holding its opponents over the last six games of the season (49ers 2x, Cardinals 2x, Eagles, and Rams) to 6.5 points a game average might still be slightly over rated, but is also still extremely good. And most important of all, this Seattle team is capable of playing with serious passion. In the NFL passion normally trumps.
Since Seattle is a very good team, such passion on their part would also trump even a good game by the Patriots. And the Seahawks have shown they can do it in the Super Bowl as well: Defeating an extremely strong – often dominant – 2013 Denver Broncos, by a lopsided 43-8 Margin last year.
Can they against these Patriots? It will probably all come down to New England. They have the capability of beating Seattle. But to do so, they will need to have the same intensity, drive, and fire as Seattle.
Although many of the players are different, they will somehow need to collectively remember that their team lost, embarrassingly, in the last two super bowls they were in – and to the same team no less. And including once when they had gone 18-0 prior to that.
And they will need to remember how Seattle, on a wild pass early in 2012, all but stole a game from them the one time the two teams have met in the past six years. And how Seattle can take away even more of their mettle by being the first team to repeat as champions since they the Patriots had themselves 10 years earlier. And doing it against them, stealing yet another Super Bowl from them, for – if even over time – a third loss in a row.
They also need to remember “deflategate,” and the perception by a few, warranted or not, that the Patriots are “cheaters.” A solid win in the Super Bowl against the “best” or possibly best team in the NFL, who is no doubt “chomping at the bit” to get to them, would do a lot to render that whole idea that they “aren’t the dominant NFL team but for ball pressure and other assorted antics” (most of which other teams replicate), to rest.
Most of all, they need to remember what this Seattle team did to a Broncos team in last year’s Super Bowl. How Seattle, and particularly its defense, likes to intimidate through super solid, hard, physical, real football. And, sometimes thought of as more of a “finesse” team, they need to match up with that,bounce right off and show Seattle they don’t really care, they are going to take it to them just like they – the Seahawks – did to the Broncos the year before. All game long.
If they do that, the Patriots will win.
Has some of the fire gone out in Brady? Like the Ravens Joe Flacco, and perhaps even more so, he was near super human in playoffs. That is, until Peyton Manning – whom he normally bested – got the better of him, and Brady had the chance for the win at the end and for the first time couldn’t pull it off. Since then Brady’s been great but not super human.
He’s older, he’s married, he has kids. But he has intense passion and drive, and if he can get that old focus back, and more importantly, if he can share it with the rest of his team – make them super hungry, lean, not taking anything for granted, treating themselves, ironically enough, like the proverbial Davids going up against the big bad Goliath Seahawks who need to be brought down to earth and who they know can be – they will win.
Green Bay showed that Seattle, although very good, is really not that fantastic of a team. That probably woke Seattle up, and if anything will likely make them play harder. And the game is a close call, as again it’s one of the best Super Bowl match-ups in years. And it’s hard to pick against Russel Wilson – his calm, his athleticism and versatility and his near near machine like perfect “in course of play” decision making – very hard to do for a run and pass combination quarterback – is phenomenal.
But the Patriots are the slightly better team, won’t be intimidated by the Seahawks, and will play like the better team, and win this Super Bowl.
If they don’t win, barring a fluke, it will be because they were somewhat intimidated by the Seahawks, and didn’t match their fire.