FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The stakes obviously weren’t as high as they were in Super Bowl XLIX for one of the most memorable plays in New England Patriots history, when cornerback Malcolm Butler made his improbable game-saving interception. But what unfolded Sunday on the Patriots’ clutch defensive stop against the Houston Texans that handed the ball back to quarterback Tom Brady for his stellar game-winning comeback drive against was very XLIX-like.
Even coach Bill Belichick noted the link between them.
“Yeah, there are some similarities,” he said. “The ball wasn’t on the 1-yard line, but as far as the personnel grouping, it was a goal-line grouping against a multiple-receiver offensive set. That’s exactly what it was.”
In the Super Bowl, the Patriots’ decision to match the Seahawks’ three-receiver set with their goal-line package -- as assistant coach Brian Flores yelled, “Malcolm, go!” on the sideline to have Butler enter as the third cornerback -- will forever be part of New England football lore.
It wasn’t as dramatic Sunday against the Texans, but when Houston brought three receivers on to the field when facing third-and-1 from the Patriots’ 18-yard line with 2 minutes, 34 seconds remaining, it was essentially “Malcolm, go!” time all over again.
If the Texans got the yard, the game was probably over. They already led 30-28 and that would have forced the Patriots to use their final two timeouts, with little time left on the clock for a comeback if they ultimately did get the ball back.
Yet, just like in Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots’ D delivered; only this time around it was the big linemen in the middle who built a wall when the Texans handed off to running back Lamar Miller out of the shotgun, with Miller attempting to power his way up the middle. Defensive tackle Alan Branch, in particular, was the key with a good initial surge as Miller was stopped for no gain.
When Belichick watched the play on tape, he noted that right guard Greg Mancz’s blocking angle made it hard to get to Branch.
“And there wasn’t a lot of space for him to cut back with [Lawrence] Guy behind him and [linebacker Kyle] Van Noy. We had a lot of people there -- eight guys on the line of scrimmage against six blockers,” Belichick said. “We just squeezed it down and got a good push from the inside guys, Malcom [Brown], Branch, Lawrence Guy.”
If the Seahawks had attempted a similar running play in Super Bowl XLIX, perhaps the result would have been the same based on the Patriots’ numbers advantage at the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, if the Texans had attempted to pass to one of their three receivers on Sunday, like the Seahawks did in the Super Bowl, it would have been Butler, Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty as the lone players in coverage.
“We kind of know up front, we’ve got to stop the run,” McCourty said. “So myself, Malcolm and Steph are out there against three receivers like, ‘We’ve got to make sure they can’t throw it for a first down.”
The similarities to Super Bowl XLIX were hard to miss.
The Seahawks attempted to pass. The Texans elected to run.
Both times, in the same goal-line package, the Patriots’ defense came through in the clutch.