GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For the Seattle Seahawks, a second consecutive Super Bowl victory was just 1 yard away, with 26 seconds remaining in the game.
Marshawn Lynch had just overpowered the New England Patriots' defense for a 4-yard gain to the Pats' 1-yard line, and the clock was ticking down on Super Bowl XLIX. Trailing 28-24, the Seahawks had three downs and one timeout available to clinch the victory.
Instead of going "Beast Mode," the Seahawks went "Least Mode" and called a pass. Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped in front of Seattle wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and intercepted Russell Wilson's pass. In one nightmarish moment, any thoughts of a Seahawks dynasty died a nasty death.
Thanks to Butler's game-clinching interception, the Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, concluding one of the most exciting title games ever. Patriots QB Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl, and record-tying third MVP award, but Super Bowl XLIX will forever to be known for "The Call" -- Seattle's controversial decision to opt for a pass when the Seahawks had one of the most powerful runners in football.
Here are the five things we learned from Super Bowl XLIX.
1. Goal-line controversy, deja vu: This wasn't the first controversial Seahawks goal-line play at University of Phoenix Stadium. On Oct. 17, 2013, Lynch went "Beast Mode" against his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, without carrying the football. In the third quarter of a 34-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Lynch made an obscene gesture to Bevell when the offensive coordinator called a pass play instead of a Lynch run after the running back had carried the offense into scoring position. On the previous play, an instant replay review took away a Lynch TD run. Lynch wasn't happy even though Bevell's play call resulted in a touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Davis.
It's hard to tell Lynch's reaction to the Butler interception Sunday night because he doesn't talk to the media. Here's what happened. The Pats had their goal-line defense on the field, geared to stop the run. The Seahawks were in a three-receiver set. "We could have run it and got stuffed," said Seattle Coach Pete Carroll, who added he didn't want to call a potential wasted play. Bevell called a short-yardage pass play that has worked well for the team in the past. Here's the problem: Even though he's a rookie, Butler recognized the formation from watching prior tape and felt he could jump the route and make the interception. "I mean, shoot, it didn't turn out the way I had hoped it would and, so, of course, I am sitting here saying I could do something different," Bevell said. That's an understatement, considering this will go down as one of the worst play calls in NFL history.
2. Josh McDaniels might become a head coach -- again: The Patriots' offensive coordinator called perhaps one of his best games and will no doubt again be a hot name in head-coaching circles. It helped that the Pats had two weeks to prepare for the Seahawks' defense. To counter the Seahawks' Cover 1 and Cover 3 zones, McDaniels knew he had to come up with something creative. He used a system of short passes in which one receiver cleared out the area underneath a zone so another could get into a seam. "The way they play their zones, they give you very little room to operate, so we had to come up with some ways to get some space," McDaniels said.
The strategy worked brilliantly. Brady completed 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, but it was his underneath passes that did the most damage. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Brady completed 28 of 32 passes for 194 yards and two scores on passes traveling within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Instead of trying to run the football, McDaniels was on such a roll calling the short passes he went with it even more in the second half. By targeting running back Shane Vereen on 12 attempts and completing 11, Brady forced the Seahawks into some man coverages against tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was able to get past safety Kam Chancellor and linebacker K.J. Wright in man situations. Chancellor said the "Legion of Boom" secondary had problems when they gave up yards after the catch. On short passes, mostly on clearing routes, the Patriots had 159 yards after the catch on 28 completions.
3. Undrafted Seattle WRs almost won the game: The Pats manned up against five undrafted Seahawks receivers, and it nearly cost them. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis covered Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin in man the entire game, and held him to one catch and 3 yards. The man scheme against the Seahawks' three- and four-receiver sets held Wilson without a completion until late in the first half. Wilson struggled to find open receivers, initially, and was just 1-for-3 for 33 yards until a torrid finish to the second quarter. He completed three of four passes on an incredible 80-yard scoring drive in the final 31 seconds of the first half.
Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Lockette, Bryan Walters and Chris Matthews were the five active Seahawks receivers. The Patriots have $16.72 million in cash invested this year in Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, their top three cornerbacks. Amazingly, Matthews, a former CFL receiver whom the Seahawks re-signed Dec. 6 and hadn't caught a pass all season, had four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in the game. Lockette, Kearse and Baldwin combined for seven catches and 107 yards, and Kearse made the incredible juggling catch while on his back at the Patriots' 5 with 1:06 left in regulation that put the Seahawks in position to win. Baldwin's one catch against Revis was a TD pass when the Patriots CB was picked in the middle of the end zone by an official, leaving Baldwin wide-open. Even though the Pats' man strategy successfully held Wilson to 12 completions, key passes put the Seahawks in position to win.
4. The best Super Bowl QBs? Brady and Joe Montana: Brady tied Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls, and he was Super Bowl MVP for the third time. He has been in the most Super Bowls for a quarterback, with six, and now owns Super Bowl records for most passes (247), completions (164), completions in a game (37), career passing yards (1,605) and touchdown passes (13). Yet this victory was the most important. The league is investigating whether the Patriots used deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game, and whether Brady was at all responsible. Until Sunday, Brady hadn't won a Super Bowl since Spygate. With independent equipment people watching the footballs during Sunday's Super Bowl, Brady's win was clean, and historically important. Plus, his comeback from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, tying a Super Bowl mark, was one of the most exciting in championship game history.
5. Seattle faces a long road to Super Bowl 50: The Seahawks have a chance to make a third straight Super Bowl appearance, but it won't be easy. It's hard to tell the negative carryover of a loss as devastating as Sunday's, especially when the team led 24-14 in the fourth quarter and came within 1 yard of beating the Patriots. A quick glance at Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in the postgame locker room was telling. Sherman, according to a source, played Sunday despite knowing he might need Tommy John surgery on his injured elbow. Thomas, meanwhile, has a badly separated shoulder. Both sat dejected in the locker room.
It's also tough to tell how Lynch will handle losing a Super Bowl knowing one more handoff could have given him his second ring. Moreover, the Seahawks will lose their defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, to the Atlanta Falcons, who will name him head coach this week, according to sources, and cornerback Jeremy Lane may have broken his arm in the Super Bowl. Three feet short of a second straight Super Bowl win, the Seahawks will have a long offseason to ponder the what ifs and try to rebound for the 2015 season. "My mom says you find value when you are in the valley," Baldwin said. "We are really in the valley."