On February 1, 2015, the Seattle Seahawks lose Super Bowl XLIX to the New England Patriots. The 28-24 loss is especially painful for the team and its fans because the Seahawks are just a yard away from scoring in the closing seconds, only to have victory elude them. A controversial decision to pass instead of run leads to an interception by the Patriots, giving them their fourth Super Bowl title and foiling the Seahawks' attempt to repeat as league champions.
Early Struggles, Strong Finish
No Super Bowl champion since New England in 2004 had made it back to the title game the following season. The Seahawks, coming off a one-sided victory in Super Bowl XLVIII and having one of the National Football League's youngest and most talented teams, were 2014 preseason favorites to reach the Super Bowl again. But they struggled along the way. A season-opening victory over the Green Bay Packers was followed by a loss to the underdog Chargers in San Diego. The Seahawks bounced back with victories over Denver and Washington, but then were beaten at home by Dallas. Then, in a surprise move, they traded Percy Harvin (b. 1988), their talented and highest-paid wide receiver, to the New York Jets. The trade never was explained officially, but apparently Harvin wanted the ball too often and was causing problems in the locker room. Two days later the Seahawks lost to the lowly St. Louis Rams, giving them already as many losses as they had in the entire previous season. The loss at St. Louis was followed by three straight victories, but then came a humbling defeat at Kansas City. At that point, the Seahawks had a 6-4 record, raising doubts that they could repeat as division champions, let alone get back to the Super Bowl.
Coach Pete Carroll (b. 1951) called a meeting of 12 team leaders, where the players talked emotionally about remembering to play for each other, not for themselves. That seemed to clear the air and refocus the team.
Relying on the powerful running of Marshawn Lynch (b. 1986) and a once-again dominating defense, the Seahawks won their remaining six regular-season games to finish with a 12-4 record, another division title and home-field advantage for the playoffs. Their offense broke the franchise record for most yards per game, set by the 2005 Seahawks Super Bowl team, and their defense once again ranked first in the league for fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed, and fewest passing yards allowed. No team had accomplished that feat in consecutive years since the 1969 Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks looked ready to defend their Super Bowl championship.
Playing at home in CenturyLink Field, they quickly disposed of the Carolina Panthers in the first playoff game, but found themselves in serious trouble in the National Football Conference championship game. Green Bay was on top 19-7 and had the ball with barely five minutes remaining. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (b. 1988) had just thrown his fourth interception of the game, compared to only seven in the entire 16-game regular season. A Seattle victory appeared all but impossible at that point. But the Seahawks defense held Green Bay to three plays and a punt, setting up a wildly improbable final four minutes.
Wilson led the team downfield and scored on a one-yard run, but by then only 2:09 remained. The Seahawks couldn't afford to give the ball back to Green Bay, so they tried a desperation maneuver called an onside kick, where the kicker bounces the ball just past 10 yards and hopes one of his teammates gets it before the opponent does. Improbably, it worked. The ball bounced off the hands of a Packer and was caught by receiver Chris Matthews (b. 1989). Lynch scored on a 24-yard run, and the Seahawks made a desperation two-point conversion -- Wilson, while being chased, floated a high, arcing pass across the field that tight end Luke Willson (b. 1990) caught at the goal line. The Seahawks had scored 15 points in less than a minute to take a 22-19 lead. The record crowd of 68,538 at CenturyLink Field was in a frenzy.
Green Bay was able to kick a field goal to force the game into overtime, but Seattle's tidal wave of momentum continued. The Seahawks got the ball first and quickly scored, the game winner coming on a 35-yard pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse (b. 1990), who made a diving catch in the end zone with a defender draped on his back.
Winning 28-22 after trailing 16-0 amounted to the biggest comeback in Seahawks post-season history and the biggest in NFL championship (conference or league) history. Emotions flowed in the stands and on the field. Wilson, normally composed whatever the outcome, had tears running down his cheeks. Carroll said, "This has got to be one for the ages. It's almost humbling that it was such a classic challenge and our guys found a way to get it done" (Brewer, "Seahawks' Grit ..."). The Seahawks had made it back to the league championship game.
A Classic Matchup
Super Bowl XLIX, played February 1, 2015, in Glendale, Arizona, matched Carroll's brash young defending champions against the league's closest thing to a dynasty. Under head coach Bill Belichick (b. 1952) and with quarterback Tom Brady (b. 1977), the New England Patriots had played in five Super Bowls and won three of them. While the Seahawks were barely escaping a loss to Green Bay, the Patriots were routing Indianapolis 45-7 in the American Football Conference title game. The odds makers rated the Patriots as one-point favorites.
Neither team scored in the first quarter. Both had a pair of touchdowns in the second -- New England on Brady passes to wide receiver Brandon LaFell (b. 1986) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (b. 1989), and Seattle on a 3-yard run by Lynch and a 11-yard pass from Wilson to Matthews that tied the score at 14-14 with just two seconds remaining before halftime. The Seahawks took the second-half kickoff and drove to a 27-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka (b. 1985). New England's next possession was cut short by an interception by middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (b. 1990), and the Seahawks capitalized on the turnover, mounting a 50-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to receiver Doug Baldwin (b. 1988). That made the score Seattle 24, New England 10.
When the Patriots had to punt on their next two possessions, Seattle had visions of another championship. But the tide began to turn. Brady and his receivers were masters of putting together long drives with short passes. Meanwhile, Seattle's secondary, normally the strength of its defense, was depleted and playing hurt. Its three Pro Bowl defensive backs -- cornerback Richard Sherman (b. 1988) and safeties Kam Chancellor (b. 1988) and Earl Thomas (b. 1989) -- all had injuries that limited their effectiveness. Another Seattle cornerback, Jeremy Lane (b. 1990), had left the game with arm and knee injuries after making an interception in the first quarter. With the game on the line, Brady took full advantage. Completing 13 of 15 passes, he produced touchdown drives of nine plays and 68 yards, and 10 plays and 64 yards. Those drives, ending in his third and fourth touchdown passes of the game, consumed more than nine minutes of the last quarter. New England led 28-24 with barely two minutes remaining.
One Final Drive
Looking back, some analysts called XLIX the greatest Super Bowl ever. That was based partly on the way the score swung back and forth, but especially because of the way it ended. The Seahawks started their final drive on their 20-yard line and moved down the field at a breakneck pace. Wilson threw a short pass to Lynch who turned the play into a 31-yard gain. Kearse then made a seemingly impossible catch -- tipping the ball at the top of his leap, juggling it as it bounced off his body and, while tangled with a falling defender, finally grabbing at while flat on his back. The play gained 33 yards and put the ball on the New England 5-yard line with 1:06 on the clock. A Lynch run moved it to Patriots 1. There were 26 seconds remaining, and victory appeared within Seattle's reach.
At first glance, the obvious play for the Seahawks would be a run by Lynch. He had rushed for a franchise post-season record in the NFC title game and already had 102 yards in the Super Bowl. He was known as perhaps the hardest-to-tackle running back in football, living up to the nickname Beast Mode. But with the Patriots lined up to stop another run, Seattle's coaches surprisingly called for a quick pass. Wilson threw over the middle toward Ricardo Lockette (b. 1986) at the goal line, but Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler (b. 1990) anticipated the play and beat Lockette to the ball by inches. The interception clinched the victory for New England, and left the Seahawks and their fans stunned, almost in disbelief. Brady, who had passed for 328 yards and his team's four touchdowns, was named the game's Most Valuable Player. He gave the truck that came with the award to Butler, the ultimate game-winner.
The Great Debate
Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (b. 1970) was the one who called for that play. Carroll said he agreed and took responsibility for it. What were they thinking? That was the question being asked locally and nationally after Super Bowl XLIX, which was the most-watched television show in U.S. history. Carroll explained that they wanted to give themselves three chances to score. The Seahawks had a timeout remaining. If the quick pass was incomplete, they could give the ball to Lynch and, if he was stopped short of the goal line, call time out and then try it again. Statistics back up that thinking: Of 106 passing plays from the 1-yard line in the NFL in 2014, none resulted in an interception. New England coaches said they could understand the logic behind the decision.
There were other factors determining the outcome. Brady played brilliantly in the last quarter, wiping out a 10-point deficit. The Seahawks had won eight straight games heading into the Super Bowl, allowing a total of only 13 fourth-quarter points in that entire span. The Patriots burned them for 14 in taking the lead.
Still, that controversial pass from the 1-yard line had decided the game. In the immediate aftermath, Seattle sports columnists predicted lasting consequences for the Seahawks. "That play cannot be unseen, cannot be ignored and cannot be worked around. ... Only one resolution is possible: Win the Super Bowl next year. Anything less, and the Travail in Glendale will be an unresolved chord destined to hang forever over the franchise and all the participants," wrote Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest ("Only One Way ..."). Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone called it "a loss that will torment the Seahawks for perpetuity. ... In the span of 30 seconds or less, what would have been another stirring comeback win ... instead turned into a meltdown of staggering proportions. ... For the Seahawks, the pain of this moment will live on forever" ("Victory Vanishes ...).