Undrafted rookie seals Super Bowl, Pats win

In a game loaded with big names, it was an undrafted rookie that preserved the Patriots’ 28-24 lead with a goal-line interception with 20 seconds left.

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The big names were all in place. Russell Wilson. Marshawn Lynch. Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski.

But the biggest play of Super Bowl XLIX came from unknown New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, an undrafted free agent from West Alabama. With 20 seconds to play in the biggest game of his life and the Seattle Seahawks looking poised to defend their championship from last season, needing only one final yard on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Butler stepped in front of a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line for the game-saving interception.

Sometimes Superman comes out of nowhere, and Wilson’s pass needed to be threaded into a space tighter than a phone booth. The Butler did it, improbably preserving a 28-24 lead to clip the Seahawks in a see-saw battle.

“I was fired-up ready,” Butler said. “I was ready to play. I was fired up. I was on the sideline waiting to get in and I was ready.

“I feel good. I made a play to help my team win. I’ve worked so hard in practice and I just wanted to play so bad and help my team out. I got out there and did exactly what I needed to do to help my team win.”

Brady provided the offensive fireworks, completing 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, with his 37 completions the most in a Super Bowl. but the superstar quarterback needed the unknown cornerback to cap the win after Brady threw two interceptions himself, coming on New England’s first drives of each half.

The Patriots overcame a 10-point, second-half deficit with fourth-quarter touchdowns to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, the final one coming with 2:02 to play in the game.

That part was all Brady.

“It was serious,” receiver Brandon LaFell said of Brady’s late-game streak. “Oh, man. That just says we’ve got a lot of fight.”

The close score was befitting of two evenly matched teams. Both teams finished the regular season with a 12-4 record. The Patriots had a net-points differential of plus-155 on the season; the Seahawks were at 140. Both sported 7-1 home records and were 5-3 on the road.

Seattle had the top-ranked defense and top-ranked passing defense, along with the top-ranked rushing offense in the league. But the Seahawks allowed Brady to have a 101.1 passer rating, sacked him only once despite mounting pressure in the second half, and allowed four receivers to have five or more receptions. Edelman led the way with 109 yards on nine catches and running back Shane Vereeen caught 11 passes for 64 yards. Gronkowski ended with six grabs for 68 yards and Amendola had five for 48. Edelman, Amendola, Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell all had touchdown catches.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Gronkowski said. “It means everything. This is awesome. I’ve got to go. I’ve got to celebrate.”

Of course he did. What else would Gronkowski do after winning his first Super Bowl?

Wilson struggled to start, as he went more than 24 minutes before completing his first pass. But the momentum slowly mounted for him and he finished the game completing 12 of 21 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and that final, devastating interception.

Lynch was the predictable calling card of the Seattle offense, carrying the ball 24 times for 102 yards and a touchdown. But, curiously, he wasn’t used on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

“Here’s the deal: We sent our guys on the field, wide receivers on the field, spread them out, they ran on their goal-line (defense), they sent all their big guys out there,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “At that moment I didn’t want to waste a run play against their goal-line guys. Throw the ball, we’ll come in on third and fourth down and we can match up. … It was a clear thought, but it didn’t work out right.”

The outcome came down to that one final play and it was the least of players from New England’s defense that made the game-winning grab.

The first quarter was a battle of defenses, as many expected. The Patriots picked up one first down on the game’s opening drive, but Seattle couldn’t even manage that much on its first series. However, just when the momentum was starting to turn the Patriots’ way as they drove into the red zone, Brady threw up a third-down prayer that Jeremy Lane intercepted. But the interception was costly for the Lane, who injured his wrist and was taken out, and the Seahawks who were already dealing with a dinged-up secondary.

Still, the Seahawks managed only one first down and minus-2 passing yards in the first quarter with tight coverage from the Patriots. The Seahawks weren’t as good without Lane. Brady started the Patriots third drive of the game with a 13-yard screen to Amendola and kept the chains moving with an 8-yard to Shane Vereen, but once inside Seattle territory, the big plays continued to pile up. Julian Edelman beat Lane’s replacement, Tharold Simon for a 24-yard gain, and Simon was beaten again for an 11-yard touchdown toss to Brandon LaFell.

It took until more than midway through the second quarter, but Wilson finally completed a pass for a first down and the Seahawks were suddenly energized offensively. On the next play, he found Chris Matthews down the right sideline on a 44-yard bomb with Kyle Arrington in tight coverage. But from the 11-yard line, it was all Lynch, who took three carries, finishing with a 3-yard inside run into the end zone to tie the game with 2:16 to play in the first half.

While the first quarter involved little offensive action, the second quarter was loaded and just getting started. The Patriots took advantage of the Seahawks’ linebackers on crossing routes, as Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright both gave up two completions. Much of the damage was done on a 16-yard pass to Edelman, who had Wagner trailing him, but Gronkowksi cut deeper when he got vertical on Wright for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Patriots back on top, 14-7 with 31 seconds left in the half.

Unfazed, the Seahawks suddenly found more first downs in the final 31 seconds than they had in the first 29 minutes. Robert Turbin and Wilson picked up first downs with 19- and 16-yard runs, respectively, on consecutive plays to get across midfield, but Ricardo Lockette’s 23-yard reception and a facemask penalty at the end put the Seahawks at the 10-yard line and with a big decision. With 6 seconds remaining, they decided to go for the touchdown and got it when Matthews hauled in the pass with 2 seconds left to knot the game 14-14 at the half.

The Seahawks once again returned to Matthews for a big play on the opening drive of the second half, with the young receiver hauling in a 35-yard pass into the red zone but settled for a 27-yard field to take their first lead of the game.

Just like Brady ended the opening drive of the game with an interception, he ended the Patriots’ first drive of the second half with another interception, the first time he has been intercepted twice in a Super Bowl, giving Seattle the ball at midfield. A 20-yard scramble by Wilson on the third play of the drive moved the Seahawks into the red zone, and after a couple of Lynch runs gained 15 yards, Wilson found Doug Baldwin crossing the end zone wide open for a 3-yard touchdown and the Seahawks had a 10-point lead, 24-14.

But the Patriots were far from buried. They overcame third-and-14 with a 21-yard pass to Edelman and third-and-8 with a 20-yarder to Edelman to get to the 5-yard line, where Amendola finished it with a 5-yard touchdown grab, bringing the Patriots within three

Seattle went three-and-out and Brady was back on the move. This time, Gronkowski was the big playmaker of the drive, catching passes of 16 and 12, both for first downs to get into the red zone. Four plays later, Brady hit Edelman for the 3-yard touchdown with 2:02 to play and a 28-24 lead, New England’s first lead of the second half.

Still, after the Seahawks mounted a 79-yard drive to the 1-yard line, it all came down to Butler, who became the improbable playmaker that put the Patriots back on top as the NFL’s best.

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