Seahawks, Patriots advance to Super Bowl
By Ron Wynn
The results of last Sunday's NFC and AFC championship games dictate that history will be made by whatever team wins Super Bowl XLIX Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. Either the Seattle Seahawks become the first repeat winners since the New England Patriots, or the Patriots will gain their first title since they repeated in 2003-04. A Patriots' victory also will be the fourth for QB Tom Brady, putting him in select company with the San Francisco 49ers' Joe Montana and Pittsburgh Steelers' Terry Bradshaw. If the Seahawks triumph again, Russell Wilson becomes the first Black QB to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
These teams took very different paths to reach the ultimate game. For most of the NFC championship contest, the Green Bay Packers were far superior to the Seahawks, despite the game being in Seattle. Seattle had fewer turnovers in the regular season than any other club, but had a shocking five against the Packers. Wilson's 95.0 ratings had placed him seventh among all NFL QB's, but he was inept for lengthy stretches. Wilson completed only eight of his first 22 passes, and four were intercepted. Two of those bounced off the hands of receiver Jermaine Kerse and others were deflected, but the Packers defense was shutting down the Seahawks' running game, and Seattle's passing attack was even weaker.
But a funny thing kept happening to the Packers. Despite often getting exceptional field position due to the constant turnovers, their offense couldn't score touchdowns. Instead of being ahead 21-0 or 28-0 at halftime, the Packers led only 16-0 due to twice failing to get touchdowns when having first downs inside the five yard line. When Seattle scored on a fake field goal to make it 16-7, the Packers once again marched down the field, only to end up with a field goal again and a 19-7 lead with a little over four minutes left. Most folks thought the game was over when Seattle had possession with a bit over two minutes remaining.
Then the Seahawks' offense came to light. First came a couple of completed passes and a one-yard scoring run. That made it 19-14, but Seattle's only hope was an onside kick, recovery, and touchdown. Amazingly, all those things happened, within seconds of each other, topped by an even more incredible two-point conversion play on which Wilson looked to be sacked, but managed to fire all the way back across the field to a receiver for the completion, making it 22-19. Green Bay would then go back up the field, and score the tying field goal, a 48-yarder.
In overtime, the Seahawks won the coin toss, and the Packers never got a chance on offense. Kerse compensated for his multiple drops, catching the game winning pass and finishing a most improbable comeback that put Seattle back in the Super Bowl. Two of the Seahawks' top defensive players, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, were both injured, but stayed in the game, playing with a separated shoulder and hyper-extended elbow respectively. Both maintained they would be ready for the Super Bowl.
New England had previously bowled over Indianapolis 42-20 during the regular season, and it was hoped that this game wouldn't be a replica of its predecessor. It wasn't. This one was even worse, as the Patriots got a quick 14-0 lead, were briefly challenged at 14-7, then blew out Indianapolis with a 21-point third quarter on the way to a 45-7 romp. The Colts' Andrew Luck is widely regarded as the heir apparent to the Patriots' Tom Brady and the Broncos' Peyton Manning as the NFL's premier QB. He still may eventually become that, but thus far he has been unable to do very much against the New England defense. Luck completed only 12 of 33 passes, and Colts' receivers seldom ever got open against the Patriots' secondary.
Meanwhile, New England was simply overpowering the Colts' defense once more. They continually utilized an extra offensive lineman in odd formations, and LeGarrette Blount ran in, around and through the Indianapolis' defense on the way to 148 yards. It was no contest throughout the second half, and Brady had little trouble finding open receivers when he bothered to pass. After the epic Seahawks/Packers game, this one was about as humdrum as it gets.
So the Super Bowl once more comes down to the number one team on offense (New England) against the number one team on defense (Seattle). Last year, the Seahawks totally throttled the Broncos and made it look easy in a 43-8 romp. That ugly game was the beginning of the end for John Fox as Denver's head coach, though the firing didn't come until the Broncos were ousted by the Colts in the divisional round. However the Seahawks know that New England won't surrender a 16-0 point lead, and that if they get ahead by 12 or more points, the game will be over. Seattle also can't have five turnovers and defeat a team whose offense has scored 80 points in two playoff games this season.
This should be a much better game than last season, and things took an even dicier turn when it was discovered that 11 of 12 game balls in New England's victory were under-inflated. That is against NFL rules, but at press time, the NFL had said nothing about what penalty the Patriots might be given, or who was responsible for it happening. The discovery has fueled new talk about whether New England will do anything to win, and reignited discussions about whether their legacy was one of the greatest teams in pro football history has been compromised by stories about "spygate" and what's now being called "deflategate."
Stay tuned to Super Bowl XLIX for more details.