EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., FEB. 2, 2014 — The magic formula worked again. And now the Patriots are Super Bowl champs.
In what probably will go down as the greatest of all Super Bowls, the New England Patriots last night overcame a 43-point halftime deficit and came back to defeat Seattle, 44-43, to win their first Super Bowl since 2005.
In a wild and controversial ending, the Patriots scored the winning points when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — trying to run out the clock while clinging to a 1-point lead — lost track of where he was on the field and was tackled in his own end zone by Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
“I was just trying to run around until the clock expired, but then I looked over and saw Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on their sideline and I panicked and forgot where I was, and ended up near our goal line,’’ said Wilson.
No one had ever seen anything like it.
Except for the Patriots.
“We worked on that play on Friday,’’ deadpanned Belichick. “We try to prepare for everything.’’
The play was not without a measure of controversy. Wilson appeared to have stopped short of his own end zone when he was tackled, but referee Walt Coleman signaled “safety” and chaos ensued while Coleman went under the hood to review the play. After a tense few minutes, Coleman re-emerged and said, “After a review of the play, the call on the field stands. It is a safety.’’
While Coleman made the final call, fans watching at home were treated to the traditional split-screen image of Bob and Jonathan Kraft high-fiving from their high chairs in the owner’s box at MetLife Stadium.
“Today we are all Patriots!’’ Bob Kraft said as he accepted his fourth Lombardi Trophy.
“I told everybody we could do it without Welker!’’ spewed Jonathan as he snatched the trophy from his dad. “How do all of our critics like us now?’’
The Super Bowl capped an amazing stretch of two-plus months in which the Patriots won nine consecutive games, trailing significantly in each contest. Throughout the magic run, the formula was the same: fall hopelessly behind, rally, wait for the opponents to lose their minds and make dumb plays, get every call from the zebras, then watch Tom Brady go in for the kill.
It all started Nov. 24 against the Broncos when the Patriots trailed, 24-0, at halftime, then roared back and beat Denver on a brutally cold night at Gillette Stadium. The game exposed Peyton Manning as a dome-only front-runner. The key moment came when the Patriots punted and waited for one of the nitwit Broncos to run under it.
A week later, the Patriots went to last-place Houston and got handed their lunch for three quarters. Trailing, 24-21, after three, the Patriots watched soon-to-be-fired Texans coach Gary Kubiak spit the bit down the stretch. Texan Antonio Smith accused the Patriots of spying. “It’s like they knew what we were going to do,’’ said Tonestradamus.
The pattern held Dec. 8 when the Patriots fell asleep for three quarters against the Browns. Cleveland led, 19-3, in the final minute of the third period and 26-14 with 2:46 left. It meant nothing. The Browns panicked and the Patriots pounced. Brady threw two touchdown passes in 61 seconds. The Patriots recovered an onside kick for the first time in 18 years. The Browns were tagged with two hideous penalties in the closing seconds. Patriots win, 27-26.
On and on it went. In Miami, the Patriots trailed, 23-0, at halftime and appeared beaten when Stevan Ridley was knocked unconscious and fumbled near the Dolphin sideline in the final minute. The Dolphins scooped the loose ball and ran it back for what appeared to be a game-clinching touchdown, but it turned out that Ridley’s head was out of bounds as he lay KO’d on the turf, and according to Rule 3, Section 2, Article 2, Paragraph C, there was no fumble.
“We worked on that one on Thursday,’’ said Belichick.
The Patriots faced a serious test in Baltimore because Ravens coach John Harbaugh is one of a handful of NFL coaches who does not wet his pants at the sight of the Patriots. New England trailed, 49-0, at halftime, then rallied. In the end, Belichick outwitted Harbaugh, hiking the ball off his own goalpost to take a safety, then forcing a Raven fumble on the ensuing punt.
The playoffs were a breeze. First-round bye. Second-round home game against the warm-weather 8-8 Dolphins in 8 degree weather. The Patriots fell behind, 19-0, at halftime, but rallied again with three touchdowns in the final two minutes. Miami trailed, 21-19, with five seconds left, but had a chance to win it on a last-second, 21-yard field goal by newly acquired Billy Cundiff. On an otherwise windless evening, a strange, sudden squall carried Cundiff’s chip shot wide to the left.
The Patriots had to go through Denver in the AFC Championship. They trailed, 31-0, at halftime. Fortunately for the Patriots, it was 0 degrees in Denver. Manning threw four second-half pick-sixes. After recovering a last-minute fumble by Manning (Denver tried to invoke the Tuck Rule, but the Tuck Rule is gone), the Patriots tied the game on a last-second 60-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Belichick won the coin flip, took the wind, and watched Wes Welker fumble the kickoff in his own end zone. Matthew Slater landed on the ball to seal the win for the Patriots.
“We worked on that one on Tuesday,’’ said Belichick. “And that’s not easy. Tuesday is our day off.’’
From there, it was on to the Super Bowl. A lot of folks doubted the Patriots. People said they were lucky. Oddsmakers said they couldn’t win without Rob Gronkowski. They couldn’t fall way behind the potent Seahawks. They couldn’t rely on more good calls from the officials and goofy plays by the opponents.
And then it happened again. The Seahawks took a big lead, then looked across the field and remembered they were playing Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots. It was too much for Pete Carroll & Co. They folded. Like all the others.
So here they are. The worst 16-3 team in history. Your 2013 New England Patriots. Super Bowl champs.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.