FOXBOROUGH — With the Fox broadcast on television and on the videoboards at Gillette Stadium, local football fans watched the Seattle Seahawks use a late rally to beat the Green Bay Packers Sunday and reach Super Bowl XLIX, where the Patriots will be waiting.
Patriots fans with decent memories might have watched that NFC Championship game and flashed back two seasons ago, when the same Russell Wilson guided the Seahawks to a comeback win over the team that now stands in the way of a second straight Super Bowl ring for him.
The Patriots flew out to the Pacific Northwest for a game on Oct. 14, 2012, at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. They flew back with a bitter 24-23 loss in Week 6, part of a 12-4 season that ended one game short of the Super Bowl.
In a game the Patriots led, 23-10, Wilson directed two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, the game-winner coming on a 46-yard pass to Sidney Rice with 1:20 left. Tom Brady was intercepted twice, once by Richard Sherman, who engaged Brady in trash talk during the game, then mocked the Patriots quarterback in a since-deleted “U Mad Bro?” tweet after it.
Some of the bigger names still play for each team — and Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll remain the head coaches — but the majority of both rosters have turned over since then. Until they meet a week from Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the Patriots and Seahawks can expect their game from two seasons ago to be brought up and dissected, as observers look for clues as to what might happen when the rematch takes place, this time with slightly more on the line.
Asked Tuesday if he had any memories from that 2012 game, Belichick said, “Yeah. Not a lot of great ones.”
The loss back then dropped the Patriots to 3-3, an early-season disappointment strikingly similar to this season, when they were 2-2 after a lopsided loss at Kansas City. But these Patriots were able to do what those Patriots also did: respond to the slow start with a seven-game win streak.
Getting drenched by a steady rain two years ago in Seattle, and the manner in which they lost, seemed to be one of the few low points of that regular season for the Patriots. They’d like the next game with Seattle to be this season’s high point.
Making sure they exhaust all options as they begin preparing for the Super Bowl, the Patriots will watch the 2012 game and see what they can learn from it.
“Sure, I think there’s some value to it,” said Belichick. “We’ll definitely look at that game, as I’m sure they will. Some things are similar, but it’s a couple years ago and there are a lot of things that have changed.
“It will be one piece of a big puzzle. We’ll just try to put it all together and see what we can come up with. But yeah, we’ll definitely look at that. It’s relevant.”
Of the Patriots’ 22 starters against Seattle two seasons ago, 13 are still with the team. Seven more who played in the game as reserves are on the 53-man active roster, as are three players who were inactive for that meeting (Julian Edelman, Michael Hoomanawanui, Dont’a Hightower). That’s 23 players from the current active roster; for the Seahawks, the number is 19.
Coincidentally, two Seahawks who started in the 24-23 win now play for the Patriots: defensive lineman Alan Branch and cornerback Brandon Browner. Based on their knowledge of the Seahawks, you can bet they’ll be brought in by the Patriots’ coaching staff for questioning.
“Certainly what we see and what they’re doing now is important,” said Belichick, “but I’m sure that they can . . . they played with those guys, they certainly can give us some insight into some specifics about them.”
Browner is gone, but the rest of the Seahawks’ starting secondary remains intact, although Sherman (elbow sprain) and Earl Thomas (shoulder separation) were injured during Sunday’s win over the Packers. Both have said they’ll play in the Super Bowl.
The so-called Legion of Boom got the better of Brady, who needed 58 pass attempts to throw for 395 yards. Of the eight Patriots who caught passes, seven won’t be in uniform for the Super Bowl, and only two (Rob Gronkowski, injured running back Stevan Ridley) remain on the team.
The touchdowns for the Patriots at Seattle were scored by Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, who combined for 16 catches. Brandon Lloyd had six receptions, and Danny Woodhead five. Ridley, Deion Branch, and Daniel Fells each had one.
Ridley was the leading rusher, with 34 yards on 16 carries.
The Patriots outgained the Seahawks by more than 100 yards (they ran 30 more plays), held Marshawn Lynch to 41 rushing yards, sacked Wilson twice, limited Seattle to 4 for 12 on third-down conversions, and recovered two fumbles to square the turnover battle.
So, how exactly did the Patriots lose?
They struggled in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on just one of their six drives that went inside the Seattle 20-yard line. They were forced to settle for three short field goals by Stephen Gostkowski, Brady was called for intentional grounding on the final play of the first half (a clock management mistake that cost the Patriots another shot at a short field goal), and he was intercepted in the end zone by Thomas on a third-down play from the Seattle 6 in the fourth quarter.
That set the stage for Wilson, at the time a rookie who had been drafted in the third round and was making just his sixth NFL start.
He played like a calm veteran in the fourth quarter, passing for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Wilson, Lynch, Sherman, Brady, and Gronkowski all will be headliners at this year’s Super Bowl. They’ve already been part of one entertaining game, which, thanks to Sherman, spilled over for a few days.
“It was raining really hard,” said Carroll, who was the Patriots head coach from 1997-99 before being replaced by Belichick. “Tom Brady and somebody were yelling back and forth a little bit, those guys were having some fun.
“Everybody was into it. It was a huge game. It felt like a championship game against a great team.”
The last time these teams met, it merely felt like a championship game to Carroll. The next one is guaranteed to be one.