GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tom Brady knew it all along.
Brady knew Shane Vereen was going to have a game the Patriots running back could remember for a lifetime, except he just didn’t tell him. Instead, he told Vereen’s parents when the team gathered at its hotel for pictures on Saturday.
On Sunday, Vereen delivered on Brady’s premonition, tying Julian Edelman with a team high of 12 targets and producing 64 yards on 11 receptions, five of which moved the chains for Patriots first downs.
Vereen touched the ball five times on the final drive to help set up Brady’s game-winning touchdown pass to Edelman, as the Patriots claimed their fourth championship with a 28-24 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“They told me yesterday,” Vereen said, referring to what his QB told his parents. “It’s all good. We’re champs now.”
Brady started the winning drive with an 8-yard pass to Vereen. On second and 2, Brady went right back to him, connecting on a 5-yarder to pick up a first down.
Two plays later, on second and 1, Brady zipped a 6-yard pass to Vereen for another first down, but it was negated when Danny Amendola was flagged for pass interference.
Over the next four plays, Brady went to Vereen two more times, a pass for no gain and a 7-yard rush to the Seattle 12. Brady hit Edelman three plays after.
“Before the drive started, Tom came into the huddle and just told us we needed a championship drive, and he led us down the field, found the open receivers, the O-line gave him great protection, and we’re Super Bowl champs,” Vereen said.
“I do what I can because I love this team and this family. Whether I had 20 catches or zero catches, I would be just as happy, just as proud to be a New England Patriot.”
The Patriots knew they could use Vereen’s pass-catching ability to expose the open windows in the Seahawks’ zone defense. The premise of Seattle’s defense was to prevent the home run play.
So offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots took what the Seahawks gave them, and dink-and-dunked down the field.
Vereen, who also rushed four times for 13 yards, benefited from the game plan the most. He touched the ball at least two times on each of the Patriots’ four scoring drives.
“Shane, this is his kind of game,” running backs coach Ivan Fears said. “If they’re going to let you throw it to Shane underneath, he’s going to hurt you a little bit.”
He hurt the Seahawks all night.
Of Vereen’s five first-down pickups, four came on 5-yard passes. The other was a 16-yard reception on first and 10 to move the chains. Vereen was also part of a sixth first-down pickup when he caught a 9-yard pass on first and 10 and Earl Thomas was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
With the game tied, 7-7, late in the second quarter, Vereen got the Patriots in scoring position. After the 16-yard pass on first down, Brady went to Vereen for a 5-yard gain. On the next play, Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on a 22-yard strike to take a 14-7 lead.
“We knew the backs would catch a lot of balls,” McDaniels said. “It’s a zone defense, they hardly played man-to-man, and when they did, Gronk really had a big night on the field. When they try to back out of there and give you a lot of space, we knew the backs were going to eventually play a big role and we have a lot of trust in Shane. And he did a great job tonight.”
When Vereen wasn’t catching passes out of the backfield, he was hanging tough to protect Brady on blitz pickups.
On the winning pass to Edelman, Vereen hung in the backfield to chip blitzing cornerback Byron Maxwell.
“They weren’t a big blitz team, but when they did, they were effective with it,” Vereen said. “We knew we had to stay on our toes, and luckily I was able to be in the right spot at the right time.”
The first four years of Vereen’s career have been special. He went to the Super Bowl as a rookie during the 2011 season and has been part of four AFC Championship games.
On Sunday, the former California standout felt the thrill of winning a Super Bowl.
Is this how he envisioned it?