GLENDALE, Ariz. — The last time the Patriots played a Super Bowl in the Arizona desert, it was a most unlikely hero that made the play of the game, a play that broke New England’s back.
This time the Patriots returned to the desert for Super Bowl XLIX, and it was again a most unlikely hero that made the play of the game, this time the play that delivered Lombardi Trophy No. 4 to New England.
The Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24, to re-claim the title of NFL champions thanks to an end zone interception by undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Facing second and goal from the 1, the Seahawks made the stunning decision to pass the ball rather than hand it off to power back Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson threw the ball right into traffic, and Butler, who a little more than a year ago was playing for West Alabama, stepped in front of the intended receiver for the biggest play of his young career.
New England becomes the sixth franchise in NFL history to win four Super Bowls, joining the Steelers, Cowboys, Giants, Packers, and 49ers.
The Patriots are also the first team to ever come back from a 10-point second-half deficit and win the Super Bowl.
The game-winning touchdown came with 2:02 to play, a 3-yard Tom Brady-to-Julian Edelman pass, Brady looking to his most trusted receiver when it mattered most. Edelman finished the game with nine receptions for 102 yards and the score.
Brady, the first quarterback to start six Super Bowls was chosen as the game’s MVP and set a slew of records in the win: his 37 completions (he was 37 for 50 for 328 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions) were a Super Bowl record, his now 13 Super Bowl touchdown passes put him past his childhood idol, Joe Montana, who had 11, and he became the first quarterback in league history with 50 postseason TD passes.
The game was scoreless in the first quarter, though that’s nothing new for the Patriots: they hadn’t scored a point in their previous five Super Bowl appearances with Bill Belichick as head coach.
New England was very close to that not being the case, however. Moving the ball methodically on its second possession, the offense moved well inside the red zone after a 10-yard catch by Danny Amendola and a 4-yard pass to Michael Hoomanawanui.
But on second down from the 10, Brady made a head-scratching decision, throwing toward the middle of the end zone where there were no white jerseys, only the blue of Seahawk defenders.
Brady was hit by Michael Bennett as he let go of the ball, but that didn’t change the direction of the throw. Nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane came down with the interception, leaving the Patriots without points.
Lane, who made waves during the post-conference championships bye week by saying he didn’t think Rob Gronkowski was that good, was injured on the play and did not return. It appeared he broke his arm as Edelman took him down on the interception return.
The Patriots would get on the board first, early in the second quarter.
Starting at their own 35, the first play went for 17 yards, a screen to Edelman. Edelman kept the drive going six plays later, picking up 23 yards on third and 9, beating reserve corner Tharold Simon, who was pressed into service when Lane was injured.
On second down from the 11, Brady picked on Simon again, this time running the play-action and finding Brandon LaFell for the touchdown.
As is one of their offensive trademarks, the Seahawks got a big play in their first touchdown drive, with Wilson hitting Chris Matthews for a 44-yard gain. Matthews, who played in the Canadian Football League for Winnipeg last year, spent much of this season on Seattle’s practice squad.
The reception was his first in the NFL, and would not be his last of the night.
New England answered right back to re-gain the lead with an eight play, 80-yard drive. Gronkowski was on the receiving end of Brady’s touchdown pass, a perfectly-thrown ball that Gronkowski caught over linebacker K.J. Wright.
Seattle took over with just 31 seconds left in the half, with all three of their timeouts. Change-of-pace back Robert Turbin picked up 19 yards on the first snap, followed by Wilson running for 17 yards after faking a handoff to Turbin.
Kyle Arrington was flagged for grabbing Ricardo Lockette’s facemask during a 24-yard completion, adding 15 more yards to the play. Both teams called timeout, and with Seattle at the 11 and six seconds on the clock, the logical move appeared to be for the Seahawks to kick the field goal and take the points.
But Carroll didn’t go with logic, taking a shot at the end zone. Wilson found the 6-foot-5-inch Matthews, who caught a jump ball for the touchdown, with Logan Ryan arriving a half-step too late.
It was just the third time in Super Bowl history the game was tied at halftime; the others were Super Bowl XXXIII, between the 49ers and Bengals, and XXXIX, between the Patriots and Eagles.
Seattle won the coin toss, and elected to defer, giving them the ball back to start the second half.
Matthews again had a big play, this time a 45-yard reception, but the Patriots’ defense stopped Lynch inside the 10, forcing a field goal that gave the Seahawks a 17-14 lead.
Brady was intercepted again on the Patriots’ first possession of the quarter, this time by Bobby Wagner, in New England territory. The Seahawks were flagged for a block in the back on the return, but the offense still got the ball at midfield.
Wilson and the offense turned the turnover into seven points in six plays, taking a 24-14 lead.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin