Extra football appeared imminent.
Trailing, 31-24, the Patriots had marched down the field on their final possession and were poised to send Sunday night’s heavyweight bout with the Seahawks into Monday morning.
Following Tom Brady’s 26-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski, New England had a first and goal from the 2-yard line with 43 seconds left. The Patriots had a decision to make: score as soon as possible or milk the clock a little.
After all, giving the Seahawks the ball back with any time left seemed ominous. The visitors had scored on their three previous possessions against a Patriots defense that had no answers for the Houdini-like Russell Wilson.
“It was just some situational football,’’ Brady said when asked about the first-and-goal call, a quarterback sneak that netted 1 yard. “We were trying to get it very close but not in.’’
Said coach Bill Belichick, “We were definitely trying to score, but I’d say managing the clock was part of it.’’
The play killed just six seconds as Seattle coach Pete Carroll burned his final timeout.
The Patriots then handed the ball to LeGarrette Blount, who was stuffed up the middle for no gain by safety Kam Chancellor.
Giving Blount another crack seemed like an obvious choice as the big tailback had already cracked the stout Seattle defense for three touchdown runs, including a pair of 1-yard blasts. His second scoring rush was particularly impressive as he outmuscled five Seahawks and churned his way down the line of scrimmage before staggering into the end zone.
Blount, however, never got the ball again, as Brady fumbled the snap on the next play and ended up losing a yard, setting up a fourth and goal from the 2.
“That was just my fault on the ball handling,’’ said Brady.
After the game, Belichick wasn’t interested in divulging whether a quarterback sneak was the call or whether Brady had called an audible.
“I’m not going to get into the specific calls,’’ he said. “We have different ways of calling plays.’’
After Seattle was caught with 12 men on the field, the Patriots got one final crack at sending it to overtime from the 1-yard line.
Brady set up under center (he had been in shotgun before the Seattle too-many-men infraction) and threw a fade to Gronkowski in the end zone. The big tight end was battling Chancellor, and as they fell, the ball sailed off Gronkowski’s fingertips and out of the end zone.
No call was made, and whether that was the right call will be debated for a while; your stance probably depends on which team you root for.
“There’s always a lot of contact with that team,’’ Brady said. “Sometimes you get the call, sometimes you don’t.’’
Chancellor, who was in single coverage, was confident about where the ball was going.
“I kind of knew he was going to a back-shoulder fade or jump ball,’’ he said. “We kind of got engaged, and it just went from there.’’
The matter of whether the Patriots should have tried to run the ball in that situation is also likely to be debated.
After three unsuccessful rushes, New England decided to switch it up, and when you have the best tight end in the game on your side, targeting him is never a bad idea, particularly when the defense is showing man coverage.
During his conference call Monday, Belichick talked about the thought process of when to stick to the plan and when to deviate despite previous success.
“Yeah, well, that’s definitely what you need to decide,” he said. No question about it. You have to decide whether you want to just do it again and kind of get it right or do something else. That’s exactly what it comes down to.’’
It’s a decision that has to be made quickly, and Belichick said a lot of factors go into it.
“Maybe it’s everything went right but one thing was wrong,” he said. “You can correct that. You have it. Maybe you just look at it and say, ‘This isn’t really what we want.’ ’’
The coach was asked what goes into the decision to go heavy at the goal line — offensive tackle Cameron Fleming checked in as a third tight end on the final four plays — vs. spreading the defense out with multiple receivers.
“That’s part of the game-planning of every week and really every play, every situation, first, second, and third down, goal line, red area — I mean you name it — where you feel like you can gain an advantage,’’ Belichick said.
“Maybe it’s something that you can force them into or how they play a certain type of look or formation or whatever it is and now you can attack it. That goes for every play throughout the course of the game, not just on the goal line.
“What goes into it is the game-planning and the matchups that occur every week, and try to find the best ones.’’
As for the specifics of Sunday night’s final possession, Belichick was frank in his assessment.
“We’ve just got to do a little better job in that situation,’’ he said. “I mean, that’s obvious.’’