This is a look back at how the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots arrived at Super Bowl XLIX.
High point: Coming back from trailing 19-7 in the fourth quarter and stunning Green Bay 28-22 in overtime to win the NFC Championship Game was so dramatic it could render the Super Bowl as anti-climactic for the Seahawks. The unlikely comeback included a touchdown pass off a fake field goal, the recovery of an onside kick, an improbable two-point conversion and a walk-off touchdown pass on the sixth play of overtime.
Low point: The Seahawks slipped to 6-4 for the season after a 24-20 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 16, putting them three games behind Arizona in the NFC West with four to play. There was some dissension in the locker room that led to the trade of disgruntled wide receiver Percy Harvin a few weeks earlier.
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Play of the Year: Russell Wilson’s 35-yard bomb in overtime to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse in the NFC title game will be the most talked about play in Seahawks history. Wilson and Kearse had failed to connect the previous four times Kearse was targeted, and all four were passes were intercepted. But when the Seahawks needed it most, Wilson delivered.
Team MVP: Who else but Wilson, whose teammates never lost faith in him when the Seahawks were struggling at midseason and appeared down and out in the NFC Championship Game? But he plays his best when the game — and season — is on the line and has proved to be a championship-caliber quarterback.
Best coaching move: Head coach Pete Carroll pointed to a meeting after the Kansas City loss as a turning point for the defense. “It’s really been the elevation of the defense, for the most part,” he said of the team’s second-half surge. “We were lagging behind with our performance level. We’re better than that.” Indeed, in the final six weeks of the season and two postseason games, Seattle allowed just 9.9 points per game and finished as the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense.
Defining moment: The Seahawks, taking advantage of an Arizona team down to a third-team quarterback, clobbered the Cardinals 35-6 and not only took the lead in the NFC West but seized the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs, ensuring homefield advantage throughout the postseason. The win was punctuated by running back Marshawn Lynch’s 80-yard “Beast Mode” touchdown run as he bounced and careened off defenders all the way to the goal line.
New England Patriots
High point: The Patriots overcame two 14-point deficits and defeated nemesis Baltimore 35-31 in the divisional playoff round and reached the AFC Championship Game for the fourth straight year. The Ravens had beaten New England in the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough in 2012, but the Patriots didn’t let deficits of 14-0 and 28-14 get them down.
Low point: The Patriots were thoroughly embarrassed in a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 29 and fell to 2-2 on the season. Quarterback Tom Brady completed just 14 of 23 passes for 159 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble. After Brady surrendered a pick-six with more than 10 minutes to play, he finished the game on the bench in favor of backup Jimmy Garoppolo, and people in New England were wondering if Brady, 37, was losing his touch.
Play of the year: With the Patriots trailing Baltimore 28-21 late in the third quarter, wide receiver Julian Edelman, a former quarterback at Kent State, executed a double pass by arching a 51-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola that tied the divisional playoff game.
Team MVP: Tom Brady has been the one constant in the franchise’s success for the past 15 years. Brady finished the season with 4,109 yards and 33 touchdown passes and became the third passer in NFL history to have at least seven seasons with 4,000 yards, joining Peyton Manning (14) and Drew Brees (nine). He guided the Patriots to their 12th division title of his career, the most by a quarterback.
Best coaching move: Bill Belichick pulled out all the tricks in the book in the playoff win over Baltimore, including a controversial formation on three plays that had just four offensive linemen and a back split out declaring himself ineligible. The third time the Patriots used the formation, running back Shane Vereen was the ineligible receiver lined up in the slot. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was lined up where the left tackle normally would be, so he was a bit hidden to Ravens defenders and caught a 14-yard pass, setting up a touchdown.
Defining moment: The Patriots defeated Detroit 34-9 on Nov. 23, whipping a Lions defense that entered the game allowing a league-low 15.6 points per game and no more than 24 in any game. In winning the game, the Patriots became the first team in NFL history to win three consecutive games by 20 or more points, each against an opponent with a record of at least three games above .500. They had beaten Denver 43-21 and Indianapolis 43-20 before Detroit. Entering the Lions game, Detroit also allowed an NFL-low 290.3 yards per game, and New England totaled 439 yards in the victory.