The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks looked like anything but Super Bowl contenders when they each lost to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium this season.
The Chiefs dominated the Patriots 41-14 in a “Monday Night Football” game on Sept. 29 for the second-worst loss in Bill Belichick’s 20-year coaching career. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady played so poorly, he was pulled from the lineup early in the fourth quarter after Chiefs safety Hussain Abdullah returned an interception for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs defeated Seattle 24-20 on Nov. 16, dropping the Seahawks to 6-4 and three games behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West with six games to play, creating doubt whether the Seahawks could successfully defend their Super Bowl championship.
But as it turned out, those two defeats proved to be the turning points in each of their runs to Super Bowl XLIX, which is Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.
Panic set in Patriot Nation after the Chiefs loss as there were reports of tension involving Brady and the front office concerning some personnel decisions, including the trade of longtime guard Logan Mankins, and some wondered if the 37-year-old quarterback should be replaced.
In the days following the Chiefs game, Brady said, “Talk to me in November,” which was his way of saying there was a lot of season left to play. And Belichick’s standard response to questions in the aftermath of the Chiefs game was, “We’re on to Cincinnati.”
Owner Robert Kraft wondered if the Patriots could bounce back to championship form.
“I wasn’t optimistic,” Kraft said after New England beat Indianapolis for the AFC championship. “I love these guys, but in the end, this is a game of execution. You can practice well, do everything well, but you get a report card every Sunday or Monday night.
“I know all the sages in the media were calling for us to trade Tommy or sit him, and Belichick had lost it. You know, maybe in a way, it was a good thing. It shook us up. And in moments of crisis, you either do great things or you crumble. Our guys came together.”
Sure enough, the Patriots destroyed unbeaten Cincinnati 43-17, the start of a seven-game winning streak and they went 12-2 down the stretch, losing only 26-21 at Green Bay and 17-3 to Buffalo in a meaningless regular-season finale before defeating Baltimore and Indianapolis in the playoffs.
“I kind of thought that halftime of the Kansas City game was a little bit of a turning point for us in the season,” Belichick said last week before the controversy about deflated footballs blew up. “We were behind, and we certainly didn’t come back and make a game of it, but I thought we really competed hard. I thought that was a good sign … everybody was ready to go out there and play well against a good football team and we didn’t, we were down at the half, it was on the road, and the place was rockin‘.
“At that point we all realized that if we could just play well and just combine that with our physical and mental toughness that we could be OK. We saw a good example of that in the Cincinnati game the following week. It was a short week, we didn’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We were on to Cincinnati in a hurry and had a lot of ground to make up. They were 3-0 coming in here, and the guys really responded and we played a good football game.”
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were also in a state of crisis when they arrived in Kansas City. They had just traded malcontent receiver Percy Harvin and were groping for answers after losing to the Chiefs.
“When we lost the Kansas City game, that was definitely the turning point in our season,” said Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright. “We finally realized what the issue was, and we finally addressed the issue.
“We were out there playing like a bunch of individuals. We weren’t trusting each other like we should have. We weren’t tackling the way we should have. We weren’t gelling the way we had in the past. We all figured it out, and everybody talked about it, and we all got on the same page and played football the way it’s supposed to be done.”
The Seahawks haven’t since. Taking advantage of the implosion of San Francisco’s coaching staff and injuries to Arizona’s quarterbacks, the Seahawks went 6-0 down the stretch, sweeping the 49ers and Cardinals and also beating non-playoff teams Philadelphia and St. Louis in claiming the NFC West and No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
They whipped Carolina in the NFC divisional round and pulled out a miraculous comeback in overtime against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.
“We were 3-3, and kind of going against the odds,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “And people said, ‘There’s no way they’re going to get back to where they want to go.’ And so that’s something that we think about. We have that edge, and we believe in that and we believe in stepping up and finding a way. When we were 6-4, I knew we were going to go find a way to be 12-4.”
When trailing Green Bay 16-0 at halftime in the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks drew strength for their second half comeback from how they bounced back from the loss to the Chiefs.
“It was very similar,” said guard J.R. Sweezy. “But you know as our season progressed, really our turning point was Kansas City.”