This was the marquee matchup of this game. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense against the Legion of Boom. The Patriots’ quick and versatile passing game against the fastest defense in the NFL.
Same Approach by New England:
The Patriots came into the Super Bowl wanting to do the same thing they’ve done all season in the passing game. They wanted to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly.
They used everything that makes their passing game so difficult to defend, including stacks, bunches, and clusters. They used unconventional alignments, moving their tight ends and running backs outside of their wide receivers. They also used motion on just about every play. Their ultimate goal was to attack Seattle’s linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field.
Early on, it worked. The Patriots drove deep into Seahawks territory on their second possession. Then, Tom Brady made a terrible throw that was picked off in the end zone. Brady felt pressure and panicked (yes, even Tom Brady has his moments of panic). He saw a white jersey flash in the back of the end zone, and with the pressure bearing down on him, he made a hurried throw. It wasn’t anywhere near his receiver, and Jeremy Lane was able to intercept the pass.
Tharold Simon Replaces Jeremy Lane:
As we all know, Jeremy lane broke his arm on this interception and left the game for good. This was a huge blow to the Seahawks. Lane was their nickel, and he predominantly aligned inside. When Tharold Simon came into the game, Seattle moved Byron Maxwell inside and put Simon on the perimeter. The Patriots then put a target on Simon’s back.
Before Lane left the game, the Patriots were trying to go after Seattle’s linebackers and safeties. With Simon now in, they had another area of the field they could attack. On their first touchdown drive, they converted a 3rd-and-9 for 23 yards by doing just that. The Patriots motioned to stack with Julian Edelman behind Brandon LaFell. Lafell cleared out and Edelman cut inside underneath. Simon chased Edelman. He should have allowed Edelman to catch the ball and then made the tackle 4 yards shy of the first down. Instead, he tried to undercut the throw. He was late and took a terrible angle, ultimately taking himself out of the play. Edelman caught the ball and scampered 23 yards.
A few plays later, the Patriots were in the end zone on a Brandon LaFell reception against Simon.
Not only did Tom Brady go after Tharold Simon early, right after he came in the game, but he also went after him for New England’s game-winning touchdown pass.
On the drive before the game-winner, the Patriots had isolated Julian Edelman to Simon’s side. Edelman got open using a whip route, but Brady missed what would have been a touchdown. The Patriots knew they would have this matchup because Richard Sherman normally stays to his side (defensive left), and Bryon Maxwell was now playing in the slot. On the final drive, they came back to it for the game-winning touchdown. The Patriots again got Edelman isolated in space versus Simon. Edelman ran the exact same route, and Brady found the matchup, erasing New England’s 10-point deficit.
In the first half, the Seahawks played more man coverage than expected. New England was able to take advantage of this with Tharold Simon in the game, as mentioned above. They stayed away from Richard Sherman completely and took advantage of the matchups they had between their running backs and tight ends and Seattle’s linebackers and safeties.
Their 2nd touchdown came out of the same formation San Diego used in Week 2 to score 3 touchdowns against Seattle, a formation we had anticipated the Patriots would utilize at some point. As you can see below, they aligned Rob Gronkowski on the outside with 3 receivers to the other side of the formation. The Seahawks matched up with K.J. Wright on Gronk. This was a mismatch, and Brady took advantage, delivering a great throw for the touchdown.
The Seahawks uncharacteristically allowed lots of yards after the catch in the first half. This was likely due to the abundance of man coverage they played and to several missed tackles. In the 3rd quarter, they switched to mostly zone coverage. Seattle is the best team in the league at reading and reacting to routes in zone coverage, and this is exactly what they did in the 3rd quarter. Bobby Wagner made two great 3rd-down plays, one of which resulted in an interception. The Seahawks also got a lot of pressure on Brady. With 10:58 remaining in the game, Seattle led by 10 points and had New England in a 3rd-and-14 situation. It looked like they had the game in hand.
Through the first 3 quarters, Tom Brady played well. He wasn’t spectacular, but he took what Seattle was giving him. Despite the fact that New England was executing well, they only had 14 points to show for it, largely because of Brady’s 2 interceptions. This 3rd-and-14 play changed the game.
On this play, safety Earl Thomas took away Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s first look.
Brady stepped up in the pocket when an escape lane appeared. He scanned the field, and linebacker Bobby Wagner made an ill-advised move towards running back Shane Vereen.
This opened up a throwing lane for Brady, and he fired an absolute bullet to Julian Edelman, who hung on for the first down despite a punishing hit by Kam Chancellor.
Brady’s pocket movement and awareness made this play happen. Bobby Wagner’s poor awareness made this play possible as well. Why jump a short route on 3rd and 14? (The refs also missed a blatant hold as Michael Bennett got form-tackled right in front of them).
But this is what pocket movement and keeping plays alive does to a defense. It makes linebackers have to cover for longer periods of time, inevitably forcing them to make mistakes. Brady’s pocket movement and presence made this comeback possible.
On the next 3rd down, Brady again avoided the rush and stepped up in the middle where he had another escape lane. He never lost his throwing base and he found an open receiver despite the fact that Seattle had dropped 8 men into coverage.
A few plays later, Brady once again hung in the pocket and scanned the field, finding Danny Amendola late in the back of the end zone. He put the ball in a perfect spot, away from safety Earl Thomas, and the Patriots were suddenly within 3 points.
On their next drive, Brady continued to utilize his ability to win from the pocket late in the play. He found Shane Vereen after the defense had taken away Rob Gronkowski (his initial read) and won early in the down. A few plays later, Brady connected with Gronk for 20 yards. This time, it wasn’t his pocket movement as much as it was his ability to become a statue in the pocket with bodies closing in around him. With little room to maneuver, he made a deadly accurate throw to Gronk, and the Patriots were in business. A few plays later, Brady went after Tharold Simon again, and the Patriots took the lead.
Tom Brady was tremendous down the stretch. Why was he able to be so successful? Because he exhibited the subtle traits needed to play quarterback at a consistently high level in the NFL – pocket movement and awareness, accuracy, and coverage recognition. Brady put all of these things into practice in the 4th quarter against Seattle, and he came out of it with a much-deserved Super Bowl MVP and his 4th ring.
Injuries absolutely hurt Seattle in this game. Jeremy Lane’s absence gave New England an additional area of the field that they could target. The loss of Cliff Avril, who was knocked out of the game on Bobby Wagner’s interception, was even more devastating to Seattle’s chances. Remember what Avril did in last year’s Super Bowl? He was a 1-man wrecking crew. He was the primary reason for Seattle’s two interceptions as well as another stop on 3rd down in the first half. The Broncos couldn’t block him at all. With Avril gone for the final 20 minutes of this game, Seattle struggled to get a good pass rush on Brady.
Still, regardless of injuries, the Patriots dropped 28 points on the Legion of Boom. They won this side of the matchup, and they’re world champs as a result.