Forget deflated footballs, the New England Patriots took the air out of an entire fan base Sunday night.
They clinched their first Super Bowl victory in a decade by beating Seattle, 28-24, the air hissing out of University of Phoenix Stadium, a place so filled with Seahawks fans it felt like a home game for them.
FOR THE RECORD:
Super Bowl ring leaders: A chart in the Feb. 2 Sports section of teams that have won at least four Super Bowls said New England was the fifth team to join that group. The Patriots are the sixth team to win at least four Super Bowls, joining Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Francisco, Green Bay and the New York Giants, who were omitted from the list. —
In the end, it was vindication for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw four touchdown passes and hoisted his fourth Lombardi Trophy, putting him on par with NFL greats Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Brady had spent the entire Super Bowl week under a cloud of suspicion for playing with under-inflated footballs in the AFC title game.
"It's been a long journey," said the 37-year-old Brady, whose first three Super Bowl victories were followed by two losses to the New York Giants on the NFL's biggest stage. "I've been at it for 15 years, and we've had a couple of tough losses in this game, and this one came down to the end. This time, we made the plays."
Brady, who completed 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards, was named the game's most valuable player. His 37 completions were a Super Bowl record, surpassing the 34 of Peyton Manning last year.
Brady joins Montana, his boyhood idol, as the only three-time Super Bowl MVPs. Thirteen years have passed between Brady's first Super Bowl victory and the win Sunday. That matches Ted Hendricks for the longest span between Super Bowl wins.
"He's the best and showed it again tonight," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said of Brady. "He never got disappointed or discouraged when we had a couple turnovers in the course of the game. He just kept fighting."
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were left to ponder what might have been. Trailing by four points late in the game, they moved into position for a fantastic finish thanks to an unbelievable juggling catch by Jermaine Kearse, the ball popcorning in and out of his hands before he finally reeled it in while flat on his back for a 33-yard reception to the New England five-yard line with 1:06 to play.
Marshawn Lynch pounded down to the one, but then, instead of giving the ball to him again on second down, the Seahawks opted to pass. Russell Wilson's quick slant to Ricardo Lockette was intercepted by rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler and a stadium went silent with 20 seconds left.
"I saw the interception and I couldn't believe it," Brady said. "It was an incredible play, a championship play."
Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said that the personnel the Patriots had on the field wasn't conducive to running the football.
"So on second down, we throw the ball really to kind of waste that play," he said. "If we score, we do. If we don't, we'll run it on third and fourth down. Really, with no second thoughts or hesitation in that at all.
"And unfortunately, with the play that we tried to execute, the guy [Butler] makes a great play and jumps in front of the route and makes an incredible play that nobody would ever think he could do."
This was the same venue where New England saw its bid for a perfect season go poof seven years earlier, when the upstart New York Giants pulled off a stunning Super Bowl upset to hand the Patriots their only defeat of the season. That game included an against-all-odds helmet catch by the Giants' David Tyree, and Sunday's catch by Kearse likewise had people rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
But these Patriots — the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls, in the 2003 and '04 seasons — weren't going to let the defending champion Seahawks pull off the same feat.
Carroll fell to the franchise that fired him, and to Bill Belichick, the coach who replaced him in New England.
The stadium's retractable roof was open Sunday, and it was closed when the Giants won here in 2008, making this venue the first to play host to both an outdoor and indoor Super Bowl.
That said, the game was anything but an open-and-shut case. The teams went back and forth throughout, and were deadlocked 14-14 after two quarters — just the third halftime tie in Super Bowl history.
For much of the game, it looked as if unheralded Seattle receiver Chris Matthews would be the MVP. He set up the Seahawks' first touchdown with a 44-yard catch, and scored the second one — with two seconds remaining in the half — with an 11-yard grab.
It was Matthews who made the pivotal onside-kick recovery in an overtime victory over Green Bay in the NFC title game, the comeback that secured Seattle's spot in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks built a 10-point lead with a field goal and touchdown in the third quarter, and the game looked to be slipping from New England's grasp. But the Patriots rallied in the fourth quarter with two touchdown passes by Brady, to Danny Amendola then Julian Edelman.
It wasn't a perfect game for Brady, who had a pair of critical interceptions, but for him the ending was pristine.