By Steve Keating
Tom Brady cemented his legacy as one of the all-time quarterback greats, firing four touchdown passes in the New England Patriots’ dramatic 28-24 comeback win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
The victory earned the Patriots their first Super Bowl title in 10 years and put them alongside five other teams with at least four wins.
Brady joined Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and childhood idol Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with four championship rings.
A battling Brady rewrote the Super Bowl quarterbacking record books, setting new marks for single-game completions (37) and career touchdowns (13) to claim a third most valuable player award.
But it was rookie defensive back Malcolm Butler who was the hero of the night, intercepting Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s one-yard pass on the goal line with 20 seconds left to clinch a heart-stopping victory.
“We knew they were going to throw the ball,” said Butler. “I had a feeling I was going to make a big play but not that big.
“I saw Wilson looking over there. He kept his head still and just looked over there so that gave me a clue… .
“I just went with it, just went with my mind and made the play.”
Making their first visit back to University of Phoenix Stadium since a crushing late-game loss to the New York Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl, the Patriots seemed doomed to a similar fate.
Jermaine Kearse produced an amazing jaw-dropping catch that appeared to set Seattle up for a game-winning score.
But with Seahawks fans on their feet ready to celebrate, Butler spoiled the party, stepping in front of the Wilson pass to leave Seattle billionaire owner Paul Allen looking on in stunned disbelief.
With New England down by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, Brady rallied his team, engineering two long scoring drives capped by touchdown passes to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman to retake the lead.
Brady also fired second-quarter touchdowns to favorite target Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell, completing 37 of 50 pass attempts for 328 yards, including two interceptions.
“The goal is to score points, so running it, throwing it, I don’t care,” said Brady. “Whatever it took today is what we needed to do.
“We found a way to get it down there at the end.
“We were down 10 and we just said, ‘Look we need to put one good drive together to get back into this game.’
“These games, they’re tough. They go down to the end.”
New England dominated large chunks of the opening half moving the ball at will against Seattle’s vaunted top-ranked defense while Wilson could not get the Seahawks’ attack in gear.
But as the first half came to a close, it became clear Wilson had found his form and a new favorite target in Chris Matthews.
Matthews, who was selling sneakers before the Seahawks signed him last year, recorded his first career catch, a twisting 44-yard grab to set up Seattle’s first touchdown and hauled in an 11-yard strike later in the second half for his first career touchdown.
He added a 45-yard catch early in the third quarter to set up a field goal the gave the Seahawks their first lead.
Wilson, who is expected to sign a new contract that will make him the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback, completed just 12 of 21 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and one very big interception.
The buildup to the Super Bowl had been dominated by a controversy over deflated footballs used by the Patriots in a blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game that earned them a trip to Arizona and a whiff of scandal hung over the stadium as the NFL investigation into the matter continued.
The game represented a last chance for the NFL to put a scandal-scarred season behind it, and the Patriots and Seahawks did their part, providing a game of edge-of-your-seat excitement.
“Every year if you’re privileged to get to this game, hard things happen,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “I’m so proud of Brady and (coach Bill) Belichick for handling things the way they did.
“I love them. And all our Patriots fans should feel very good.”