Today marks the one year anniversary of arguably the best play in Super Bowl history. Malcolm Butler, an un-drafted rookie free agent, made the play of the century. While the play made headlines across the world, its actually the circumstances of how the event unfolded that holds the greatest significance.
The Seattle Seahawks came out with a very improbable comeback win over the Packers in the NFC Championship game. The Seahawks were only a few plays away from not even being in the Super Bowl at all. Russell Wilson, who had been playing at an unreal level, was playing one of the worst games of his career. His completion percentage was under .500 and had thrown 4 INT to 0 TD. The game plan was to give the ball to Beast Mode (Marshawn Lynch) until Wilson got his groove back. It worked; Lynch rushed for 157 yards on 25 carries and a TD. Wilson’s team was able to keep themselves in the game long enough for Wilson to kick it into high gear. With a successful onside kick and a game tying drive, the game was sent to overtime. The Seahawks then luckily won the coin toss and elected to receive. A few plays later Wilson found his stroke and launched a 35 yard TD to Jermaine Kearse. It was Kearse’s first catch, but ultimately was the game’s most important.
The Patriots were Playing the colts in one of the most talked about games of the year. The Patriots came out and obliterated the Colts. It wasn’t even close. So then why does the game hold so much significance? It was the game that introduced the scandal known as Deflategate. Despite scoring 21 points on the ground is a 45-7 pounding, the Colts claimed that the balls the Patriots were using were slightly under inflated by about 1-2 PSI. The Patriots could’ve beaten the Colts with a beach ball, but thats besides the point. The Point was that the Patriots now had a scandal over their heads right before the biggest game of the year. Belichick has always disciplined his team to silence out the noise, but Deflategate had taken the country by storm and the Patriots had the whole country rooting against them.
Tom Brady and his offense were playing against one of the best defensive personnel groups maybe ever. The Seahawks defense was quick, big, and smart. They shut down about every good offense in the league. They took pocket passers, like Brady, and turned them into sack taking, and interception throwing QB’s. It was up to the coaches on both sides of the ball to prepare best they could in order to successfully win out. Both teams game plans were specially formulated to match their opposition.
The first half was very back and forth. The teams looked evenly matched as the score was tied 7-7 through the first 28 minutes. Right before half time, Brady managed to work the clock and drive his team down the field in hoped of scoring before the halftime clock. Brady, surveying the defense, called an audible in order to Isolate Rob Gronkowski into single coverage against Linebacker K.J. Wright. Brady delivered a perfect throw and the Patriots took a 14-7 lead with just over 30 seconds left in the half.
The Patriots assumed the Seahawks were going to take a knee, run through the tunnel, and prepare for the next half. Thats not how Pete Carroll thinks. Carroll’s aggressive play calling resulted in Wilson throwing down field on multiple occasions to try to match the score or get a field goal if nothing else. On the last drive before the half Wilson noticed a match up that he liked. Wilson’s receiver, Chris Matthews, who hadn’t caught a pass all year, was being covered by the Patriot’s third corner, Logan Ryan. Chris Matthews was 6’5, and towered over the 5’11 Ryan. Wilson exploited the height difference and hit Matthews on multiple sideline catches to set up the Seahawks in field goal range. Because of good clock management, the Seahawks had just enough time to run one more play. Wilson went back to his new favorite target and threw it high enough in the end zone where only Matthews would be able to make a play on it. Matthews was beating Ryan on every play and that included the last play of the half. Matthews had outworked Ryan again and came down with the catch to match the Patriots. The Seahawks kicked the field goal and the game was tied 14-14 going into the half.
The Seahawks came out in the second half with the momentum. The got the second half kick off and made the most of it. They marched down the field and kicked a field goal 17-14 Seahawks. The ensuing possession, the Seahawks defense delivered and forced Brady to make a bad pass. Brady was picked off and the Seahawks capitalized. Marshawn Lynch brought the Seahawks to the 3 yard line, a place where you would usually run it. However, Carroll assumed the Patriots would be prepared for that so he elected to throw the ball; it worked. The Seahawks then started to gain control with a score of 24-14.
It was beginning to look like Brady was going to lose his third Super Bowl in a row after going 3 for 3. But Tom Brady is a competitor, and was going to give it everything he had to try to win this game. The Patriots got the ball back and had a long, effective drive. They scored a touchdown and started wearing the defense out. Seahawks 24-21. The Patriots defense played lights out second half. They forced Seattle to give them the ball back on three straight posessions. Time was running out and Brady had to put together a championship drive. Brady went 8/8 on the Patriots final drive leading them down the field. The quarter as a whole he went 13/15 for 147 yards and a TD. Brady then found his favorite target, Julian Edelman in the end zone after shaking his defender to put the Patriots back on top with only 2:07 left. Patriots 28-24.
The Patriots had stopped Wilson and his team on three straight possessions, all they had to do was do it again. On Seattle’s first play Russell Wilson found Lynch for a huge gain which put Seattle around the 50 yard line. Now Seattle had 2 minutes to move the ball 50 yards. This is where Malcolm Butler enters the picture.
The secondary was having trouble coverin Chris Matthews. The solution was to move Brandon Browner on Chris Matthews and put Malcolm Butler in to cover Jermaine Kearse. Keep in mind, Kearse caught the game winning catch in the NFC Championship game. Wilson dropped back in the pocket and let a pass go down the sideline to Kearse the ensuing play. Malcolm played the ball great and managed to break up the pass. Except, the ball somehow miraculously fell right into Kearse’s arms. It appeared the Patriots were again stricken with the bad luck of a crazy catch to prevent them from winning a super bowl.
Malcolm got off of the field and threw his helmet. Butler had played the ball great, but sometimes the world is a crazy place and things happen. The next play Marshawn was handed the ball and ran it 7 yards down to the 1 yard line. Something that many people miss is that Hightower actually set up what eventually happens. Hightower managed to escape and double block, and throw his right shoulder into Lynch’s hip. Lynch looked like he was going to walk into the endzone, but Hightower managed to bench press a blocker off of him and just get enough of Lynch to get him to the ground.
The clock was winding down, there were less than 30 seconds left and Belichick wasn’t calling a timeout. Why the hell isn’t he calling a timeout!? Belichick and his crew leave no stone unturned. They practice for every single situation, play, and circumstance you can put them in. Belichick could tell that Seattle’s personnel group looked sketchy. He decided to let the clock run so he wouldn’t be helping Seattle who seemed to be having trouble with the play call. The defensive play was goal line strong which required a goal line team consisting of 3 corners. That third corner was Malcolm Butler. Butler had seen the formation before in practice. He had practiced screen plays multiple times, but struggled to execute them practice. Brandon Browner could tell based on Seattle’s formation, what was coming.
Browner tells Malcolm at the beginning of the play, “Im going to jam him, you go.” Browner could tell from film, that Seattle was going to run a pick play. Browner’s thoughts were, if I jam the front receiver to avoid the pick from happening, Malcolm will be able to jump the route and break it up.
Wilson dropped back and threw it without hesitation. Browner jammed his receiver which allowed Malcolm to freely jump the route. Malcolm Butler undercut the route, stuck his hands out, and braced for the impact with the receiver. Butler looked in his hands with astonishment only to realize he had just intercepted the football which would allow the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.
The undrafted rookie free agent from West Alabama made a play no one could’ve imagined. That one play, and all that led up to it may be the most momentous event in Super Bowl history. It all rooted from practice, teamwork, and preparation. Malcolm gave up the big catch that set up Seattle, but came back and made the play of his life.
Whenever you ask how Seattle lost, the answer will always be that the Butler did it.