FOXBORO, Mass. — The game every New England Patriots fan had circled on his or her calendar for months ended in disappointment for Bill Belichick’s club. But in terms of entertainment value, it was a slam dunk.
The Patriots and Seattle Seahawks capped the most thrilling Sunday of this NFL season with a primetime classic — a 31-24 Seahawks victory at Gillette Stadium that featured seven lead changes, 805 yards of total offense and a potential game-tying Patriots drive that stalled 1 yard short of the end zone.
It was a Super Bowl XLIX rematch that also served as a potential Super Bowl LI preview, as it would not be at all surprising to see these teams meet again this February in Houston.
“It can’t get much more competitive than it was out there (Sunday night),” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “But give them credit. They made more plays than we did. They did a little more than we did tonight. That’s why they won. We’ve got to do a better job.”
The Patriots drew first blood with a LeGarrette Blount touchdown run on the game’s opening drive, and the Seahawks responded with consecutive field goals to pull within a point entering the second quarter. From there, the teams traded scores with reckless abandon.
New England and Seattle combined for just four punts all game (two per side), and the lead changed hands seven times between the 10:52 mark of the second quarter and the 8:56 mark of the fourth.
In the end, the Patriots’ loss could be attributed to a season-worst defensive effort and a decisive disadvantage in the turnover battle. Seattle finished with two takeaways — including Tom Brady’s first interception of the season — to New England’s zero, and the Seahawks turned Julian Edelman’s fourth-quarter fumble into the game-sealing touchdown.
The Patriots got the ball back for one final possession, but Brady failed to connect with tight end Rob Gronkowski on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to squash the home team’s comeback hopes.
“Those are the games you sign up to play in,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said Monday. “Those are the ones that you remember. Those are the ones that, when the competition’s high like that, you hope it brings the best out in you. They gave us the best that they had, and it was plenty good enough. You enjoy the competition in a game like that.”
In a departure from the uninspired, lackluster football that’s been the norm around the league this season, Sunday’s NFL slate featured several spectacularly entertaining games. The Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos all staged dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks in the 1 p.m. ET time slot, and the Dallas Cowboys followed those by outlasting the Pittsburgh Steelers what might have been the best game we’ll see all season.
Several of those teams have Super Bowl aspirations, and the Patriots’ most recent outing — which came on the heels of four consecutive resounding victories — proved there is no prohibitive favorite to win it all this season.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images