By the time Katy Perry finished warming up for her halftime performance Sunday night, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks made it quite clear that Super Bowl XLIX would live up to the hype tied at 14 going to the half.
A gift of a heroic effort by corner Jeremy Lane to nab an interception near the end of the first quarter did not translate for the defending champions.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks once again failed to move the ball in a significant manner, which put it right back in the hands of Tom Brady and the clock-eating Patriots.
This time, Lane was not on the field to bail out the Seahawks.
Nor was Brady in a giving mood.
Instead, the Patriots charged down the field with the same strategy deployed in the first—short and sweet to neutralize the Seattle pass-rush. Take this third-down conversion to Julian Edelman on a short connection, for example:
Before long, Brady capped things off with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Brandon LaFell:
Brady etched his name further into the history books in the process, as ESPN Stats & Info illustrated:
To be blunt, the Patriots jumped out to a major advantage reminiscent of what the Seahawks did to the Broncos the year prior. Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times shared the numbers:
Seattle had no answer. The Patriots defense swallowed up Lynch while Wilson's receivers struggled to get open on his lone pair of pass attempts.
Another punt for the Seahawks.
To Richard Sherman's unit's credit, the Seahawks up front at the very least adjusted. As Cris Collinsworth noted on the NBC broadcast, the unit's pass-rushers stopped attempting different moves and instead pushed forward and quickly got hands up in an effort to bat down the quick passes.
It worked, too.
Wilson got the ball back. Then it was Chris Matthews who bailed out the offense with an acrobatic 44-yard reception.
Not bad for the first catch of his NFL career.
With the offense in close, Lynch predictably did the rest:
Brady and the Patriots did have a chance to respond, not to mention a trio of timeouts and the two-minute warning to halt the clock.
Even casual observers know that is too much time to hand to Brady.
The nickel-and-dime offense in full effect, the Patriots moved down the field until Brady went over the top to tight end Rob Gronkowski to take back the lead with 31 seconds left before the half:
As Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer pointed out, Gronk did not care much about the football itself:
Fewer did not realize what Seattle can accomplish with 31 seconds on the clock.
A backup running back scored a big gain. Wilson broke loose. With six seconds left in the half, Pete Carroll kept his offense on the field.
The gamble paid off, too. Wilson found the hero Matthews for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game, 14-14.
Regardless of what transpires at halftime, it is clear the final two frames of this year's big game will outclass last year's spectacle by a mile.
Whichever team can throw the better counterpunch by way of halftime adjustments figures to emerge the winner of this chess match.