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Mike Tanier's Super Bowl Hangover: Patriots Untainted, Clutch Redemption Legacy

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 2, 2015

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Images

Human achievement reaches its zenith at the beginning of each February. 

Our civilization crests on a dizzying pinnacle looming high above the desperate, teeming endeavors of everyday life. For a few brief hours, we come as close to divine transcendence as mere mortals can imagine.

It's a time that represents the culmination of billions of years of earthly history, from the volcanic tumult of our primordial planet through the nutrient-rich broth in which the first single-celled organisms spawned, through our hunter-gather subsistence on the African savanna to the moment when our founding fathers brokered the fate of modern society at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio.

It's an event called the Super Bowl.

I am not exaggerating.

And there's some Southie in a faded Mike Vrabel jersey reading this and shouting, "Typical national writer: Won't give Tom Brady his due."

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots strong safety Malcolm Butler (21) makes an interception during the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA
USA TODAY Sports

OK, it was just a football game. But it may have been the greatest football game ever. The Patriots' 28-24 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday night was a runaway mine-car ride along a roller-coaster track through a waterfall during an earthquake. It was not easily summarized.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Sunday's Super Bowl was better than Super Bowl XXXIV (Rams over Titans; Kevin Dyson reaching for the goal line), better than Super Bowl XXIII (Joe Montana sees John Candy) and better than Super Bowl XXV (Giants beat Bills, Scott Norwood implicated). It was better than the two Super Bowls the Patriots won with late field goals and better than Super Bowl XLII, with David Tyree and Plaxico Burress.

Maybe it's the 1 a.m. coffee head rush talking, but if that wasn't one of the 10 best football games ever played, I ask you to burn me some DVDs of the 10 that are better.

Super Bowl XLIX was a game that featured:

The Most Unlikely Catch in Super Bowl History

Doug Benc/Associated Press

Jermaine Kearse's endless bobble on a 33-yard jump-and-fall ball with 1:14 to play made the Tyree catch look like a dump to a fullback in the flat.

Lynn Swann made prettier catches, Jerry Rice made more ultimately meaningful catches, but no one seemed to grab fate itself before it touched the ground like Kearse did in those final seconds.

The Worst Late-Game Goal-Line Call in Super Bowl History

You are at the 1-yard line. You have Marshawn Lynch. You have Russell Wilson. Why on earth throw a quick slant to Ricardo Lockette in traffic?

When Malcolm Butler intercepted Wilson's doomed throw, the Patriots bench erupted, the Seahawks bench fell into a state of shock and this conversation took place somewhere in Atlanta:

ARTHUR BLANK: That's not the one we hired, right?

THOMAS DIMITROFF: No, we hired Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator.

ARTHUR BLANK: You positive? Because we have lost a lot of games because of stupid stuff like that.

THOMAS DIMITROFF: Positive. If Darrell Bevell shows up in Atlanta, you can give Scott Pioli my parking space.

ARTHUR BLANK: Yeah, about that…

One of the Boldest Calls in Super Bowl History

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Chris Matthews #13 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates scoring an 11 yard touchdown late in the second quarter with Doug Baldwin #89 against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on Fe
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Seahawks' decision to throw to Chris Matthews while in field-goal range with six seconds left before halftime is up there with the Saints' onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV, John Riggins' 43-yard touchdown on 4th-and-1 in Super Bowl XVII (a gutsy decision in the days when fourth-down conversions were rare) and a handful of other high-risk gambles that I cannot list right now because I just watched one of the greatest football games in history and my brain is spongy.

Matthews' pre-halftime touchdown, which nearly made him both the story of the Super Bowl and this generation's Timmy Smith, was one of many momentum changes in the game. In fact, the real loser in Super Bowl XLIX was momentum.

If you thought the Patriots had momentum because they scored a touchdown with 36 seconds left in the half, you were wrong, because the Seahawks scored with six seconds left. If you thought the Seahawks had momentum because they built a 10-point lead and sacked the Patriots into 3rd-and-14, wrong, because Tom Brady hit Julian Edelman for 21 yards and got the Seahawks defense back on its heels.

If you thought the Patriots had momentum after two touchdowns, wrong, because Wilson found Lynch for a 31-yard strike before the two-minute warning. If you thought the Seahawks had momentum because of an unlikely drive to the 1-yard line in the waning seconds, well, check the final score.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Momentum is silly anyway. So is redemption: If you needed that game to prove Brady could succeed with a fully inflated football, then you also need medication and counseling. As for clutch clutchiness: If that last-second interception nullified Wilson's worthiness for you, then you should queue up for the little paper cups behind the Brady redemption game group.

And don't get me started about "tarnished legacies." Super Bowl XLIX proved one thing: No matter how excruciatingly stupid the Super Bowl week conversations become, the game itself can still satisfy. That was glistening football, a game both franchises can be proud of, a game that inspired nearly everyone who watched it.

The only thing "tarnished" about it was the ugly two weeks of vilifying and self-conscious scandal stoking (both of Deflategate and Marshawn Lynch's Bartleby the Scrivener routine) that preceded it.

Some observations:

The Patriots Dictatorship

Consider the plights of Tharold Simon and K.J. Wright. Simon, filling in for Jeremy Lane after Lane suffered an early game wrist injury, gave up two Patriots touchdowns and a handful of big plays. Wright gave up a touchdown and at least one other important fourth-quarter reception to Rob Gronkowski.

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots catches a 22 yard touchdown pass against  K.J. Wright #50 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Simon also played well for long stretches, and Wright finished with 11 tackles in his multifaceted role. But Brady was clearly looking for Simon whenever possible, and for Wright whenever he was split wide in man coverage on Gronk. The head-scratcher for Seahawks fans may be why Wright was so obviously mismatched against Gronk so often, and why poor Simon got singled up so often on Edelman.

The simple answer: New England dictates these mismatches. No team does as much with personnel groupings and formations as the Patriots. Think about what happens when they enter the huddle with the simple personnel grouping of Gronk, Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen:

  • Any of these five players can be split out as wide receivers. Gronk has been known to play fullback on occasion. The defense has no idea, based on the personnel, what kind of formation it will face.
  • If Gronk splits wide, and you assign Richard Sherman to him, it leaves Simon to cover one of the three receivers, all of whom can win a one-on-one matchup against an inexperienced dime cornerback.
  • If you shadow Gronkowski with Kam Chancellor on every play, the Patriots can dictate where Chancellor lines up, creating opportunity for all sorts of deviltry—receiver screens to the opposite side of the formation, draw plays and so on.
  • If you get comfortable with this personnel grouping, the Patriots will counter with LeGarrette Blount, Michael Hoomanawanui, James Develin or a sixth offensive lineman. They can still play matchup games because Gronk can play anywhere, and the receivers excel at sliding all over the slots.

New England has spent 14 years beating opponents with its fourth-, fifth- or sixth-best offensive weapons. Eventually, if you don't want Vereen picking you apart with 11 receptions or Edelman picking up yards after every short catch, you have to trust your sixth defensive back in single coverage or hope your linebacker can handle Gronk for a play or two.

Maybe if the Seahawks had done some other things right, they would have gotten away with it.

Those Extra Yards

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:   Shane Vereen #34 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, A
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The one thing the Patriots did better against the Seahawks defense than any team has done in the last two years is generate yardage after short catches.

New England would have been in no position to generate those touchdowns against Simon and Wright if Edelman, Vereen, Amendola and Gronk did not consistently gain extra yards after receptions, often squirming through the grasp of the first defender to turn three-yard catches into seven- or eight-yard gains.

Contrast this Super Bowl with the last one: Peyton Manning threw lots of short completions to his receivers, but those passes were often dead on arrival, with receivers stopped in their tracks or knocked backward after the catch.

The extra yards after catch were the results of:

Great Play Design

Vereen kept getting the ball in space after Gronk and/or another receiver ran downfield routes to create space underneath. Many of his 64 receiving yards were simply a matter of outrunning a linebacker to the edge.

Exquisite Timing

No one throws a football right on time to a receiver in stride on a short pass like Brady. Actually, there is one other quarterback who can drop pinpoint lobs that lead receivers to open spots on the field: Philip Rivers. The Chargers beat the Seahawks this year, too.

Elusiveness and Blocking

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Danny Amendola #80 as he catches a three yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Sta
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Edelman and Amendola are great at making sudden "phone booth" moves along the sideline. One of the key plays in the Patriots' pre-halftime touchdown drive was a "jet sweep" reverse to Edelman, who took a handoff and found Bruce Irvin waiting for him. Edelman eluded Irvin and another defender to turn what looked like a three-yard loss into a seven-yard gain.

All of New England's receivers block for one another: They may not be the best blocking receivers in the NFL (Seattle's wideouts are better in this area), but they are persistent enough to keep defenders from getting square shots on their teammates.

Manageable Third Downs

The Patriots were 8-of-14 on third-down conversions against the Seahawks. You never want to face Seattle's defense on third down 14 times, but New England was successful because of a steady stream of 3rd-and-3 and 3rd-and-1 situations.

With the Patriots' running game slipping its gears, they needed all of those catch-and-run plays to stay on schedule.

The MSNBC-Hawks

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Chris Matthews and Ricardo Lockette combined for seven catches, 168 yards and one touchdown for the Seahawks, and it's a good thing they showed up. Watching Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Seattle's tight ends try to get open in the first quarter was like watching a turtle try to roll off its back.

The pokey Seahawks receivers lumbered downfield with Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and others jogging beside them like kids following an ice cream truck to the corner. Wilson did not complete a pass in the first quarter, and if Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell had not switched to their huge-'n'-speedy backups, this game would never have gone down to the wire.

Matthews missed his chance to go down in Super Bowl history: The pre-halftime touchdown, the big catch that broke open the Seahawks offense, the political-talk namesake, the "worked in a sneaker store, CFL refugee" backstory. He deserves a chance to do more for the 2015 Seahawks than hang around the bench until the Super Bowl.

That said, Wilson also deserves some receivers who can get open against man coverage. Football can be a simple game sometimes. Either you cause the defense a problem or you don't. Wilson causes a problem. Lynch causes a problem. The Seahawks missed that third guy Sunday.

Quick Start, Slow Finish

The first quarter of Super Bowl XLIX was played in just 24 minutes of actual time. It was glorious. There were no scores, just one penalty, three possession changes and two long Patriots drives with just one clock-stopping incompletion. Hey, we could wrap up by 9:15 p.m. Eastern!

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Recording artists Katy Perry and Missy Elliott perform onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Yeah...no. Katy Perry needed time to glue little sequined flame bursts to her shoulders, and there were sponsors to satisfy. Actually, football itself caused the game to slip back into a more deliberate gear, though Super Bowl commercial breaks are longer than standard commercial breaks.

Touchdowns and tight two-minute drills lengthen games, and Super Bowl XLIX was loaded with touchdowns and tight two-minute drills. At three hours and 36 minutes, with anthem-to-gun drama, Sunday's game was only about 10 minutes too long. If we took out all of the promos for The Blacklist, it would have been perfect.

Those Whistles Wreak Havoc on the Digestive Track

Bill Vinovich and his officiating crew called a total of 12 penalties, just four of them in the first half. Most of the calls were straightforward: motion flags, obvious holds, a hit out of bounds, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pretending to moon the crowd (dumb move, Baldwin).

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA;  Seattle Seahawks strong safety Jeron Johnson (23) protests a penalty called in the first quarter  Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

There was a late-game disqualification on Irvin and an excessive celebration penalty when Malcolm Butler caught the Willy Wonka golden ticket at the end. By my count, there were only eight penalties in the whole game that had any meaningful impact on anything.

That said, there were many, many no-calls. Receivers and cornerbacks traded paint with no whistles, despite a push-off here and an armbar there. There was one no-call that absolutely should have been called, when Butler tripped Lockette while falling to the ground (swatting with his arm) midway through the fourth quarter. Then again, an early running into the kicker penalty against the Seahawks should technically have been classified as roughing the kicker, resulting in a first down.

I want Super Bowls called this way from now on. Obvious penalties must of course be flagged, but a little NHL-style whistle-swallowing kept this game from turning into a series of nullified receptions and carping about incidental contact. The no-calls were roughly balanced, so no one got an edge.

We got to see amazing receptions and daring defense instead of a four-hour legal interpretation of a rulebook, something we had quite enough of in January. It's the Super Bowl. Keep the game safe and fair, but let the players decide it.

Dinosaurs, Sponges, Lambos and a Little Light Bondage

I may have missed some of the movie trailers of Super Bowl XLIX; occasionally, I use commercial breaks to do things like take notes or actually think about the football game I am watching and writing about. That said, here is how I rank the Super Bowl movie trailers, based on how interested I am in seeing each film:

Jul 27, 2014; Speedway, IN, USA; Actor Chris Pratt before  the Crown Royal Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Jurassic World

Did you ever think you would actually say to yourself, "Darn, I cannot wait to see Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation battle pterodactyls"? After you spend two hours rooting for a talking raccoon and a walking tree, there's no turning back.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

My oldest son is nearing adolescence, but he still wants to see this. You are only in the "watching SpongeBob on the couch with your kids" station of life for a finite period of time, unless your kids move into the basement, develop some unhealthy habits and stick around into their late 20s.

I plan to enjoy this movie while it is still an appropriate bonding experience.

Furious 7

There are Lambos flying out of skyscrapers. Top that, Malcolm Butler!

Ted 2

That little bear wants to sneak into Tom Brady's bedroom to steal some genetic material? Totally unrealistic, because the trailer does not end with Gisele Bundchen and a lot of flying teddy-bear stuffing.

Terminator Genisys

I have no problem with a robot aging, because I watched all of those Star Trek: The Next Generation movies when Data had put on an awful lot of weight.

Tomorrowland and Kingsman: The Secret Service

More from my 12-year old: "Dad, can we see that X-Men ripoff? We can? How about that other X-Men ripoff?"

Pitch Perfect 2

Rebel Wilson and a hyper-sexualized Clay Matthews. Way too much like one of my recurring nightmares.

Fifty Shades of Grey

A repressed nation with middlebrow taste in novels cannot be wrong!

Other Random Super Bowl Thoughts

Last Touchback

The Patriots scored their go-ahead touchdown with 2:02 to play. Stephen Gostkowski sent the kickoff through the back of the end zone, giving the Seahawks one play (a long completion to Lynch) before the two-minute warning. Touchbacks are awesome, but why not attempt a shorter kickoff in that situation?

The Seahawks' kick return units are not particularly dangerous; Baldwin might have burned six seconds and a clock stoppage getting the ball to about the 27-yard line. It's a small matter, and it is not the kind of thing to try with Jacoby Jones back deep, but it's the kind of little edge you expect Bill Belichick to be thinking about.

He probably thought about it and decided against it.

Michael Bennett's Disappearance

Bennett finished the game with four official hits on Brady. There was a period in the third quarter when he appeared to reach the backfield on every play. Then, Bennett suddenly became a nonfactor in the fourth quarter.

Deep analysis of interior line play is best done when the coaches' film is released Tuesday, but the Patriots certainly made some small adjustment in the trenches to keep Bennett from beating them as a 3-tech tackle.

Cliff Avril's Concussion

Avril suffered a concussion and left the game. After Junior Seau's posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame, it was encouraging to see the NFL make this small-but-significant step toward putting teeth in its concussion policy.

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

While Avril's on-field collision looked scary at first (he crumbled limply backward), he was mobile and conversational a few minutes later. He would have re-entered the first 45 Super Bowls, give or take, after a quick breather and "what city are we in?" quiz, with no concussion reported.

The league's concussion protocols still have dozens of ways to go wrong, but the Super Bowl showed how things can be done right.

Russell Wilson's Record

Wilson is now 10-1 against quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls. That's still pretty impressive. Heck, he can lose his next four games against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, and it will still be impressive. But let's please retire that stat.

He beat Aaron Rodgers in the Fail Mary game and the four-interception onside-kick insanity game two weeks ago. He's got a pair of wins over bad Giants teams. The 10-0 or 10-1 record is the kind of contrived stat that almost takes away from Wilson's accomplishments. Wilson is 1-1 in Super Bowls.

For a quarterback entering his fourth year, that's all we really need to know.

And Finally…What's Cookin'?

For years, I have been fascinated by Super Bowl recipes, which are as much a tradition during the game run-up as humiliating behavior at Media Day.

The food editors of newspapers and web outlets have long used the Super Bowl as an excuse to foist their loopiest "sports snack" concoctions on a populace that has never, ever considered Super Bowl Sunday as an excuse to, say, stone-grind its own cornmeal for homemade tacos, or host the Ultimate Vegan Super Bowl Feastival.

Matthew Mead/Associated Press

My recipe fascination only grew during the several years when I worked for a major metropolitan newspaper that got a little self-conscious when discussing anything blue collar like pigging out in front of a football game. For a postmodern twist on the prosaic buffalo wing, consider roasting free-range quail wings with caramelized organic shallots and a chardonnay-ghee reduction with a banana pepper and smoked herb aioli. Your guests will huzzah during respites in the football match.

So I want to wrap things up this year by awarding a Golden Spatula to the worst Super Bowl-themed recipes widely disseminated on the Internet.

The runner-ups for this year's Golden Spatula come from PerezHilton.com, the website of some celebrity gadfly dude who is apparently famous in Outer Kardashia. Hilton provides celebrity recipes like Beyonce's guacamole, which looks suspiciously like the recipe for my guacamole. With your eyes closed, all guacamole tastes about the same; there's a metaphor there that's best left unexplored.

Gwyneth Paltrow provides a mixed nuts recipe that requires Aleppo pepper (leave it to Pepper Potts to be fussy about pepper varieties! Zing!) and orange zest. Spend hours shopping for and preparing the perfect spiced nut appetizer, only to discover that everyone prefers the Chex Party Mix lifted straight from the side of the box—it's the disappointment you bring upon yourself.

Eat her spiced nuts. You don't want to disappoint her.
Eat her spiced nuts. You don't want to disappoint her.Jordan Strauss/Associated Press

There are also recipes from Martha Stewart and Giada De Laurentiis, which is cheating. These are supposed to be celebrity recipes, not some pro-am mashup with cooking celebrities. What makes the Hilton recipes extra special are the garish, unnecessary GIFs.

Perez Hilton proved no match for Tom Brady, however, who provided Sports Illustrated with his pancake recipe.

Brady's recipe contains no flour whatsoever. Seriously, he forgets to mention flour or any flour substitute, like gluten-free champion dust. If you try to make these pancakes, you will get scrambled eggs with weird junk floating in them.

Brady does not know whether he uses a quarter-cup or half-cup of almond oil. If the last two weeks have taught us anything, it's that Brady is not big on weights and measures, folks.

A scoop of "like, some protein powder." If you don't see the next Patriots scandal sleeping within that phrase, you, like, ain't looking.

Stadium @WatchStadium

Patriots fans, get your #SuperBowl Sunday started with pancakes with Tom Brady ➞ http://t.co/SPygQC2LRa #BradyCakes http://t.co/H67MqEaTNI

OK, OK, the picture of Brady making pancakes for his kids is beyond adorable. One of Gisele's Life Model Decoys snapped the photo. You might think that a predictable Gisele doesn't cook no stinkin' breakfast gag is coming here, but Brady's supermodel wife allegedly submitted a whole list of breakfast recipes to newspapers and food blogs around the country, which unfortunately have strict censorship practices when it comes to endangered species.

Anyway, Brady will probably be cooking some of those flourless almond-scented pancakes this week. And they are going to taste real, real good.

Thanks for a great year, readers! Hangover will go on hiatus until next season, but yours truly can still be found writing about the NFL here on Bleacher Report all through the offseason. In fact, I have an article scheduled for Tuesday. Better get some sleep.

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