How an unorthodox decision by Bill Belichick may have won the Patriots the game

"I'm 30 years older than you are.
Had my back broke once, my hip twice. And on my worst day I could beat the hell out of you." 
-John Wayne, The Cowboys

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick may in actuality be one year younger than Seattle coach Pete Carroll, but the sentiment was the same as John Wayne's as the final seconds ticked away in Super Bowl XLIX.

Bill and the Patriots were backed into a corner. They responded with grit.

With just 1:14 left in the game and Seattle needing a touchdown to win, receiver Jermaine Kearse had just hauled in a 33 yard pass in bizarre, circus fashion. Onlookers watched the ball dart off the finger tips of Patriots defender Malcolm Butler, get bobbled up in the air four times before finally being miraculously caught by Kearse on his back. It immediately conjured images of some of the most famous football plays of all time.

The Steelers' 1972 "Immaculate Reception"
was such a strange catch it inspired theories of divine intervention
The nature of the catch itself was more reminscient of the Steelers' famous immaculate reception - a fortunate bounce etched into Super Bowl history for all time.

The timing of it?

That brought up more intimate disturbing memories of recent Patriots losses. The famous David Tyree helmet catch in 2008 that helped end the Patriots' perfect season, even Mario Manningham's grab on the Giants' game winning drive in 2011. From 2008 on, every serendipitous catch in Super Bowl history seemed to be destined to happen against the Patriots.

"Why us?" Pats fans universally thought.

The next play, Seattle star Marshawn Lynch rumbled towards the end zone. A rush of four yards, one away from a Super Bowl championship.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that the Patriots would be Super Bowl runner-ups for the third time in a row. The Seattle touchdown was inevitable. That's what Bill Belichick's Patriots were facing with 57 seconds remaining in the game. It was doomsday.

After Lynch's run to the one-yard line, play-by-play commentator Al Michaels said casually, "And now New England has to think about taking a time out."

The Patriots did not, and, that may have won them the game.

The conservative route would have called for a timeout or letting the Seahawks score to give Tom Brady a last chance at a hail mary, as the Pats did for Ahmad Bradshaw in the 2012 Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Instead, Belichick, with his defense on their hind legs and the kill shot set up on a tee for Seattle, decided to let the clock tick and the players play - either to see an emotional rollercoaster of a season come to a dismal end, or to reap the rewards of risk.

“We would have used our timeouts if [the second-down play] had been a [failed] running play,” said Belichick. "We might have done that. We put in our defense (on second down) with just three corners. It wasn’t true goal-line because they had three receivers in the game. So we were in our goal line with all eight guys stacked on the line of scrimmage and we were man-to-man on the three receivers. We prepare for that situation as part of our goal-line package -- three corners, two corners, one corner, no corners if they have all tight ends and an offensive line in there.”

The Seahawks offense, led by quaterback Russell Wilson, entered their formation with 37 seconds ticking away. 37 seconds for their season. The Patriots weren't stopping the clock. They needed to score.

All of a sudden, the pressure had flipped. The Patriots were prepared for a run, it seemed they were content to let that time run down. Win or lose, the Patriots defense was in this to the end.

"We wanted to be really conscious about how much time was on the clock," Seattle offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell said. "We wanted to be able to use it all."

Faced with that duress and a ticking clock, did the Seahawks outthink themselves?

Will Oremus and Seth Stevenson,
On first down, Seattle ran Marshawn Lynch off left tackle for four yards, down to the one. Carroll said after the game he expected Belichick to call his second timeout here, daring Seattle to score quickly and give Tom Brady the ball back. But Belichick didn’t do that. The clock kept running—50 seconds, 40 seconds—and suddenly time no longer seemed to be on Seattle’s side. Now Bevell and Carroll faced second-and-goal from the one, which is normally an invitation to slam Lynch into the line again and see if he can push it through. With a single timeout left and the game clock wasting away, however, Seattle no longer had time enough for three Lynch runs. If it was going to get off three more plays, one of them would need to be a pass.

Malcolm Butler swarmed by his team after game winning interception
The Seahawks could've opted to save the throw for the final down, or any other down (especially if they had known that Belichick was considering using the rest of his timeouts if Seattle ran). They could've run the ball with Marshawn Lynch as the whole world thought they would. He was over 100 yards on the day and had just nearly scored.

Still, it's easy to criticize the timing with the benefit of hindsight.

"You could run on 2nd down, call timeout, have to throw on third and score, or incompletion and have to choose (run or pass) on the final down," Carroll texted to Michael Silver, via "That's ball logic, not 2nd guess logic ... you never think you'll throw an interception there, just as you don't think you would fumble."

They did throw an interception there. Seattle felt the pressure to score. What they ended up with was a play calling controversy that could linger for all time as "the dumbest call in Super Bowl history".

Malcolm Butler earned ultimate redemption after being victimized on the ludicrous Kearse catch. He earned the Patriots the Super Bowl. He read the play and beat Ricardo Lockette to the ball, colliding with the reciever, the force giving Butler the leverage to haul in the game ending interception.

“I just knew they were doing a pick route,” Butler said after the game. “I knew it was on the line and we needed it, so I just beat him to the route and just made the play. I had a feeling I was going to make a big play, but not this big.”

The final minute of Super Bowl XLIX became a tense bedlam, accentuated by the final seconds swiftly ticking away on the NFL season and each team's chance for a championship.

Russell Wilson threw the ball.

The result? A championship play by a championship team.