Feb. 1, 2015, Seattle vs. New England, 26 seconds left:
At the New England 1, Russell Wilson, down four points, throws for Ricardo Lockette at the goal line; New England defensive back Malcolm Butler is there. Interception. One of the best Super Bowls ever is over. Patriots win 28-24.
Nov. 13, 2016, Seattle vs. New England, 14 second left:
At the Seattle 1, Tom Brady, down seven points, throws for Rob Gronkowski in the end zone; Seattle defensive back Kam Chancellor hand-fights him. Incompletion. One of the best games of the year is over. Seahawks win 31-24.
* * *
A 1 a.m. phone call is never good, unless it’s a scenario something like this: It comes after a great football game, and the guy on the other end just scored three touchdowns in the House That Kraft and Belichick and Brady Built.
“How poetic,” a reflective Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said from the Seahawks’ bus as it motored to the airport from Foxboro 75 minutes after Seattle’s 31-24 victory. “Incredible, really. They had the opportunity to win at the one-yard line at the end of the game. I thought of that, looking back … It’s one of those special moments you won’t forget. Football’s special, so special. How poetic this is.”
Baldwin said “poetic” twice, and I think if I’d let him talk about it for a while longer, he’d have said it a couple more times. He seemed blown away by the coincidence and the drama and about exactly what Seattle had accomplished capping a great day of football. In a brutal scheduling quirk, the NFL had the Seahawks play Monday night at home, travel 2,687 air miles to New England on Friday, and play the best team in football on Sunday — and the Patriots were as well-rested as you can be, coming off a bye week. The Seahawks’ defense had been worn down, having played 90, 72 and 82 snaps, respectively, in a three-game, 16-day span coming into Foxboro Sunday night. Seattle came back from deficits of 7-0, 14-12, 21-19 and 24-22 to win.
This was a magnificent game. Did you watch it all the way through? I’m guessing not, seeing as NFL ratings entering Sunday were down an alarming 15 percent across the board. This was a magnificent TV day, in fact, for the beleaguered NFL. Sunday was one of those days you could have put in a DVR time capsule with the label: OPEN WHEN BORED. In the early window, you’ll see the craziest win-turned-loss of the year, with the first ending of its kind in NFL history: Denver 25, New Orleans 23. You’ll see the Chiefs, at Carolina, with the Panthers’ season on the line, score the final 17 points of the game in the fourth quarter to win 20-17. In the late-afternoon window, you’ll see rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott force himself into the lead of the MVP race in a game with seven lead changes; Dallas 35, Pittsburgh 30. And at night, you’ll see another MVP candidate, Russell Wilson, outduel Tom Brady in Foxboro in a breathtaking game of great plays.
When Sunday was over, these were the three things I think I thought right away:
• Seattle-New England is the best rivalry in football, and it’s not close; what do you mean they won’t play again except in a Super Bowl till 2020?
• A Seattle-New England Super Bowl is a distinct possibility.
• Russell Wilson is as dangerous a quarterback as any in the NFL, with the softest touch, and the perfect risk-reward combination a quarterback can have.
Wilson and Brady dropped so many beautiful throws into the hands of receivers throughout the game. Just before the half, with New England up 14-12, Wilson and Baldwin drew up a thing of beauty. This is the risk-reward thing I’m talking about. No timeouts left for Seattle. Seahawks’ ball at the Patriots’ 18, with 13 seconds remaining. Clearly, Wilson has one play left and then a field goal try if the Seahawks don’t score. But he can’t take a sack, and he can’t leave the ball in the field of play.
“What happened,” Baldwin said, “is so against Football 101.”
Wilson took the shotgun snap and looked, looked, pirouetted out of trouble to the left … :11 … :10 … “Better be careful,” Cris Collinsworth sing-songed on NBC.
As he faded left, against the grain, Wilson looked. And there was Baldwin, going away from Wilson, fading toward the right pylon at the goal line. “That’s against every rule of football,” said Baldwin. “In a scramble drill like we were in, you move with the quarterback. You don’t want to go away from him, so he’ll be under pressure and have to throw across his body farther to you.”
Why’d Baldwin do it? Simple. All the Patriots’ defenders, amoeba-like, were forming around Wilson, and Baldwin knew Wilson would see him with no one behind him and enough of a cushion without coverage in front of him. With nine seconds left, Wilson calmly launched a rainbow all the way across the field to the goal line, and with six seconds left, it nestled into Baldwin’s hands. Touchdown. “That’s a great illustration of Russell’s ability to see the field and use great judgment,” Baldwin said.
Five times, by my count (including the final points of the night, a 15-yard strike floated into Baldwin’s hands for a touchdown), Wilson dropped a perfecto into the hands of his receivers at least 15 yards downfield. The man’s got a gift, and I don’t care if he was the 75th pick in the draft four years ago, or that he’s 5-foot-11. Russell Wilson’s in the conversation for best quarterback in football. Today. This game he played, against the rested best team in the NFL, bordered on a mensa level.
Wilson and Brady have played three times now. Seattle, 24-23, in 2012, with Brady running out of time and downs in the final minute. New England, 28-24, in the Super Bowl, decided in the final minute. And now Seattle, 31-24, decided in the final minute, in a game that left those who stayed up to watch begging for a February rematch.
* * *
The Cowboys are ridiculously fun to watch
Before we can have Seattle-New England in February, Dak Prescott’s Dallas Cowboys, and Ezekiel Elliott’s Dallas Cowboys, will have something to say about that.
As we sit here this morning, imagine Seattle at Dallas for the NFC Championship Game, on Jan. 22. The two NFC powers don’t meet this year. Elliott vs. Kam Chancellor? Prescott/Dez Bryant against Richard Sherman? Not bad.
Dallas-Pittsburgh was a fitting prelim to Seattle-New England. It was every bit as good, with more you-gotta-be-kidding-me plays, in a setting great players aspire to play in.
“Old school football,” Dallas tight end Jason Witten said afterward. “What NFL football is all about. Beautiful November day, great for football, kind of breezy, great football city, great stadium, great environment, crowd so into it. Smashmouth football. Sunday evening in the Steel City. One of the games I’ll remember a long time.”
The ending, insane. Elliott (21 carries, 114 yards; two catches, 95 yards; three touchdowns), on his 20th carry of the day at the two-minute warning, burst through the line behind right tackle Doug Free for a 14-yard touchdown. Dallas led 29-24. Pittsburgh sprinted downfield (that’s how it seemed anyway) and, in one of the coolest plays in football, Ben Roethlisberger fake-spiked the ball at the line, lifted up and threw a strike to Antonio Brown midway through the end zone. Pittsburgh, 30-29, after a missed two-point conversion.
Crowd in full throat now. “Back and forth,” Witten said. “All the lead changes, you felt it. What a game.”
In the huddle, before the last drive, Prescott talked to the other 10 players like he’d been there 10 years, not 10 starts. “We’ve been here before,” Prescott said. “One first down at a time.”
The 1,063rd catch of Witten’s NFL life, moving him past Andre Johnson for ninth all-time, was a 13-yarder from Prescott to the Dallas 48, and Witten was hogtied down. The 1,064th was the key to this game; it was just a five-yard gain, with another Pittsburgh hog-tying in the open field, only this time rookie safety Sean Davis grabbed Witten’s facemask. Now Dallas was at the Steelers 32, in field-goal range for the strong-legged Dan Bailey with 23 seconds left.
One more play. Maybe two. Dallas had one timeout left. Whoooooosh! Center Travis Frederick and right guard Ronald Leary opened a hole for Elliott on his 21st and final carry of the day, and he was gone, 32 yards for the win.
We’ve never seen two rookies do what they’re doing, this fast, in Dallas. Elliott, the fourth pick in last spring’s draft, and Prescott, the 135th, are 1-2 in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race right now. I’d have Elliott as the 10-week MVP right now. That last run put him over 1,000 yards for the year (198 carries, 1,005 yards). Prescott’s the fourth-rated quarterback in football (106.2). Nothing fazes him. Dallas has its longest winning streak, eight games, since 1977, and only the president of the Tony Romo Fan Club would suggest that one of the most beloved players in recent Cowboys history should get his job back.
“It’s re-energized me,” Witten, 34, said. “They’re good football players, obviously, but what makes them different is how much they love football. They are special. My goodness, we have all these big wins, and they come back to work Monday to work, and they just work on football, because they know how hard it is to stay on top in this game. They embrace situations like today, on the road, against a tough team.”
With a manageable schedule ahead, the 8-1 Cowboys are cruising. What great theater.