By Jeff Kane
Follow Jeff on Twitter @BostonFatGuy
In life sometimes the moment just picks you. You work hard, develop your skills and with a little determination and luck, the biggest moment happens to come your way. The Patriots have two players on their roster that have burst onto the national scene, because of two of the most memorable Super Bowls of all time. The players are future Hall-of-Fame Quarterback Tom Brady and second year Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler.
Both Brady and Butler did not take the general track to football stardom in the NFL. We all know the story of Tom Brady, sixth round pick, 199th player drafted overall, after six quarterback were taken before him. Brady worked his way onto the Patriots roster in the 2000 season. Coach Blll Belichick saw enough in Brady to keep him on the active roster for the entire 2000 season. Four quarterbacks were on the roster, Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz, Micheal Bishop and Brady. By the time the 2001 season was underway Brady had worked his way up to being Bledsoe’s understudy. In the Patriots second game of the season he took over for an injured Bledsoe and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
Malcolm Butler made the Patriots in 2014 as an un-drafted rookie free agent out of West Alabama. Unlike most UDRFA, Butler had to try out for his job. His hard work and play throughout organized team activities, training camp and the preseason, gave Malcolm his shot to make the roster. Butler can attribute his spot on the final 53 to corner back Brandon Browner being suspended the first four games of the season. It is hard to think that Butler would have made the team out of the gate, if Browner had not been suspended. By mid-season with Browner back, it was Alfonzo Dennard who was being scratched and Butler who was active. Bultler was active for his first Super Bowl appearance. Through the majority of the game he was used only on special teams.
Brady’s first Super Bowl was anything but spectacular. He managed the game for the Patriots. Heading into his final game winning drive, Brady had completed 11 of 19 passes for one touchdown and 92 yards. The game plan was simple, it had won Belichick a Super Bowl 11 years earlier when the Giants Beat the Bills on a last second missed field goal. The plan was to use the run game and short safe passes to chew up the clock and keep the opposing offense off of the field. It wasn’t until the Rams tied the game, with 1:37 left in the game that Brady was asked to shoulder the load.
Tom responded. With legendary broadcasters, Pat Summerall and John Madden saying the Patriots should down the ball and play for overtime, the team had other aspirations. Former starter, now back up Drew Bledsoe told Brady to “go out there and F’ing sling it” The drive started at the 17 yard line.
Brady steps up in the pocket after almost being stripped of the ball and completes a pass to his check down target JR Redmond. The play goes for five yards setting up second and five with 0:57 remaining on the clock.
On second and five, Brady again finds Redmond, this time for eight yards. The Patriots have now moved the ball to their own 30 yard line, and need 30 to 40 yards to get into field goal range to attempt to win the game.
After an intentional spike to stop the clock with 41 second to go, Brady is faced with second and ten from the thirty. Two key elements happen on this play. First the third straight completion to Redmond gains a first down. Second Redmond fights his way out of bounds, stopping the clock, saving valuable seconds and a down. If Redmond is not able to gain the first or get out of bounds to stop the clock, the Patriots may not have had enough time to continue the drive.
After the previous play, Brady throws his only true in-completion of the drive, the other two incomplete passes, were to stop the clock. Brady shows the poise of a ten year veteran here, as the Rams blitz comes straight up the left side “B” gap Brady is able to roll outside of the tackle box and throw the ball away. A sack most likely ends any chance at continuing the drive.
After the heads up play, Tom delivers his best pass of the drive, and a pass that needed to happen to give the Patriots a shot at getting into field goal range. The play call “64 Max-All-End’’ produced the longest gain of the night for the Pats. The offensive line gave Brady a great pocket, which he stepped into and delivered a perfect pass to Troy Brown on a crossing route. Brown was able to get out of bounds to stop the clock after a 23 yard gain.
The Patriots were now within Adam Vinatieri’s range to attempt a game winner. Brady and the offense made sure it was a little easier, with a nice pass to Jermaine Wiggins that set the stage for the deciding Kick.
After a clock stopping spike by Brady, Vinatieri nailed a 48 yard field goal to give New England its first Super Bowl Championship in team history. Brady went on to win the most valuable player award for the game. The Cinderella Patriots would go on to win three out of four championships tying the Dallas Cowboys for most championships in a four year stretch.
Malcolm Butler did not start Super Bowl 49. He was inserted into the game in the second half after the Patriots made some adjustments to their coverage. Slot cornerback Kyle Arrington was getting toasted most of the night by Chris Mathews. Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia moved Browner onto Mathews and stuck Butler on Jermaine Kearse. Butler showed up on the stat sheet for the first time when he tackled Marshawn Lynch for a two yard gain at the 2:37 mark of the third quarter. He made a stop on the next play, a six yard catch by Kearse, before breaking up a pass to Kearse in a one on one situation that resulted in the Seahawks having to punt. The final drive however will go down in history as when the world got to know Butler.
The Pats had just taken a 28-24 lead in the game with 2:06 left on a Brady to Julian Edelman touchdown pass. The first play on defense for the Patriots was not a great one, as Lynch was able to catch a wheel route to get the ball to the Patriots 49, as the two minute warning happened. While the pass resulted in a 31 yard gain, Butler had perfect coverage on Kearse as you can see him carrying the receiver up the field at the bottom of the screen.
From the 49, Russell Wilson tries a seem route up the middle to Kearse, again Butler makes a huge play getting his hand in at the end to knock the ball away. Butler continues his game of cat and mouse against the receiver that has two inches on him.
The next play is a long incomplete pass attempt, broken up beautifully by Browner
From the end zone view, we see that Wilson first read is again at Butler. This time on a crossing route. Butler has great position again. His coverage along with #91 Jamie Collins dropping into coverage, makes Wilson test the defense deep.
Now on third down and ten, Seattle again has Kearse run the seem route. Butler again has blanket coverage on Kearse and the throw goes to Ricardo Lockette in front of Logan Ryan. A first down is the result of the play and it sets up one of the strangest plays you will ever see.
On first and ten from the Patriots 38 yard line, the Seahawks attack Butler again. Butler runs with Kearse all the way down the field and is in perfect position to knock the pass away. Butler gets his hand on the ball to deflect it, but somehow the ball lands on Kearse who is lying on his back. The play is one of the most memorable catches in Super Bowl history. Butler here displays great football smarts, as Kearse is not down by contact. he gets up and pushes him out of bonds.
After the Seahawks ran the ball to the one yard line, the team comes out in a three receiver set with a stack at the bottom of your screen. The Patriots play goal line defense with a twist. They bring in Butler for the play aligning three corners on the field, staying heavy, yet matching the Seattle three receiver set. Butler then makes the greatest defensive play in the history of the Super Bowl. Butler lines up three yards into the end zone with Browner in front of him. The play is designed as a rub route or pick where Kearse will run up the field and interupt the defense allowing Lockette to run a slant for an easy touchdown. The Patriots however are ready for this. Browner does an amazing job stonewalling Kearse at the line, allowing Butler to break on the slant route, getting to the ball a split second before Lockette. He intercepts the pass and seals the win for the Patriots. Butler credits the Patriots coaching staff for having him prepared for the play. A play he was beaten on in practice leading up to the game.
For both of these players, the final drive of their first Super Bowl, thrust them into stardom. Both Brady and Butler were 24 when their respective Super Bowls began, both rose to the occasion when it mattered most. Brady has built arguably the greatest career a quarterback has ever had. What will Butler do for an encore?