This is the anatomy of a stand. A refusal to yield.
It sent the Seahawks to their most impressive regular-season win of the Pete Carroll coaching era.
Tom Brady’s perfect pass to Rob Gronkowski with Seahawks cornerback DeShawn Shead all over him for 26 yards had the Patriots 2 yards from forcing overtime Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. It had Seattle 2 yards from turning a late-game win into an extra-period crapshoot. And we all saw in Arizona last month what that can become.
Instead, the Seahawks said no. Four consecutive times while protecting a 31-24 lead in the final 40 seconds.
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First-and-goal from the 2: The Patriots try what they had multiple times before in short-yardage: A quarterback sneak by Brady directly behind center David Andrews. Except Andrews got very little push against Seattle defensive tackles Jarran Reed and Tony McDaniel. The Seahawks stop Brady at the 1. Oddly, Seattle call its third time out with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter – odd in that the Patriots weren’t going to leave Seattle any time on the clock to break a tie, anyway.
Second down from the 1: This time New England goes with what has worked for touchdown runs three previous times, one short of a team record. That’s LeGarrette Blount for the goal line. Except Kam Chancellor and about every Seahawks defender back to Cortez Kennedy is waiting inside for Blount. They stuff him for zilch. The Patriots call time out No. 1 of the half with 19 seconds to go.
Third down from the 1: For the second consecutive play, the Patriots bring in a third offensive tackle, Cameron Fleming, to add to blocking. The Patriots try Brady sneaking again – but Brady drops the snap from center Andrews. Brady is so preoccupied with recovering that gaffe that he has no forward momentum and doesn’t get any closer to the goal line than the previous two plays did. In fact, he loses a yard. End Cassius Marsh got credit for the tackle, but most of Seattle’s defensive front swallowed Brady after he recovered his bobble. Stunned by three strikes but not yet out, the Patriots call another time out with 14 seconds remaining.
Fourth down from the 2: Inexplicably, the Seahawks have 12 men on the field in formation as a substitution goes haywire amid the drama. That’s a penalty, half the distance to the 1 again. On the reset, the Patriots line up with Gronkowski, the hulking tight end, at fullback. They then shift him to left end. Chancellor sees this and immediately runs across the Seahawks’ defense to its right side to match up. Chancellor knows what’s coming; the Seahawks practiced this same play on the final snap of the practice week, on Saturday in the walk-through in Boston. Brady takes the final snap Sunday and is looking only one way, to Gronkowski for the tie. Chancellor goes into locked-in man coverage. He is step for step with Gronkowski, just about inside his shirt. As the tight end puts his hands on Chancellor then leans and leaps, Chancellor puts his hands on Gronkowski and does the same. Brady’s pass sails 3 yards past Gronkowski, skidding into the turf in the end zone’s back left corner. Remarkably in this season and night of flags-a-rama in pass coverage on Seattle, none fly this time – and yes, Chancellor, every Seahawk, every Patriot and every eye in the yard were looking for one.
Television replays show the back judge with his hand moving from his side to his waistband, where one of his flags are. But Dino Paganelli, who is more away from the play than his officiating colleagues who aren’t throwing their flags, doesn’t throw his, either.
The Seahawks win – and mob Chancellor like a long, lost brother. Which, given the four-time Pro Bowl safety missed the previous four games with a pulled groin, he was.
“Gronk’s a great competitor, man,” Chancellor said. “With us two on the field, why not end it like that, know what I’m sayin’? Give both of us a chance. Give him a chance. And let me go out there and cover him.”
Chancellor laughed and said he appreciated the irony of this game ending on the 1-yard line – the same place from which the Seahawks so infamously failed at the end of Super Bowl 49 the last time they played New England, 21 months earlier.
“Yeah, I do,” Chancellor said. “You know, that’s a great team. That was a battle all game.
“Just to get back and play with my guys, man, I know those guys are going to fight. Fight till they can’t fight no more. That’s our creed. It’s just special being out there with them, because I can feel every fiber (of) them, running around just scratching and clawing and making plays out there.”
With this exhilarating game on the line Sunday night, Chancellor and his Seahawks defenders made four of them – in a row – to topple an NFL kingpin in its own, stunned house.