PHOENIX — The celebration seemed muted, maybe because these Patriots had gone through so much just to have a chance to win.
They milled about midfield as the confetti streamed down, while Seahawks fans who just a few minutes earlier were sure this was their Super Bowl filed out of the University of Phoenix stadium in shocked silence.
If anyone was worried about legacies and deflated footballs, the frenetic end to this game Sunday night surely went a long way to settle that. If anyone was worried that the New England Patriots couldn’t overcome both controversy and recent history, well, the Lombardi trophy was going back East once again after the Patriots somehow escaped with a 28-24 win.
For those keeping score at home, that’s four Super Bowl wins in 14 years for the power-house under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But the last one was a decade ago, and the pressure had been building long before the pressure was taken out of the balls in the AFC title game.
“I never thought another trophy would feel this good, but this absolutely does,” owner Robert Kraft said. “Any true Patriot fan understands that.”
Yes, Russell Wilson tossed this one away with one terribly ill-advised throw on what began as an ill-advised play call. No team with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield should throw the ball on the 1-yard-line with the Super Bowl on the line.
Indeed, by all measures, the Seahawks should have been the ones celebrating. They should have had their second straight Super Bowl win, and the talk should have been about the dynasty Pete Carroll was building in the Pacific Northwest.
But now Brady has his fourth ring, and is in the conversation again when it comes to great Super Bowl quarterbacks. Now the talk can begin again about the great Patriot dynasty that was quieted with losses in New England’s last two Super Bowls.
Give the owner a rare assist on that. Kraft stepped forward upon the Patriots arrival in Arizona with a handwritten speech blasting everyone — including the NFL — who thought the team might have been cheating by deflating the balls in the AFC game against Indianapolis.
He wanted to take the pressure off his team, and he did. The questions about deflated balls became questions about football instead.
And when it came time for actual football to be played, the Patriots were more than ready. Brady was better than Wilson despite throwing two picks of his own, and no one panicked when the Seahawks rolled to a 24-14 lead in the third quarter.
Surprisingly enough, the New England defense was also better than the vaunted Seattle unit behind Richard Sherman, especially when cornerback Malcom Butler made the play of his life by intercepting Wilson at the goal line with 20 seconds left.
“It’s not the way we drew it up,” Brady said, “but this team has never given up the entire year.”
They didn’t give up because they were professional football players, and they both played and acted like it. The Seahawks played pretty well, too, but the contrast in styles couldn’t have been more evident.
On the sidelines in the second half, Sherman mugged for the cameras. After scoring the touchdown that put his team up 10 points, receiver Doug Baldwin was flagged for a celebration that looked like something he might do in the bathroom, not on the field.
And in the final seconds, Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin was ejected after starting a fight.
None of that would go on under Belichick, of course, though style doesn’t always win games. Neither, for that matter, do 37-year-old quarterbacks who hear the whispers after going a decade between big wins yet somehow rise to win both the game and the MVP award.
Brady was 8-for-8 on the final drive to put the Patriots ahead.
“I don’t think about that,” Brady said when asked if it would be his signature drive. “It’s a team effort. There’s never one player. It took the whole team.”
On this night the whole team was there, and there were no more questions to be answered.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg