Patriots, Seahawks chiefly gained their Super Bowl mojo after loss to KC
PHOENIX — Three days before the Super Bowl, one question remains.
Why isn’t Kansas City here?
Like the upstart Kansas City Royals, who made it to the 2014 World Series, the Chiefs showed signs of being big-game-worthy. They blew out New England 41-14 and held off Seattle seven weeks later to become the only team to beat both Super Bowl contenders. Alas, the Chiefs were only 7-7 against the rest of the league and failed to make the playoffs.
The Chiefs’ thrashing of New England before a national Monday Night Football audience on Sept. 29 even gave rise to the short-lived notion that he statute of limitations on Tom Brady’s invincibility had run out at age 37. Brady’s preseason line of "When I suck, I’ll retire" was trotted out again.
And after the Chiefs stopped Seattle, 24-20, on Nov. 16, the Seahawks felt so badly about their situation that coach Pete Carroll convened a council of 12 elders in an attempt to straighten things out.
It has been all good since.
"We rallied," New England defensive tackle Vince Woolfolk said.
He could have been speaking for both teams.
The missteps in Kansas City proved season-changers for both teams. The ghost of the Chiefs remains.
The Patriots (14-4) lost only twice in their final 12 games, once after they already had clinched home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs. Brady had 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the four games that followed the miserable Chiefs outing, capping the 4-0 run with a 354-yard, five-touchdown game against the Chicago Bears.
As usual, by the time the season ended and behind a rebuilt offensive line, Brady was among the league’s top 10 quarterbacks in passing yards (4,109), touchdown passes (33), fewest interceptions (nine) and quarterback rating (97.4).
The Seahawks (14-4) won their final six regular-season games, two apiece over NFC West rivals San Francisco and Arizona, to go from the periphery of playoff participation to division champion and playoff host.
Quarterback Russell Wilson called it a reawakening of sorts, a return to the mindset that got the underdog Seahawks through a Cinderella 2013 season that culminated in a blowout Super Bowl victory over Denver.
"Now, we’re not the type of team that’s very selfish at all, but we had to take away any selfishness â worrying about stats, worrying about this or that," Wilson said. "We had to focus on being selfless for one another, to play for each other.
"We kind of talked about the idea of, ‘Today I play for you.’ So that’s kind of been our motto in terms of practice, in terms of playing games especially. It’s not about me or it’s not about this guy over here or that guy. We have so many guys that care about one another and we want to play for each other, we want to win for each other, and that’s why we are (where we are) today."
Even though the Seahawks had a large carryover in personnel from the Super Bowl team, the lessons of 2013 needed reinforcement, defensive end Michael Bennett said. He spoke at the meeting after the Kansas City game, and coincidence or not, the Seahawks gave up only 39 points in their final six regular-season games, in the process becoming the third team in NFL history to lead the league in fewest points allowed for three consecutive seasons.
"That meeting was a pivotal point in our season," Bennett said. "I think when you reach a certain amount of success, everybody thinks that they are part of the success. It wasn’t a team type of atmosphere. But I think we came to realize that if Russell Wilson scores a touchdown, it is just like me scoring a touchdown. If Marshawn (Lynch) scores a touchdown, it just’s like me scoring a touchdown. If Richard (Sherman) gets an interception, I get an interception. I think once you realize that, you see what this sport is really about."
The Patriots stabilized when they found the right fit of new/old personnel on the offensive line, settling on an tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell, and rookie center Bryan Stark. The August trade of Pro Bowler Logan Mankins and early injuries kept the unit in flux for a time, including the Kansas City game, when Brady threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked three times.
"We had some guys step up," Connolly said.
As did Seattle.
"We had lost a little contact with how crucial it is to get out of yourself and give to the guys around you," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
"Maybe that sounds oversimplified when I say it, but it has been a powerful understanding that our guys have come to and it is the essence of team sport, I think. It’s the essence of playing with the team. That it’s not about you, it’s about the people around you, and you give yourself to them. That’s really what has taken place."
And to some extent, both of Sunday’s contestants have the Chiefs to thank.