Because the Patriots can't ever just go away, the dynastic franchise was somehow allowed to simply replace its departed generational QB with another one, one currently better than the previous guy. It boggles my mind at how many crappy teams are out there with cruddy QBs that could have tried to sign Cam Newton and just... didn't, allowing New England to grab him and go on being contenders without missing a step. Newton, as if he weren't enough of a threat in the pocket, also gives the Patriots something they haven't really had in a while: a true short-yardage and goal-line run threat. Two games in and Newton has four rushing touchdowns and 13 first downs gained on the ground, handily outpacing the combined running-back corps in both.
So when a highly entertaining Sunday night game came down to the final snap, the Patriots trailing the Seahawks 35-30 and billeted on their opponents' doorstep, of course it was going to Cam. But the Seahawks were ready.
It was a play without many bells and whistles: A heavy goal-line package, with only fullback Jakob Johnson joining the QB in the backfield, and with guard Shaq Mason pulling to the left, the two attempting to clear a path for Newton. Simple can be a good thing, especially with the personnel the Patriots have.
"We had one play to score," Pats coach Bill Belichick said, "and we tried to go with what we thought was our best play. What else is there to think about?” So, about that. The Seahawks very well might have been thinking about the previous drive, which the Patriots capped off with what looks like the very same play-call,.
It is a rare treat to have the chance to see what a failed play looks like when it works, and highly instructive for seeing what went wrong. In this case, it's obvious, and gives all credit to the Seahawks' defense. On the game's final play, the right side of the line collapsed under more pressure, requiring the pulling Mason to abandon his assignment and try to keep that half of the line from collapsing. At the same time, Seattle safety Lano Hill undercut the fullback Johnson instead of getting bumped outside. The lane for Newton, so inviting on his previous score, never materialized.
After the game, Newton acknowledged the repetition of the play, but declined to blame the call, instead crediting what the Seahawks did to shut it down.
“It was a great play by them,” Newton said. "That’s a play we had favored in the game plan. We ran it a couple times. I just think we probably went to the well a few too many times, but at the end of the day, I’d say I felt confident about it. We’ve just got to execute."
Newton reserved criticism for himself, musing openly that he might've had a chance to score if he had bounced to the outside. That might actually have worked, only because Hill took himself out of the play by going low on Johnson, but that's something that can only be seen in retrospect—and wouldn't have worked on the first usage of this play. These are the split-second decisions and breaks of fate that decide football games and, as these two franchises could tell you about a certain historic goal-line call, entire football seasons.
It wouldn't be an upset if the Patriots and Seahawks met in the Super Bowl again. If that does happen, keep an eye on New England's goal-line plays. Because both Belichick and Pete Carroll will remember this one, and respond accordingly. Sometimes the best coaching chess matches don't conclude with the game.