Patriots: Evaluating last three goal-line stands in Seahawks-Pats trilogy

Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots attempts to catch a touchdown pass as he is defended by Kam Chancellor #31 of the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter of a game at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots attempts to catch a touchdown pass as he is defended by Kam Chancellor #31 of the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter of a game at Gillette Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) /

The last three times that the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks have faced off, the games hinged on a pivotal goal-line play.

The Patriots and Seahawks only play each other once every four years (excluding Super Bowls), but this matchup is one that should be on tap every season, based on how their last three affairs have gone.

As Al Michaels put it during last Sunday night’s broadcast, neither of these teams take one second off. Coincidentally, Michaels has called the previous three matchups between the two foes, and all three were instant classics, with the deciding plays coming at the goal line.

When the Patriots and Seahawks matched up in the Super Bowl, the game was only decided with less than 30 ticks left on the clock.

After a game-saving tackle by Dont’a Hightower on Marshawn Lynch, Seattle got down to the one yard line, down by four points. Lynch was one of the league’s premier backs and had over 100 yards in this game. New England was one of the worst teams all year at preventing scores from the one-yard line, as opponents punched it in 83% of the time. Seattle had reason to run the ball, and almost everyone in the building was expecting the run.

Although running the ball with Lynch was Seattle’s best play at the goal line, Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick forced Seattle to pass, given their personnel package. New England went with their goal line heavy group, along with three corners. This would be an incredibly tough defense to run on. Pete Carroll decided to go away from his team’s strength and instead called a pass play. The ball was snapped, and the rest was history.

Cris Collinsworth notably criticized Seattle for not letting the game come down to Marshawn Lynch, saying:

"“I cannot believe the call. You’ve got Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. You’ve got a guy who’s been borderline unstoppable in this part of the field. I can’t believe the call.”"

I understand why Collinsworth was so harsh. Seattle was a running football team, they were at the one-yard line, and had a running back whose nickname was “Beast Mode” in the backfield. I think Seattle would have fewer regrets, regardless of the outcome, if the ball was in Lynch’s hands for the game’s last plays. Super Bowl XLIX showed that Seattle should’ve played to their strengths.

In Week 10 of the 2016 season, the two forces were pinned against each other once again.

Al and Cris were in Foxborough for this affair, and in the opening, Al said:

"“If this were a movie, you’d have an all-star cast, and at the top of the marquee, you’d have the two quarterbacks.”"

Michaels was right. Tom Brady was having a spectacular season, in which he accumulated 28 touchdowns and two interceptions by years end. Not to be forgotten in the casting was Rob Gronkowski; he was averaging a phenomenal 22 yards per reception heading into the game.

Once again, the two teams proved they needed all 60 minutes to decide the victor, and it was Brady and Gronkowski who got New England down to the goal line and in position to tie the game. The iconic duo hooked up on a 26-yard fade that was miraculously completed. Perfect throw and fantastic catch. After a QB sneak, stuffed run, and fumbled snap, New England was suddenly facing a fourth down with the game on the line.

Contrary to what the Seahawks did on their final offensive play in Super Bowl XLIX, New England went to what they were most comfortable with, and their strength as a football team. Tom Brady was arguably the best quarterback in the league in 2016. Rob Gronkowski was dominant and healthy. The Pats split Gronkowski out wide to the left, and unfortunately for New England, Kam Chancellor followed him out there.

New England went with their strength, unlike Seattle, but the result was the same. No touchdown and no win for the offense trying to score at the end. However, I’d say most Patriot fans were still able to sleep at night with that play call. Although unsuccessful, one can make peace with the last play involving Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Last Sunday night, Patriots-Seahawks again came down to another goal-line play.

This time around, Cam Newton got the Patriots down to the one-yard line, and the game’s turning point came with three seconds remaining. The Patriots needed a touchdown and Newton was almost unstoppable running the ball. He had compiled four rushing touchdowns and over 120 yards in two weeks. Clearly, New England’s strength at the goal line is running the ball with Newton. New England’s offensive line is one to be reckoned with as well. We know how spectacular the interior of the offensive line is, but Isaiah Wynn and Jermaine Eluemunor have been wonderful as well.

New England came out in the power formation, and I’m sure everyone watching knew what the play call would be. New England did run a pass out of this formation earlier in the game to Jakob Johnson, but were they going to try and fool Seattle twice? No. Just like in 2016, New England decided to go with their strength as a football team. From the power formation, Newton ran the ball and was tackled almost immediately. Seahawks prevail.

Before we criticize the last play call, what would the pundits say if New England had unsuccessfully passed the ball? Collinsworth might’ve had similar thoughts as he did six years prior. The Patriots went to their strength, and just like 2016, they can rest easy with their decision. With the game on the line, why try and do something the team is not comfortable with? Seattle made a great defensive play, and let’s give them some credit as well.

Was there a lesson learned throughout all these goal-line plays? Seattle went away from their strength and failed on the biggest stage, and New England went with their most successful plays twice and failed twice. If, in 2024, the Patriots and Seahawks have another game down to the wire, we won’t be surprised, but perhaps the next play call we see at the end will shock us.