The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks haven’t met since Oct. 14, 2012.
The game was at CenturyLink field. The winning quarterback was a rookie just six starts into his NFL career. And the final score was 24-23, as the team that went 7-9 the year prior outlasted the one that went to the Super Bowl.
They’ll meet again in another on Feb. 1, 2015. But before they do, head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots will revisit the film from that Week 6 game two seasons ago, even though much has changed since then.
Here are some takeaways from what transpired during it.
Starting Off Differently
- The Patriots’ offense began that misty battle in Seattle with five starters no longer on the team. Among them were wideouts Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Deion Branch, tight end Aaron Hernandez, as well as left guard Logan Mankins. And the Seahawks’ defense countered with four starters no longer on the team, including defensive linemen Red Bryant, Alan Branch and Chris Clemons, and cornerback Brandon Browner.
- Seattle’s offense started off with players no longer on the active roster, with Sidney Rice and Golden Tate out wide, Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy at tight end, and Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini off the right side of the offensive line. And again, when New England’s defense set foot on the field, it was a similar case. The group featured defensive linemen Jermaine Cunningham and Kyle Love as starters, while linebacker Brandon Spikes stood behind them.
Brady Goes to the Air
- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw 58 passes versus the Seahawks in 2012, completing 36 of them for 395 yards and two touchdowns.
- Brady was, however, picked off by defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, who now have seven All-Pro honors between them. The cornerback got the first, eclipsing Branch on a vertical route down the right sideline in the third quarter. And the safety got there second in the fourth, after Welker was leveled on a drag route and the ball bounced back up into harm’s way.
- No. 12 was hurried a dozen times and sacked once by Clemons in that contest, as the right defensive end beat left tackle Nate Solder on an inside move through the B-gap with a minute to go.
Openings in Slot
- Julian Edelman did not play in that drizzly October encounter, but Welker certainly did. The slot target went on to lead the Patriots in receiving against Seattle, catching 10 passes for 138 yards.
- A total of 48 yards arrived for Welker on one play through the seam in Seattle’s zone. It was then that the route-runner sprinted inside nickelback Marcus Trufant in the flat, and beyond the Thomas overhead. The outcome was pylon dive for a touchdown.
Gronkowski Kept in Check
- Rob Gronkowski was held out of the end zone when he last faced Seattle. The Patriots tight end caught six passes for 61 yards from Brady, yet the likes of linebackers K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and strong safety Kam Chancellor made sure that he would not catch one that counted for more.
- Though restricted, Gronkowski found space when New England called upon play action. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Arizona product was able to vacate when Seattle overpursued the off-tackle power runs.
Seahawks Send Eight
- Seattle’s seven-man defensive front may have had some different names in it, but it remained a prominent threat to New England’s front on running downs. The Seahawks did not hesitate to send eight into the box or stack the edges. The end result was 34 yards on 16 carries for Stevan Ridley, 28 yards on six carries for Brandon Bolden, and 25 yards on four carries for Danny Woodhead. And while it wasn’t a shutout performance by Seattle, the Patriots’ running game wasn’t a deciding factor, either.
- It bears noting that the Patriots did not feature a fullback when the team trekked to the Pacific Northwest. Oftentimes, those “21” personnel sets were fulfilled with an extra offensive linemen. Current starting left guard Dan Connolly even filtered in as the fullback.
Wilson Efficient and Elusive
- Seattle’s then-rookie fourth-round quarterback had five touchdowns and six interceptions to his name heading into his sixth NFL Game. But was efficient and elusive thenceforth, going 16-of-27 passing for 293 yards and three touchdowns. He took what New England gave him, and showed the ability to escape when there wasn’t much to.
- Wilson rushed three times for 19 yards, excluding two kneel-downs to end the fourth quarter. But containing the 5-foot-11, 206-pound passer was only part of the problem New England faced.
- The former Wisconsin and N.C. State QB was content to stay in the pocket. His first touchdown – a 24-yarder to receiver Doug Baldwin versus cornerback Kyle Arrington – saw him maneuver the rush and deliver a strike from inside the hashes. His second – a 10-yarder to Braylon Edwards versus then-rookie corner Alfonzo Dennard – saw him take a three-step drop and fire away. And his third – a 46-yard game-winner to Rice beyond two rookie safeties – saw him climb the pocket out of play action as the Patriots’ line rushed by him.
- New England managed to bring Wilson down for two sacks, courtesy of 2012 first-round draft choice Chandler Jones, who excelled opposite Miller and left tackle Russell Okung. One of those sacks forced a fumble on Wilson.
Baldwin the Last Seahawks Receiver Left
- Only Baldwin remains from Seattle’s 2012 receiving corps that went against New England’s secondary. He was in his second year then, and caught two passes for 74 yards and the aforementioned score. He was one of eight Seahawks to catch a pass versus the Patriots.
New England Secondary in Different Place
- The Seahawks battled back against a Patriots secondary that placed Devin McCourty, Dennard and Arrington at cornerback, and was left to place rookie draft picks Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner at safety after Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung suffered injuries before and during the Week 6 game.
- Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been voted to three Pro Bowls since the Patriots last crossed paths with him. He was limited to 41 yards rushing and 11 yards receiving on 16 touches in that tilt. But that was then. And now, he remains a variable difficult to account for, whether it be inside or out in the flats.
- The Patriots responded to Lynch by often dispersing five at the line of scrimmage, with three down linemen two-gapping while Jones and fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich stood up off the edges. It is a look that has shifted form along with the personnel within it since then.
But there is merit in revisiting what took place and why. And that is something Belichick and the Patriots will do over the next two weeks in preparation for Super Bowl XLIX.