The final “Jeopardy!” category is Super Bowl XLIX, and the clue is: “You mad, bro?”
You have 30 seconds, good luck, and don’t forget to pose your answer in the form of a question.
Time’s up. The correct answer is: “What did Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman ask New England quarterback Tom Brady as both exited the field after the Seahawks came back to stun the Patriots in an October 2012 regular season game?”
If you remember the last encounter between those two and their teams, then you already know most everything you need to ahead of their next one, on Feb. 1 outside Phoenix.
The Seahawks’ calling card is still defense, they still delight in taunting opponents with Sherman still serving as tormenter-in-chief, and free-spirited coach Pete Carroll wouldn’t change a thing — even if he could. The Patriots, on the other hand, follow Brady’s lead and punish opponents with little fanfare on the other side of ball, then button up their lips for fear coach Bill Belichick will have their tongues surgically removed and sold off as spare parts.
There are some similarities, to be sure. Both teams are smart, opportunistic and lethal when it matters most, in the fourth quarter. Seattle and New England ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the NFL in point differential during the regular season, and though you wouldn’t know it from the way they played Sunday against Green Bay, the Seahawks were No. 2 league-wide in fewest turnovers allowed with 14, bettered only by the Patriots’ 13 giveaways (tied with the Packers).
But if contrasting styles make for great fights, this one could be Ali-Frazier IV.
It pits the Patriots, the best team of the last decade and the only back-to-back Super Bowl winner in that span, against a young Seattle team that could cement its dominance of this decade by successfully defending the Super Bowl crown it claimed last year by levelling Peyton Manning and his previously high-flying Denver Broncos. It pits Carroll, who got fired by New England owner Robert Kraft in 1999 for being too much of a players’ coach, against the uber-serious guy who got his job, quickly realized what he had in Brady, and painstakingly transformed himself from a defensive mastermind into the NFL version of Gen. George Patton (“We shall attack and attack until we are exhausted, and then we shall attack again.”)
Say this much for Carroll, though; he made good use of his time away from pro football. He always had a knack for trick plays and during a very successful run at Southern California with a succession of talent at the skill positions, he honed his offensive chops. He’s also proved adaptable enough, and remained enough of an optimist, to help develop a very good quarterback of his own in third-year star Russell Wilson.
Both of those things figured in Seattle’s chaotic second-half comeback against the Packers on Sunday. The Seahawks got one touchdown off a fake field goal, recovered an onside kick to set up another, and added a two-point conversion after Wilson scrambled right and then threw a duck all the way over to the left corner of the end zone, over a mesmerized Packers secondary. And even though Wilson was seemingly intercepted every time he targeted Jermaine Kearse, he went right back to Kearse for the game-winner in overtime.
“It’s kind of a microcosm of our whole season,” Sherman said. “It always seems like we’re down and out and everything’s done. We’re all out. There’s no way for us to turn it around. And then we find a way to turn it around.”
But you can bet, with two weeks to prepare, that Belichick will have devised a scheme or two to tempt and then test the limits of Wilson’s experience. He did that Sunday in confounding the Colts’ Andrew Luck, another very good young quarterback and in between, found time to unveil a trick play or two of his own. Already ahead by 10 in the third quarter, left tackle Nate Solder reported as an eligible receiver, then rumbled off the line in time to catch a 16-yard TD from Brady.
Belichick even cracked a smile — reportedly, anyway — and when Brady was asked about Solder’s catch afterward, he reminded everyone the Patriots had wide receiver Julian Edelman throw another scoring pass the previous week off an option play.
“Maybe,” he added coyly, “we’ve got more tricks up our sleeve.”
Let’s hope so, since the Seattle team that upset them two years ago was looking for respectability and this edition has already earned it the hard way. Back then, Sherman made a point of antagonizing Brady all game long, punctuated by the “You mad, bro?” dig — for good measure, Sherman also tweeted a picture — when it was over.
We’ll know the answer to that question soon enough. The guess here is still ‘yes’ and that the Patriots will punctuate it with a 24-17 win in the Super Bowl when it’s all said and done.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at http://twitter.com/JimLitke
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