Patriots 30, Seahawks 20
With yet another ruthlessly efficient performance when it mattered most in the final minutes, the New England Patriots kept alive their NFL record-setting streak.
The Patriots, 5-0 for only the second time in team history, now have 20 wins, including postseason games, after a 30-20 victory Sunday over the Seattle Seahawks, the first quality opponent New England has faced since its season-opening win over Indianapolis.
"The idea is that we prepare each week like it is going to come down to the end and guys have to be prepared to make a play," said quarterback Tom Brady, whose 48-yard completion to reserve wide receiver Bethel Johnson on third and seven set up the Patriots' game-clinching touchdown with 1 minute 55 seconds left. "That's the great thing about this team. [We] have confidence in these type of games and we'll make those plays to win."
Scoring on each of their four first-half possessions, the Super Bowl champions converted two early interceptions into 10 first-quarter points against a Seahawks team that had not allowed an opening-period score. They led by 14 at halftime, then had two defensive stands inside the 20-yard line in the final minutes on the way to tying another league record -- one for consecutive regular season victories (17, set by the 1933-34 Chicago Bears).
The Patriots have not lost since a 20-17 decision against the Washington Redskins on Sept. 28, 2003. The latest victory -- which matches New England's 5-0 start in 1974 -- sets up a battle of NFL unbeaten teams and AFC East leaders next Sunday when the New York Jets come to Foxboro. Still, Coach Bill Belichick insists that the record isn't the team's focus.
"I'm respectful of what history says," Belichick said, blaming himself for "bad, bad coaching" that allowed the Seahawks 443 yards total offense.
"It's more important that we beat Seattle and keep pace with the Jets. We're fighting for our lives in this division."
At the end, the Patriots were fighting for their lives and their streak against a Seattle team that took advantage of two rare Brady turnovers -- a third-quarter fumble off a wicked hit on his scramble for a first down and an early fourth-quarter interception despite having an eternity to throw the ball. Seattle twice got within three points in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots never lost their composure, making big play after big play.
The biggest of all may have been Brady's late throw to Johnson, one of the fastest players in the league who had been benched and placed on the inactive list last week for reasons Belichick has declined to disclose. In fact, when Johnson, with two previous catches for 22 yards all year, was asked why he was on the active roster against Seattle, he said: "I think I had a good week. I was out there, wasn't I?"
Johnson was on the field with the Patriots, still clinging to a 23-20 lead with 2:45 remaining, facing third and seven at their 40. In the Patriots' huddle, Johnson said Brady told him to stay alive, an indication that even though he didn't have a catch all day, the quarterback would be looking for him if the opportunity arose to get him the ball.
Johnson lined up on the right side and cut across the field to his left. Brady also rolled to his left, stopped for a moment and launched a ball that seemed to hang in the air. Brady at first thought he'd overthrown Johnson, but the receiver dived, caught the ball fully extended and tucked it under his body, holding on for a remarkable reception.
Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren challenged the catch, believing the ball had hit the ground. But replays indicated that was not the case, and afterward Holmgren graciously described it as "a great catch."
"I really saw that play differently than the referee," he said, "but any way that you look at it, it was a great effort by a great athlete. You know what? That's what this team has been able to do. Somebody makes a play. It's a remarkable thing. You tip your hat to them is what you do."
The Patriots tipped their hat toward another very large big-play man, second-year linebacker Dan Klecko, the 275-pound son of former Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko. Johnson's critical reception gave the Patriots a first down at the Seattle 12, and two plays later, Klecko lined up as a fullback in the New England backfield, as he often does in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
In the first half, he'd caught an 11-yard pass on third down to keep a field goal drive alive. This time, on second and seven at the nine, Klecko threw a huge block that allowed Corey Dillon enough room to fight his way into the end zone for a 30-20 lead with 1:55 remaining.
It was Dillon's second score on a day one of the newest Patriots, obtained in a trade from Cincinnati in April, gained 105 yards in 23 carries against a Seahawks defense ranked No. 1 against the run.
"These guys have been making big plays for so long, it just seems to come natural," Dillon said.
"I wasn't here last year, but I know they had some close games. But when they get in tight situations, they have a calmness about themselves. It makes me calm, too. . . . We're expected to make a play, and that's what we do."