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The Super Bowl has come and gone, and the New England Patriots are champions once again.
Equally as important as the championship game is the road that brought us here. The 2014 regular season was tremendous, and the playoffs delivered yet again.
Here were the seven best and most pivotal moments from the 2014 NFL postseason:
1. Butler snatches victory from the jaws of defeat
Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler may never have been in the game in the fourth quarter with the clock winding down and the Seahawks threatening at the goal-line if another rookie, Chris Matthews, had not dominated Kyle Arrington for the bulk of the first half.
Arrington’s struggles opened the door for Butler to replace him as the Pats’ nickelback, and the rookie picked a prime time to make his first career interception.
On second-and-goal, on the play we continue to dissect — Pete Carroll’s decision to throw the ball from the 1-yard-line — Butler jumped Ricardo Lockette’s route and ended the Seahawks’ scoring threat, sealing New England’s fourth Super Bowl in the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era.
2. Seattle rattle off 21 points in under 6 minutes to down Green Bay in OT
The Seahawks erased a 16-point halftime deficit and trailed 19-7 at the start of the fourth quarter before leading an unbelievable comeback. With just over than two minutes left, Marshawn Lynch rumbled into the end zone to cut the deficit to 5, then following an onside kick and a fake field goal, Luke Willson gave Seattle a 3-point lead.
After Rodgers marched Green Bay down the field to kick a game-tying field goal and force overtime, Seattle asked for the ball first.
Comeback kid Russell Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a game-winning touchdown in overtime as Seattle punched its ticket back to the Super Bowl for the second time in as many years. After being blanked at halftime and looking incredibly off through the first three quarters, the Seahawks proved they could be down, but not out.
3. Brady rallies from two 14-point deficits to beat Baltimore
The Ravens held two 14-point leads over New England in Foxborough, but in the much-anticipated showdown between AFC heavyweights there was no denying Brady on this day.
Brady led a fourth-quarter comeback as the Patriots became the first team in NFL history to overcome not one, but two 14-point holes in a single contest. Brady threw three touchdown passes and the team got a fourth from none other than former Kent State great Julian Edelman on a rare gadget play to win, 35-31.
New England outscored Baltimore 21-3 over the final 25 minutes before Duron Harmon picked off Joe Flacco in the end zone with 1:39 left to earn the win. There’s just something about role players making clutch plays whenever New England is on a Super Bowl run.
4. Luck outduels Manning in a passing of the torch game
Luck notched his first win in this round of the NFL playoffs, completing 27 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns, which thrust him into first place among NFL quarterbacks in terms of passing yardage through their first five playoff games.
For the fist time since 2009, when Manning was at the helm of the Colts, the team returned to the AFC Championship game.
5. Packers use second-half rally to top Dallas; Bryant’s fourth-and-1 catch overturned
In a tale of two halves, one in which Rodgers was stymied by injuries and another in which he added to his Hall of Fame resume, Green Bay overcame a halftime deficit to defeat the upstart Cowboys.
Rodgers upped his total number of passes at Lambeau Field without an interception to a whopping 501, while also bucking the trend of floundering when his team is behind. Previously, Rodgers was 0-4 in the playoffs when the Pack were trailing at halftime.
Rodgers threw a career postseason-long touchdown to Davante Adams, then connected with Richard Rodgers to give the Packers a lead in the fourth quarter.
Attempting to go ahead late, Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant on a fourth-and-1 play that — at first glance — looked to be a touchdown grab. Upon further review, Bryant’s touchdown and catch were overturned, as the wideout did not make “a football move” after securing the grab.
The rule continues to be a topic of conversation and debate.
6. Romo leads second-half surge as Cowboys defeat Lions
A week before falling to the Packers, the Cowboys were on the opposite end of a comeback victory against the Lions.
The league’s No. 1-ranked defense had dominated Dallas for most of the contest before Romo fired off two touchdowns passes, the second to Terrance Williams to put the Cowboys ahead late. A regular-season MVP nominee, Romo flashed more of that in the second half to lead his Cowboys to their third playoff win since winning Super Bowl XXX back in 1995.
After dominating early on, Matthew Stafford could not get the Lions offense moving in the second half. He turned it over three times in the second half, becoming just the 11th quarterback ever to do so, and as a result fell to 0-2 lifetime in the playoffs. The Lions still have not won a playoff game since 1991.
7. Panthers’ third-quarter swing leads to victory over Lindley-led Cardinals
Cardinals fans continue to wonder how their playoff fortunes might have been different if Carson Palmer never got hurt.
In their playoff opener against NFC South champion Carolina, Lindley accounted for 82 yards and two picks as the entire Arizona offense totaled just 78 yards. It was a playoff-low for a Bruce Arians-coached team.
The Panthers received touchdowns from their third- and fourth-string running backs, Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert, in a span of 92 seconds in the third quarter. Those touchdowns, the latter thanks to a Ted Ginn Jr. botched kickoff return, helped Carolina score 14 unanswered to earn the win.
Cam Newton moved to 15-5 with that win and sits second only to Brady in terms of record in December and January games. Remember, Carolina made it the playoffs despite a losing record.
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