FOXBORO -- The Patriots loss to the Seahawks wasn't decided on one play or one set of downs. But when a team faces a first-and-goal situation at the two-yard line with 43 seconds left and a chance to tie, as Tom Brady and his teammates did, that set of downs deserves a closer examination.
Here's how it played out, leading to New England's 31-24 loss, with commentary from Brady and the target of his final pass Rob Gronkowski.
SEAHAWKS 31, PATRIOTS 24:
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First-and-goal from the Seattle 2, 43 seconds remaining: After completing a 26-yard pass to Gronkowski on the previous play, Brady got his team to the line of scrimmage with a plan. They did not want to score immediately. They opted to run some clock instead, bringing backup offensive tackle Cameron Fleming into the game as an eligible tight end.
"It was just some situational football," Brady said. "We were trying to get it very close but not in."
Brady kept the snap, surged into the middle of the line, and picked up one yard on the quarterback sneak. That forced the Seahawks to burn their final timeout as they hoped to keep as much time on the clock as possible for a potential last-ditch scoring drive in case the Patriots tied the game.
Second-and-goal from the Seattle 1, 37 seconds remaining: Fleming reported as an eligible receiver again, but instead of allowing Brady to keep it again, the Patriots called for a LeGarrette Blount run. The 250-pound back had run for three scores to that point in the game and twice from one yard out. Had he been able to plunge in yet again, it would have drawn the Patriots to within an extra point away from a tie.
Blount followed lead-blocker James Develin between the left guard and the center. From about two yards away, Blount left his feet to try to break the plane of the end zone. However, safety Kam Chancellor grabbed his legs, and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel was a wall, and Blount was denied.
The Patriots called timeout with 19 seconds remaining.
Third-and-goal from the Seattle 1, 19 seconds remaining: Fleming reported as eligible yet again, and Brady took his place under center, ready to sneak it for a second time in the previous three plays.
This time, however, when center David Andrews snapped the ball, Brady never got a grip on it. The ball rolled around on the turf for an instant before Brady was able to scoop it up at the Seattle two-yard line.
"That was, that was just my fault on the ball-handling," Brady said. "I was going left, and Dave thought I was going straight. Just my mistake."
Fourth-and-goal from the Seattle 2, 14 seconds remaining: The Seahawks were called for 12 men on the field, moving the ball half the distance to the goal line.
Fourth-and-goal from the Seattle 1, 14 seconds remaining: Fleming . . . eligible. Gronkowski aligned wide to Brady's left, and Brady worked out of the shotgun. Off the snap, Gronkowski charged hard at Chancellor, extending his arms on the safety.
When Brady released the pass to the back corner of the end zone, Gronkowski tried to break free and flailed toward the football. He wasn't close. And when he got up, he looked for a flag, as did several of his teammates. There was none.
"It didn't get called," Gronkowski replied when asked if he thought there should have been a flag. "It is what it is. If it's not [pass interference] to the refs then it's not PI to the refs so . . . it is what is is. You can't really change it."
Gronkowski insisted he wasn't going into that play with the plan of trying to bowl over Chancellor, as it appeared.
"No I wasn't [trying to force a call]," Gronkowski said. "I was going in. He was playing off me a little bit. Pretty far. Farther than usual. You usually don't see that. It was a fade so I had to go up to him, make a little move. I wasn't trying to initiate contact. It just happened. Just went up to him, just wanted to get on top of his toes. That's what you're taught. Get on top of the toes, make a little move, and release outside. I just got up on his toes a little bit too much, obviously. I wasn't trying to make contact. I was just trying to make a move and get outside and catch a fade ball."
Brady said he didn't have a good vantage point to see if there should have been a penalty called.
"I didn't see it," Brady said. "There's a lot of . . . There's always a lot of contact with that team. Sometimes you get the calls, sometimes you don't. Certainly looks like it comes down to one play, but [there] was a lot of plays in this game that we could've done a better job of. They're a good team. We knew that going in. We had to play better than the way we played. Just too careless with the ball. They weren't. Turnovers were a big factor. We had our chances. We just didn't make enough plays."
Brady added: "They play to the end. They've been in a lot of close games and it came down to one yard at the end. And we didn't get it."