The ending to the 2014 NFL season was one to cherish with so many great things to remember from Super Bowl 49. New England wins 28-24 in the end, Seattle loses, and we all wake up 0-0 in 2015.
It was a remarkable game from start to finish. New England, a team the Eagles trained with in Foxborough, MA in the summer and then opened the preseason against, showed its toughness coming back from a 10-point deficit to start the fourth quarter (the largest fourth-quarter deficit by a Super Bowl winner), riding quarterback Tom Brady's brilliance and seizing momentum against a Seattle offense that gathered only 22 total net yards and one first downs in the three possessions immediately taking a 24-14 advantage late in the third quarter.
Brady wasn't perfect in his Most Valuable Player performance, tossing a pair of interceptions -- one in the red zone in the first quarter and one in the third quarter that led to a Seattle touchdown -- but he dissected Seattle's man-to-man defensive scheme with one underneath completion after another. Brady went 37 for 50 for 328 yards. Twenty of those completions went to running back Shane Vereen (11 catches on 12 targets) and slot receiver Julian Edelman (9 catches, 109 yards, 12 targets), and when Brady saw the Seahawks moving a linebacker out on displaced tight end Rob Gronkowski, he found his big man for 6 catches, 68 yards and a touchdown.
Running game? A balanced offense? That doesn't matter to the Patriots, who use the short passing game like a handoff. New England gained 57 yards on 21 rushing attempts.
The game ended in spectacular fashion, of course. Seattle's Russell Wilson wasn't at his best in this game, but he led the Seahawks down the field and into scoring position in the final two minutes, thanks in large part to a 33-yard completion to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse who made the kind of did-he-really-do-that? catch that we've already seen dozens of times on replays and that set up Seattle at the New England 5-yard line with just over one minute remaining in the game. A 4-yard Marshawn Lynch run gave Seattle a second-and-goal play at the 1-yard line, and with one timeout remaining and the entire world expecting another dose of Beast Mode, or maybe a fake handoff to him and a run by the super-mobile Wilson, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell made a call that will forever be questioned and criticized: They had Wilson drop back and throw the ball to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette running a quick slant on the right side of the formation. New England was all over the call, though, and cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Wilson and New England won its fourth Super Bowl and its first since beating the Eagles 10 years ago.
Remarkable game. Amazing season for the NFL, in every way. Not all of it superlative, of course, but that's a conversation for another day. The league finished on a Super high note -- the late-game skirmish notwithstanding, because it was ugly and unnecessary for Seattle to engage in fisticuffs -- and now we move into the offseason.
One note from me: Would it surprise anyone to see the Eagles open the NFL season on the first Thursday of the regular season at New England? It just seems like an outstanding way to kick things off in 2015.
And speaking of 2015, every team in the league is 0-0. It's a fresh start for all. The Eagles have a busy several months to come and they have holes to fill and a roster to improve and some ground to make up in the NFC East.
There is no one way to win in the league. And there is no conventional style. New England wins because it makes the most of its personnel, because it has a great coaching staff, because it rises to the top at the right time and because, most of all, it has the best quarterback in the league of the last 20-plus seasons. Brady is that good. He does it with star players around him. He does it with a solid running game. He does it with mid-level players around him and with little or no running game. New England gained 25 first downs, converted 8 of 14 third downs and had 377 total net yards of offense against a Seattle defense that had been virtually impenetrable in its late-season run.
Lessons to learn? The usual: You have to win in the red zone (New England was 3 of 4 in the red zone; Seattle was 3 of 5) and you can't let turnovers beat you (New England beat the odds, losing the turnover numbers).
The Eagles have a chance to be right there in 2015, but there are many steps between now and then. Head coach Chip Kelly and vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz have to make a strong plan and follow the steps and make the right decisions on personnel.
Sit back and relax for a few weeks, because free agency begins on March 10 and that seems like a long, long time away right now. This much we know, signing off for 2014: The competition is great at the top of the NFL. The Eagles intend to be right there, in the mix, playing for something special next February.