Dec 7, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll before the game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports
Super Bowl XLIX did not leave much to be desired. The #1 seeds from both the AFC and NFC battled it out to the last remaining seconds. There were lead changes, spectacular plays, a fight, and a conclusion that left everyone astonished.
The New England Patriot and Seattle Seahawks’ superstar players contributed heavily, but it was two, undrafted free agents, one from each team, that truly made a difference.
Two weeks after he recovered a critical onside kick to help Seattle win the NFC Championship game, Seahawk’s receiver Chris Matthews led the team with 4 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. Matthew’s tended to make huge plays when Seattle desperately needed them. His only receptions ever in an NFL game came in vital moments of the NFL’s most important game.
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Similarly, the Patriot’s undrafted, rookie cornerback, Malcolm Butler, secured New England’s win by intercepting Seahawks’ Russell Wilson’s pass on the goalline with 20 seconds left in regulation. Pre-snap, Butler correctly read the offensive scheme, then made sure to beat Seahawks’ receiver Ricardo Lockette to the ball on a quick, slant pass. The Hawks chose not to feed the ball to their beast of a running back in Marshawn Lynch at the half-yard line. They got too cute with their play-calling.
What is one thing the Philadelphia Eagles should take away from Super Bowl 49? Finding those ‘diamond in the rough’ players like Matthews and Butler is so important to maintaining a competitive football team year in and year out–as Seattle and New England have proven. The Patriots have made a habit out of finding playmakers, whether through the draft, or through free agency. Receivers like Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and even cornerback Darrelle Revis, were all playing below their potential before New England sought them out. Safety Patrick Chung, who was awful for the Eagles in 2013, re-signed with the Patriots in 2014 and became a decent contributor.
The NFL gives all 32 teams equal opportunity to build successful franchises. There are several teams that seem to make it into the playoffs more often than not, such as the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Philadelphia Eagles, but no team has been as consistent as the New England Patriots. The Seahawks have made the playoffs 4 times out of the past 5 years, and they too look like an annual contender for years to come.
Great teams, like Seattle and New England, seek out players that are extremely coachable. Then the coaches utilize those players so their coachable skills can shine. These teams don’t really have a choice but to rely heavily on their ability to find players that have been looked over by the rest of the league. When an NFL team continues to go to the playoffs each year, they do not have the luxury of drafting top-rated talent.
Hopefully Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly and his new personnel appointees understand this aspect of championship teams. Let’s hope they truly know which guys can execute their schemes, while at the same time lessening their impact on the salary cap because such players are flying under the radar.