PHOENIX: Tom Brady and the scandal-tainted New England Patriots will aim to strike a blow for the old order in Super Bowl 49 on Sunday as they face a formidable Seattle Seahawks team bidding to forge a dynasty.
After a build-up dominated by the “deflategate” saga, the Patriots are determined to puncture the dreams of a Seahawks outfit chasing back-to-back Super Bowls for only the eighth time in history.
The last team to accomplish the feat were the Patriots, whose 2004-05 titles capped a glorious run of three wins in four seasons.
Brady piloted the Patriots to all of those victories, and now vies to join his boyhood idol Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as starting quarterbacks with four Super Bowl rings.
But the game at University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Glendale could just as easily see a passing of the torch, from old-guard Brady to rising star Russell Wilson.
The 26-year-old Seahawks signal-caller is now 10-0 in his career when he goes head-to-head against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl.
That includes the Seahawks’ crushing victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in last year’s title game.
Seattle have made some changes since then but they still boast an elite defense, led by their ferocious corps of defensive backs — the Legion of Boom.
The Seahawks are the first team since the 1969-71 Minnesota Vikings to lead the NFL in scoring defense for three straight seasons — lending credence to defensive end Michael Bennett’s claim that Seattle now boasts the best defense “ever to play football.”
A Super Bowl repeat would go a long way to further backing up the claim that the Seahawks “D” has surpassed Pittsburgh’s famed “Steel Curtain” or the imposing squads of the 1980s Bears and 2000 Ravens.
“I am too young to be thinking about legacy right now,” said Seattle safety Earl Thomas, “but sometimes you don’t have to say anything because your work speaks for itself. We definitely have that on the table.”
Brady is gearing up for the challenge.
“There is nothing easy about what they do,” Brady said of the Seahawks defense. “They’re very disciplined. They’re very smart. They’re very well-coached.
“You’ve got to run good routes, you’ve got to make good throws, you’ve got to throw it through tight windows.
“They’ve got a lot of eyes on the quarterback, so you’ve got to be conscious of those things. But you still have to be able to play aggressively and play with confidence.”
Brady and the Patriots, who suffered Super Bowl disappointment in 2008 and 2012, could yet secure their status as the league’s dominant team for more than a decade — despite the whiff of scandal carried by the 2007 “Spygate” illegal videotaping affair and the “Deflategate” controversy over improperly inflated footballs that followed them to Phoenix.
The Patriots, from coach Bill Belichick on down, have tried to set the matter aside this week and focus on the task in hand.
Brady’s options have expanded this season with the return of a healthy Rob Gronkowski at tight end and the addition in November of productive running back LeGarrette Blount.
New England’s defense this season has been bolstered by the return of safety Patrick Chung and the addition former Pro Bowl cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
In addition to contending with the resourceful Wilson — adept at throwing on the run and capable of significant gains on the ground, the Pats defense will have to find a way to slow down Marshawn Lynch, set career highs with 13 rushing and four receiving touchdowns to lead the league with 17 total TDs.
The contest promises to be a classic, and that’s just what the NFL would like to see as they try to finish a season full of low notes on a high.
The disastrous handling of the Ravens’ Ray Rice and his domestic violence case shone a spotlight on the league’s failure to deal effectively with the issue among its players.
But come Sunday, when more than 100 million Americans are expected to tune into the game, it will be a celebratory spectacle that they see.
“When you think of dynasty at the beginning, you think of the Patriots back in the day,” said Seahawks linebacker O’Brien Schofield. “They really set that standard of a winning tradition.”
It’s a standard Schofield is confident the Seahawks can meet.
“With the players that we have, there are so many guys that are playing at a high level, and they’re so young. I think that when you find a great equation to win and all you’re doing each year is just trying to get better yourself, to me, that’s the true definition of a dynasty.”