The Patriots lost! In a blowout, too! New England got out to a fast start in the championship game, but totally unraveled.
Quarterback Tom Brady was either planted by the pass rush or threw balls into coverage. New England’s coach made a shockingly boneheaded play call that led to a safety. And the defense couldn’t make a stop to save its life.
When the gun sounded, the final score was Washington 43, New England 7.
Obviously, this was not Super Bowl XLII, to be played Sunday in Glendale. This was Madden Bowl XIV, pitting eight of the National Football League’s best video-game players in a tournament held Thursday night at downtown Scottsdale’s Martini Ranch.
The winner was Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee, who beat Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch. This was McGahee’s third trip to the finals in recent years.
“I was saving it for Phoenix,” McGahee said. Moments later, he was struggling to hoist the tournament’s huge trophy.
The Madden Bowl has become a pre-Super Bowl tradition, more evidence that the game and its developer – Madden NFL by EA Sports – now form an unchallenged powerhouse in computer football simulations.
NFL players are drawn to the game because of its realism, such as the use of actual teams and a thick playbook.
Of course, as San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis acknowledged, a player’s presence in the game is proof he’s reached the top of his profession.
“It felt good just to be in the game,” said Willis, this season’s top defensive rookie. “It’s unbelievable.”
Willis reached the semifinals by dispatching Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow by a 7-3 score. But in that second round, Willis became McGahee’s second victim, 24-7.
Earlier, McGahee sent Patriots running back Laurence Maroney back to the team hotel for needed rest.
“I had to let him win because I’ve got curfew,” Maroney said following his 21-7 defeat.
Meanwhile, Lynch was beating San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman and Chad Johnson, wide receiver for the Browns. Johnson had advanced against Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.
In the championship game, McGahee fumbled on the game’s opening drive, prompting Lynch to thrash his dreadlocked head around in joy. Moments later, the virtual Maroney, on a play call from the real Lynch, scored on a run for a 7-0 lead.
McGahee quickly put himself in position to score, but he threw a red-zone interception. When he got the ball back, McGahee threw another pick.
After that third turnover, Lynch was forced to punt – but managed to down the ball at the Washington 1.
Just when it appeared McGahee and his Redskins were in serious trouble, the game’s momentum dramatically turned.
McGahee called for a pass to a fellow Miami Hurricane, Santana Moss, and 99 yards later the game was tied. Lynch couldn’t do anything on the ensuing possession, and McGahee soon went ahead 14-7 on a running back screen.
As the first half came to a close, Lynch committed a gaffe that symbolized his Patriots’ collapse. With four seconds on the clock and New England in the shadow of its end zone, Lynch eschewed a clock-killing kneel or even a bomb downfield.
Instead, Lynch called for a punt – and McGahee’s special-teams unit came through with a blocked kick for a safety. 16-7, Washington.
From there, the rout was on. McGahee scored two touchdowns in each of the third and fourth quarters, while Lynch was giving away the ball with wild throws.
Following the last score the event’s emcee, ESPN anchor Trey Wingo, summed up the game: “Willis has opened up a can…”
The party drew a number of active and retired NFL stars, including Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards, St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, Green Bay cornerback Al Harris, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith and Houston Texas defensive end Mario Williams.