With six seconds remaining before intermission, trailing 14-7 and set to receive the second-half kickoff, Seattle coach Pete Carroll rolled the dice in Super Bowl 49.
Instead of settling for the chip-shot, 28-yard field goal, he went for the touchdown, gambling that he wouldn’t come away empty as time expired. It was an incredibly gutsy call and I wasn’t alone in thinking it was wrong. However, quarterback Russell Wilson fired a strike to Chris Matthews with two seconds to spare, tying the score.
But that instance of risky behavior – rejecting the safety of conventional wisdom and a preponderance of common sense – was nothing compared to Carroll’s “what-are-you-thinking?” decision with 26 seconds left in the game. Given the stakes, with an opportunity to win a second consecutive Super Bowl, Seattle’s last offensive play is arguably the worst call in NFL history.
Carroll would be slapped with a malpractice lawsuit in medicine. He would be charged with breach of fiduciary responsibility in business. He would face a recall election in politics. Depending on the country, he would be looking over his shoulder in international football.
Trailing 28-24 from New England’s 1-yard line, with the NFL’s best halfback behind one of the league’s best running QBs, the Seahawks elected to pass.
In and of itself, that choice is merely highly questionable. I could see a hard play-action fake, getting New England to sell-out on the run while a Seahawk slips unnoticed into the end zone, where he’s wide open for an easy touchdown. Or I could see some bootleg action that gets Wilson on the edge with the chance to suck in defenders and make an easy pass for touchdown.
Whatever the call, if Seattle (inexplicably) was determined to throw, the play should’ve entailed a much safer, easier pass. Not a quick slant in tight space toward the middle of the field, where ricochets can be disastrous.
In fact, it was such a bang-bang sequence that initially I thought the ball was deflected. But Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made a clean interception on a brilliant play, jumping inside of wideout Ricardo Lockette and arriving a split-second before the pass.
Games are never decided by one play, at least not literally. Different outcomes on earlier scores or stops would alter the late-second scenario.
But figuratively speaking? Absolutely.
Seattle lost Super Bowl 49 because Carroll was too smart for a handoff to Lynch on second-and-goal from the 1.
“This one didn’t work out right for us,” he told reporters afterward, explaining that the Patriots were in goal-line defense while the Seahawks employed three wideouts. “We could have run it and got stuffed; we could run it and scored; we could have scored against their goal line as well. I know that could’ve happened. It just wasn’t a great football thought at the time
“Great football is ‘Let’s make sure we match up properly so we can have our best chance to run it in and score.’ In retrospect, we could have easily run it, and we wouldn’t be talking about this. We might have got stuffed on third and fourth down. I don’t know.”
The was speculation that New England might let Seattle score like Green Bay yielded an uncontested TD against Denver in Super Bowl 32. But Mike Holmgren’s Packers got the ball back with 1:39. The Patriots would’ve needed only a field goal to tie the game, but they would’ve had less than 20 seconds to get it.
Carroll said he wanted to use all the time and leave none for Tom Brady to engineer a comeback. That’s where the explanation got a little murky, because Carroll also said they passed “really to kind of waste that play. If we score we do; if we don’t, then we’ll run it in on third and fourth down.
“Unfortunately, with the play that we tried to execute, the guy makes a great play and jumps in front of the route and makes an incredible play that nobody would ever think he could do. And unfortunately that changes the whole outcome.”
He said he instructed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to “make sure we throw it here,” counting on two more cracks at the game-winning touchdown. Carroll was rolling the dice again, like he did at the end of the first half.
It was part arrogance, part hubris and part recklessness, like when he coached USC and had Reggie Bush on the sideline for a late fourth-and-1 in the Rose Bowl against Texas. A first down would’ve clinched Carroll’s third consecutive national title.
Now he has blown a gimme for back-to-back Super Bowl titles and he has only himself to blame.
Sure things don’t exist, but Carrol should embrace the next-best-thing more often.