Clutch Encounters: Super Bowl XLIX

Clutch Encounters: Super Bowl XLIX
Clutch Encounters: Super Bowl XLIX
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

An instant classic with an unforgivable finish, Super Bowl XLIX was the greatest ride with a mind-melting conclusion since Stanley Kubrick released 2001: A Space Odyssey. The game absolutely delivered on the competitive front and the referees were largely just spectators. A week after Seattle made the largest fourth-quarter comeback (12 points) in championship game history against Green Bay, the Patriots won with the largest second-half comeback (10 points) in Super Bowl history.

However, like most of the great Super Bowl rallies, this goes for naught without a final stop by the New England defense. It's a stop that will never be forgotten. It's a stop that followed one of the flukiest catches in Super Bowl history, which seemed destined to sink the Patriots again. In a four-point game with 26 seconds left and the ball at the 1-yard line, the run-based Seahawks threw the ball. According to Pro-Football-Reference's Play Index, there were 108 passes this season from the 1-yard line, resulting in 66 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

Given the stakes, Seattle committed the costliest interception in NFL history.

That is not hyperbole and I will back it up later, but let's not boil down this fantastic game to one play. There were plenty of moments worth highlighting that led to New England's comeback and that stunning finish. This was the Super Bowl that was too tight to call, and it played out that way with one of the closest finishes any NFL game can have.

New England Patriots 28 vs. Seattle Seahawks 24

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 10 (24-14)

Win Probability (4QC/GWD starting with 6:52 left): 0.37

Head Coach: Bill Belichick (45-71 at 4QC and 60-72 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Tom Brady (35-29 at 4QC and 47-31 overall 4QC/GWD record)

A Costly Interception

Believe it or not, the Patriots have failed to score a single point in the first quarter of their six Super Bowls with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Here they looked poised to strike first with a dink-and-dunk attack that ate up more than half of the first quarter. But on third-and-6 from the Seattle 10, the Seahawks confused the offensive line with a three-man rush and Michael Bennett pressured Brady into a terrible throw. Jeremy Lane caught the first interception of his career, but since he landed at the goal line he had to make a return instead of a touchback. After breaking some tackles, Lane injured his arm at the end of the play and never returned.

Lane made a bit of an ass of himself earlier in the week when he was asked about Rob Gronkowski and he replied "I actually don't think he's that good," but this was a big injury that forced cornerback Tharold Simon into a much bigger role. I expected the Packers to target Simon two weeks ago with their three talented wide receivers, but that never really materialized. The Patriots were a bit wiser.

Brady immediately picked on Simon on the next drive. Simon could not keep up with Julian Edelman over the middle on third-and-9 and that 23-yard gain ended up being the longest play from scrimmage for the Patriots all night. It was basically just a 4-yard throw, but that's how the Patriots consistently attacked the Seahawks. Two plays later, Brandon LaFell beat Simon on an inside move for an 11-yard touchdown.

The unexpected contributions from cornerbacks in this game proved to be extremely decisive.

Chris Who?

Down 7-0 in the second quarter, the Seahawks were in some trouble with Russell Wilson yet to complete a pass. Against Green Bay, he did not complete a pass until there was less than four minutes left in the second quarter. While the Patriots brought Wilson down early with their first sacks of the postseason, the problem for Seattle was more about great coverage than great pass rush. Wilson finally got a completion with 5:30 left in the quarter, but his next throw really woke up the stagnant Seattle offense.

Wide receiver Chris Matthews entered the Super Bowl with zero career targets and one highlight: he recovered the onside kick against Green Bay. So color the world surprised when the 6-foot-5 receiver chipped in four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in the biggest game of his life. His first catch was an impressive 44-yard bomb against Kyle Arrington. Marshawn Lynch finished the drive in the end zone and we quickly had a tie and new outlook for this game.

Flashback to Super Bowl XXXVIII

With 2:16 left in the half I thought about the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII between New England and Carolina. That was a scoring frenzy with the teams matching late touchdowns followed by a field goal for Carolina for a 14-10 score. These teams delivered in similar fashion.

Brady really started taking advantage of Shane Vereen coming out of the backfield to catch the ball, which is a good way to attack Seattle's defense. Vereen actually finished with 11 catches for 64 yards, substituting for the lack of a running game (LeGarrette Blount had 14 carries for 40 yards). Linebacker Bobby Wagner had some issues with keeping up with Vereen.

The Patriots continued to target linebackers in coverage with K.J. Wright trying to cover Gronkowski out wide. That's a mismatch, and Brady lofted a 22-yard touchdown to his tight end with 31 seconds left in the half. According to ESPN, Brady was 3-of-3 for 39 yards and a touchdown on passes to Gronkowski with Wright lined up in coverage. On all other plays, Brady was 3-of-6 for 29 yards and an interception when targeting Gronkowski.

Al Michaels had a stat earlier in that game that in his first five Super Bowls, Brady was just 1-of-22 on passes traveling more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He was 1-of-4 on this night, but the Gronkowski touchdown throw was a big one.

With 36 seconds left in the first half, Seattle had three timeouts at its own 20. The Seahawks saw a good opportunity materialize after Robert Turbin gained 19 yards on a first-down run. A facemask penalty on Arrington after a completion set up a very interesting decision for the Seahawks at the 11-yard line with six seconds left. Do you risk not scoring any points like the Seahawks did in Atlanta in the playoffs two years ago, or do you settle for the field goal?

Speaking of Atlanta, we know from Matt Ryan's rookie year that you can complete a 26-yard pass in five seconds, but there can't be any wasted motion. I thought they should have kicked the field goal, but the Seahawks dared to be great and threw a pass. Logan Ryan played some ridiculous coverage and Matthews had his first touchdown with a grab that showed off his height. If you are Ryan, you might as well interfere with the receiver and dare Seattle to run another play. That was a huge drive to go 80 yards in 29 seconds to tie the game at the half.

One Huge Mistake in the Third Quarter

This season the Seahawks ranked first in second-half DVOA on both offense and defense, which is a remarkable feat when you think about it. That advantage showed in the third quarter, but this could have been the spot for Seattle to put the game away if not for a few third-down mistakes.

Matthews made another big 45-yard catch, but the Seahawks settled for a field goal after Lynch was stopped on a third-and-1 run. Wagner undercut Gronkowski for an interception, but Cliff Avril was knocked out with a concussion on that play, so once again a Brady interception proved to be a costly play for Seattle. At least that pick was turned into a touchdown when Doug Baldwin's only target of the night went for a 3-yard score. Baldwin was wide-open thanks in part to a referee who got in Darrelle Revis' way.

Down 24-14, the Patriots were penalized for holding and Brady started pressing a little. You could see things starting to turn Seattle's way, but the offense missed a massive opportunity. On third-and-2 at the New England 47, Wilson threw a perfect pass to Jermaine Kearse, but the receiver failed to hang on inside the 20. Keep in mind no team had ever won after trailing by 10 points in the second half of a Super Bowl, but extending the lead to 13 or 17 would have been practically a deathblow with a quarter left.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler did manage to get a hand in on Kearse to help disrupt the catch, but that's still a play the receiver has to make.

The Turning Point

With 10:58 left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were facing a big third-and-14 after Brady suffered his only sack of the game. This was the situation in which the 2013 Seahawks thrived, allowing quarterbacks to convert just 1-of-41 plays on third down with more than 10 yards to go for a first down. This year's defense was not as dominant, allowing 7-of-37 conversions in that situation coming into the Super Bowl.

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On third-and-14, Brady climbed the pocket and found Edelman, who took a brutal shot from Kam Chancellor, but held on for a 21-yard gain. Let the comeback commence. Edelman was able to stay in the game and owned the drive with an easier 21-yard grab on third-and-8. He then beat Simon for what should have been an easy touchdown, but Brady missed the throw. The defense failed to pick up Danny Amendola on the next play and Brady had another touchdown pass with 7:55 left.

Seattle's offense had that awesome four-drive stretch in which it scored 24 points, but it looked lackuster the rest of the night. Wilson took a third-down sack in the fourth quarter to end one drive, and the Seahawks went three-and-out again after he failed to connect with Lynch on third down. It should be noted that Butler reached out to trip Ricardo Lockette on first down, but no flag was thrown. It was an eventful night for Butler.

The Patriots were 64 yards away from the lead and stayed true to the dink-and-dunk style that had worked for most of the night. Seattle did not have any answers for Vereen and Gronkowski with Brady picking the open man on each side, much as he did on the drive that beat Baltimore earlier in the playoffs. In the red zone, Brady went right back to Edelman, who schooled Simon again for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:02 left. If Brady had hit Edelman on that same throw on the previous drive, there's a decent chance Edelman would have been named Super Bowl MVP. He finished with nine catches for 109 yards.

New England finished with 196 yards after the catch, a season-high for New England's offense and a season-worst for Seattle's defense. Here is the weekly breakdown for these units in 2014. "Avg PYD" is the average distance each pass traveled beyond the line of scrimmage. New England's passes only include Tom Brady passes.

Seattle Defense New England Offense
Week Opp. Avg PYD YAC% Week Opp. Avg PYD YAC%
1 GB 7.5 49.2% 1 MIA 10.6 44.2%
2 SD 5.9 59.4% 2 MIN 8.3 42.4%
3 DEN 9.0 29.0% 3 OAK 6.2 41.0%
5 WAS 7.3 51.2% 4 KC 7.7 78.0%
6 DAL 9.7 49.2% 5 CIN 8.9 47.3%
7 STL 5.5 41.0% 6 BUF 8.0 44.6%
8 CAR 7.1 39.8% 7 NYJ 10.0 26.8%
9 OAK 5.6 62.4% 8 CHI 6.9 40.1%
10 NYG 7.4 33.9% 9 DEN 8.0 41.1%
11 KC 4.5 60.2% 11 IND 9.2 47.1%
12 ARI 9.5 28.5% 12 DET 6.0 52.7%
13 SF 9.7 45.5% 13 GB 9.5 39.2%
14 PHI 10.7 41.7% 14 SD 6.2 57.7%
15 SF 7.4 44.7% 15 MIA 10.9 38.3%
16 ARI 12.1 33.3% 16 NYJ 5.3 39.0%
17 STL 4.6 62.6% 17 BUF 8.8 41.3%
19 CAR 10.3 34.1% 19 BAL 8.1 39.0%
20 GB 8.3 32.0% 20 IND 7.6 39.8%
21 NE 5.9 59.8% 21 SEA 5.9 59.8%
AVG - 7.9 45.5% AVG - 7.9 45.1%

It's interesting that Brady's 5.9 yards per throw and YAC percentage is nearly identical to what Philip Rivers had in Week 2's win over Seattle. The Chiefs also had similar averages.

The Final Drive and the Worst Call Ever

The stage was set for a very dramatic finish. In his time with Seattle, Wilson was 0-6 in games when the Seahawks allowed more than 24 points, but he has already led 10 comebacks and 15 game-winning drives in three years. The kickoff going through the end zone saved the two-minute warning for Seattle, leaving them with 2:02 to play and all three timeouts. In my opinion, the 2007 Giants engineered the greatest drive in NFL history in Super Bowl XLII. Three years later the Steelers were in a similar position against Green Bay, but failed miserably. Here was Wilson's chance to lead Seattle on a championship-winning drive capable of rivaling the best.

Things sure started well with Lynch beating Jamie Collins out wide for 31 yards. Seattle just needed to take its time, knowing the drive was touchdown-or-bust, but also wanting to leave Brady little time to answer. Wilson aggressively went against that with two bombs, but the second produced one of the strangest 33-yard gains we have ever seen. Butler (him again?) seemed to have good defense on Kearse, but the ball never touched the ground and eventually bounced into Kearse's hands as he lied on his back. He got up and got out of bounds with 1:06 left at the New England 5.

When that became a catch in the Super Bowl, it looked like the football gods just did not want New England to get that fourth win. The Seahawks did have to burn two timeouts on the drive that really should have been saved, but they were still in great shape here. Lynch had another physical 4-yard run to put the ball inside the 1-yard line, but that's when everything went haywire.

First of all, the mindset here has to be to run the ball. The first section of my Super Bowl preview was even called "Key to the Game: Run to Win" and I thought Seattle would never stray away from that in crucial moments. This is not a short-passing team like the Patriots, and especially not on a night when Wilson's average pass traveled 19.7 yards downfield.

After Lynch's first-down run, I have no idea why Belichick did not use one of his two timeouts. I don't think letting Lynch score should have ever been the strategy, but New England had to save time for an answer drive. I think Belichick just lucked out here. Seattle should have been in hurry-up mode so the Patriots could not substitute in a goal-line defense. Any snap under 40 seconds should have been fine to run the ball and hope to score the go-ahead touchdown. If Brady can set up a field goal that quickly, then hats off to that offense. But I think Seattle made a huge mistake of letting the clock go down to 26 seconds before running the second-down play. If you run the ball on second down at 40 seconds, you should be able to set up another run at 15 or 20 seconds, then use the last timeout if necessary to figure out your best fourth-down play.

So the clock management had already been very shaky to that point, but Pete Carroll's fall-on-the-sword explanation after the game does not hold up for me. "So on second down, we throw the ball 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, really, with no second thoughts or hesitation in that at all," explained Carroll.

"Waste" a play? That is a poor choice of words for a coach, but if you are going to waste a pass play, then throw a fade instead of a slant into a tight window. That has less risk, at least.

Carroll thought he had to throw the ball eventually and wanted to do it while he still had a timeout. Carroll's biggest problem is he, or maybe offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, chose a strategy that would maximize the number of plays he could run when he should have been trying to maximize the success rate of the next play. Third down is nonexistent if you score on second down, and the best chance to score on second down is undoubtedly a Lynch run. This is not like taking the ball out of the hands of Peyton Manning and giving it to Ronnie Hillman. This is Beast Mode. This is the best runner in the league on a night where the Patriots practically never brought him down right away.

Lynch had five runs from the 1-yard line this year and scored once. The Patriots faced six runs from the 1-yard line and allowed five touchdowns. Cool, but I really don't care about sample sizes of five or six plays. I don't even care that the Patriots, the worst run defense in short-yardage situations this season, stopped Lynch on two such plays in this game. This was the 1-yard line, and you will never convince me throwing the ball to Ricardo Lockette on a pick play was the right call.

Wilson has three 1-yard touchdown passes in his career. He has two touchdown passes to a wide receiver from inside the 3-yard line in his career, and that includes the Baldwin play from the third quarter. Speaking of which, how did the Seahawks never target a tight end all night -- hello, Luke Willson, are you still alive? -- when the Patriots ranked 30th in DVOA against that position? That is another insane part of this offensive approach, which still would have probably won the game if Lynch got the ball once or twice more.

I have watched every play of Wilson's career, and this kind of throw deep in the red zone is not what this offense does. Give the mobile Wilson a run-pass option if you are going to put the ball in his hands there.

Any picture showing what Wilson saw when he threw is pretty misleading because Butler was lined up at a reasonably equal distance away from Lockette. I'm assuming these are players of equivalent speed. As long as Butler took the right first step he was going to meet Lockette at the ball, making this a very tough catch in traffic.

Even if Lockette caught the ball, I don't even think he would have scored. He would have been short because of how quick Butler closed. Yes, Butler deserves plenty of credit for coming away with this interception, but common sense tells us the play never should have been called in the first place.

One of the best rushing offenses of this era got cute and threw a pass from the 1-yard line. I'll never understand how Carroll and company let this happen.

The Costliest Interception Ever?

With the ball at the 1-yard line and 26 seconds left in the Super Bowl, down by four points, this has to be the costliest interception in NFL history. What else can even compare? That's about as close as a team can get to winning the Super Bowl and throwing the game away in epic fashion.

Since 1998, only five players have thrown an interception in the fourth quarter from the 1-yard line, trailing by eight points or less: Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Corey Dillon (for real), Jay Fiedler, and now Wilson, the only player to do so in the postseason. The Bengals still came back to win that game with Dillon, and the Dolphins also rallied for a win when Fiedler did it, so no big deal.

For a legit comparison, you have to look at championship games. Sure, Red Right 88 was horrible, but that was a divisional round game for Cleveland. Matt Hasselbeck scored for the wrong team, but ask any Seattle fan if that compares to this one. Favre would certainly love to have some NFC Championship Game throws back, but I still couldn't compare any of those situations to a turnover at the 1-yard line at the end of the Super Bowl. Seattle made a pretty big pick of Colin Kaepernick last year, but still not worse than this. Nothing else from the Conference Championship round really jumps out to me, except for the Earnest Byner fumble, but even that likely would have forced overtime in Denver.

I have done some research on pre-Super Bowl championship games. Otto Graham threw a pick down 17-16 against the Lions in 1953, though I don't think the Browns were anywhere close to field-goal range. George Blanda threw an interception in overtime in the 1962 AFL Championship Game, but it's not like he was a yard away from the win. His pick was returned to midfield. Those are about the only ones worth mentioning.

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So that leaves the Super Bowl interceptions. Sure, Kurt Warner has thrown two of the costliest pick-sixes in Super Bowl history, but both were in the first half, and he still rallied his team to a tie or lead in the fourth quarter. Peyton Manning's pick-six to Tracy Porter came with the Colts down 24-17 and with little hope of stopping Drew Brees on defense. Rex Grossman's pick-six to help Manning three years earlier was more costly in a 22-17 game, but was practically expected. Neil O'Donnell's blind throw against Dallas in Super Bowl XXX crushed the Steelers' hopes, though he was at his own 32-yard line with just over four minutes left in a 20-17 game. Not exactly the 1-yard line.

We have to go back to Super Bowls from the 1970s to find three plays that compare best to Seattle's.

Pittsburgh's second Super Bowl win was against Dallas in Super Bowl X. Down 21-17, Roger Staubach threw a pick in the end zone from the Pittsburgh 38 on the final play of the game. That's close, but he was basically looking for his second Hail Mary that postseason.

In Super Bowl XIV, Vince Ferragamo was intercepted with 5:24 left in a 24-19 game with the ball at the Pittsburgh 32. The Steelers then drove 70 yards for the clinching touchdown in a 31-19 win.

This might be the best we can do. In Super Bowl V, Dallas led Baltimore 13-6 in the fourth quarter. Craig Morton's pass was tipped, picked and returned to the Dallas 3 with 8:10 left. The Colts scored the tying touchdown two plays later. In trying to drive for the win, Morton had another tipped interception with 59 seconds left. The Colts again ran two plays for three yards and scored on a game-winning field goal with five seconds left. That should definitely go down as the worst pair of picks, though I am not sure win probability would put either one ahead of Seattle's disaster.

So I think we have a pretty clear-cut case that this is the costliest interception in NFL history. The reaction would certainly be different depending on which quarterback threw it, but I think the general disbelief that Seattle even tried a pass will be this play's legacy, not the throw by Wilson or the route by Lockette.

Oh Yeah, The Last Snaps

We may have had a little more drama if the Patriots were forced to run a play from just outside of their end zone, but that ended when Bennett jumped offsides and gave the Patriots 5 yards of breathing room. Then a big scrum broke out after the kneeldown, which was a shame after such a great game.

I imagine Brady would have just knifed his way forward to avoid any safety, but that would have been interesting to watch. We should have seen it twice with Seattle having a timeout left, but oh well.

The Super Bowl Legacy

Brady and Belichick finally collected that fourth Super Bowl ring. For Brady, he has 35 fourth-quarter comebacks, which moves him into third place all time. By winning four Super Bowls over 14 years, Brady and Belichick extend their Super Bowl window to a range that has never been done by any other starting quarterback or head coach.

Sure, the 1981-1994 49ers won five Super Bowls in 14 years, but that team switched from Bill Walsh and Joe Montana to George Seifert and Steve Young. New England's run is the dominant one in the salary-cap era.

Seattle's loss means that it has now been 10 years since the NFL has had a repeat champion, the longest stretch in NFL history. I would not be shocked to see these teams meet again next year, but as their runs have shown, it is no easy task to finish on top.

It's even harder when you do stuff like throwing the ball from the 1-yard line with the best running game in the league.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 68

Game-winning drives: 76

Games with 4QC opportunity: 145/267 (54.3 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 47

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Win Probability comes from Advanced Football Analytics. Screen caps come from NFL Game Rewind.


74 comments, Last at 09 Feb 2015, 9:28am

#1 by PaddyPat // Feb 02, 2015 - 5:25pm

There have been twitterings on several sites now about New England returning to the Super Bowl next year. As a diehard, long-time Pats fan, I have a very hard time seeing it. This really had the feeling of a last shot into the sunset game. Brady is aging and slowing down, if very begrudgingly, and the team has a lot of free agent pieces this offseason. With contract issues to be resolved for Revis, McCourty, Vereen, Blount, Ghostkowski, Connolly, Ridley, Siliga, and perhaps even Browner and Amendola, there's a lot up in the air. Add to that the fact that Wilfork is clearly slowing down and might retire, and it seems to me like the Patriots are going to have a very hard time repeating their success.

Oh, and btw, nice piece; thoughtful, incisive commentary on the game, etc. It has been a nice column all year, and I have appreciated Scott's occasional back and forth in the comments section throughout--it's nice to know there's an interactive human being on the other side of these things who's not afraid to assert an opinion and put himself out there!

Points: 0

#4 by herewegobrowni… // Feb 02, 2015 - 7:09pm

Oddsmakers are putting Seattle as the favorite and the Pats as 2nd right now.

Much of their core is still young or young-ish, Brady hasn't hit the wall that Manning may have yet, and they won't have so much trouble getting home field against at least a few playoff teams now that they have the AFC South, a Pitt team they usually have the number of, and a Denver team that may well be declining, not to mention the usual division they're unlikely to do worse than 4-2 against.

(That said, the odds have some real headscratchers - Bills near the bottom at 75-1? Does swapping Marrone for Ryan really make them that much worse, especially with a likely better QB and Alonzo back?)

Points: 0

#6 by Otis Taylor89 // Feb 02, 2015 - 7:24pm

Very surprising since SB losers generally have a difficult time the next season. Also, Baltimore at 20-1? They seem to be a team that will cause a lot of problems next season for everyone.

Points: 0

#7 by ClavisRa // Feb 02, 2015 - 9:04pm

Pats are the youngest Superbowl winning team ever, and one of the youngest in the league, along with Seattle. They made an amazing run last year with an even younger team to get to the Conference Championship. Also, they are in better salary cap position than Seattle to keep every key player, and work in new talent. Really, the Pats are as well positioned to repeat as is possible in the salary cap era.

Points: 0

#10 by RickD // Feb 02, 2015 - 9:22pm

The two big ifs here are Brady and Revis. Brady might be able to play at the same level next year, and he might not. I'm willing to go with better-than-even odds that he can.

But then there's Revis. The Pats need to re-negotiate his contract. And the Jets and Bills are (thanks to Adam Schefter's weird notions about journalistic duties and why it's OK for hiim to help teams violate NFL anti-tampering rules) openly telling Revis that they will bid for his services. The Pats might be able to retain him. Or he might follow Deion Sanders' example - go to a team for one year, win a Super Bowl, and move on to whoever the highest bidder is.

Aside from those two, Wilfork might consider retirement. But yeah, the team has a lot of youth and is in a good salary cap position. They're younger than most fans realize - an illusion created because Brady is the face of the franchise.

Points: 0

#16 by dreessen // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:39am

A cautionary tale regarding similar quality quarterbacks, Brett Favre played through his age 41 season, but other than that Marino, Tarkenton, Elway, Young, Warner and Montana only played through age 38. Add Manning to that if he decides to hang it up.

When the wheels begin to fall off things may come to an abrupt stop.

Points: 0

#73 by usernaim250 // Feb 09, 2015 - 8:59am

Well, Warner certainly could have gone another year at a high level had he wanted. Young was still great but wanted to protect himself after concussions--not an issue for Brady. Elway was still effective too, having just won the Super Bowl and all. And Manning's issue, if he has one, would seem to be injury.

In other words, Brady will likely get injured at some point along the line and may or may not want or be able to recover. But until that happens, it seems to me he's likely to play pretty well as long as he wants.

Points: 0

#17 by mehllageman56 // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:55am

Youth can work against them as well; part of the reason it's so hard to repeat is the target teams wear on their backs, and the complacency that sets in. Nobody playing for the Patriots has won a Super Bowl before beside Brady, Browner and Wilfork, so who knows how guys like Collins and Gronkowski will react to this. Seattle is the first team to even get back to the Super Bowl since 2004, and they were dead in the water at 6-4 early on, and still needed a miracle to get past Green Bay. One thing that is on New England's side: the schedule. AFC East plays the NFC East (alright, but not dominant) and the AFC South this year.

Points: 0

#35 by herewegobrowni… // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:27pm

Hard to tell with the NFCE - it could be a lot better or worse than expected. We still don't know who Philly will put under center this coming year, and Washington may or may not still be stuck in a slump. The Giants can't have the Pats' number forever, and not sure if Dallas can repeat this year's surprise.

Points: 0

#33 by Led // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:07pm

Schefter is clearly doing the bidding of Revis's agents here, not the Bills and the Jets. If the Jets and Bills want to tell Revis they're interested, they don't need it to be published on ESPN. Patriots fans now get to enjoy the experience of a real Schwartz/Feinsod negotiation.

Points: 0

#2 by goathead // Feb 02, 2015 - 5:28pm

Thanks for this. I'm still trying to get my head around "the call". In real-time, I was floored about BB not taking a timeout after the first down play. With the benefit of hindsight, I find myself wondering if he realized that if he called timeout Seattle would run 3 times, and by letting the clock run he was turning up the pressure on Seattle. If Seattle had scored, and won, everyone would be talking about BB's failure to call timeout.

I had the same feeling about the route though, that even a completion wouldn't have been a TD, making this a horrible play - and likely meaning Lockett was off his route. And really, if Seattle wanted to pass, play action would have at least brought the safeties forward. Hard to blame Wilson, putting him in the pocket trying to pass over a goal-line defense was just absurd.

Points: 0

#3 by duh // Feb 02, 2015 - 6:11pm

Play action might have brought someone forward but it wouldn't have been the safeties as there were none on the field for that play.

Points: 0

#72 by usernaim250 // Feb 09, 2015 - 8:55am

I don't think the idea of passing was so terrible, but this was a good spot for a fake dive where the TE leaks out and is all alone or the QB tosses it away--or, of course, a play-action bootleg with run/pass option where Wilson either walks in, throws to an open receiver, or tosses it away.

I also found Collinsworth's comment that Lynch was "borderline unstoppable" in this part of the field to be utterly incompetent. In the third quarter, Lynch failed to gain 2 yards on two consecutive plays inside the ten, and as noted above, was actually terrible in short yardage this year.

Points: 0

#5 by Otis Taylor89 // Feb 02, 2015 - 7:22pm

Probably not a great call, but it was a great play on the ball from someone you would least expect it from.
The big question is "What would the #Leftshark have called?"

Points: 0

#8 by ClavisRa // Feb 02, 2015 - 9:10pm

I suspect Carroll meant "not waste" a play, that calling the pass was essentially a free play given the time they had burned off the clock to limit New England if they scored quickly. Wilson screwed up, and Butler made a truly spectacular play to win the game. Both coaches played the end game right; it came down the players.

Points: 0

#9 by RickD // Feb 02, 2015 - 9:16pm

"but New England had to save time for an answer drive. I think Belichick just lucked out here"

Seems like a strange line of logic to account for.

At that time, there were two paths to victory
a) stop the Seahawks from scoring a TD
b) let the Seahawks score a TD, drive the field with less than a minute left, get at least a tying FG, and then win in OT.

Neither option is good here. But honestly, I think b) has to be discarded in favor of a). We saw the Pats try b) three years ago against the Giants. And I've seen them in the same position in regular-season games. Look, it's not easy against a good defense. Against the best defense in the league, it seems well nigh upon impossible. The Pats were moving the ball, but 5 yards at a time. The last two scoring dries took 4:15 and 4:50 to go 68 and 64 yards, respectively. Timeouts would help, but not if they burnt them on defense.

"But you must use the time out", people say, "it's clock management." But there are two points to be made to counter that
a) calling the timeout there really doesn't put the Patriots in charge of "how much time they'll have left if they get the ball".
b) there's more to a time out than stopping the clock. It gives the other team time to settle down, re-think their options, and change their personnel.

Looking at the field, Belichick saw that he liked the personnel matchup. In particular, the Seahawks didn't have their power-running lineup out there. We all seem to agree that the Seahawks would be more likely to score with their power-running crew. So why would the Pats want to help the Seahawks by calling a time out?

And calling the timeout would just put the control in the Seahawks' hands. They could change their play call from a pass to a run and burn the 30 seconds that the Pats are supposedly banking for their comeback drive. It's a futile strategy.

By not calling the time out, the Pats forced the Seahawks to be very concerned about the clock. Let's not forget that the Seahawks were still trailing. Also, they didn't have the most useful personnel on the field. Make them use that grouping!

The key concept here is that using this time out on defense only creates the illusion of controlling the clock.

Mostly my argument here comes down to this: slim as the odds of stopping the Seahawks were, those odds would have dropped even further by taking time outs. And the entire point? To try to get 30 seconds (unlikely) to do a FG drive against the best defense in the NFL?

(I mean, yeah, the Packers did exactly that two weeks ago, but the Packers are constructed in a way that's much more conducive to making long strikes downfield. Coming into this game Brady was something like 1 for 20 in playoff passes 20 yards or deeper.)

Points: 0

#13 by Scott Kacsmar // Feb 02, 2015 - 9:59pm

You have to manage a) with setting yourself up for an opportunity to answer in case they scored. No, I don't think letting them score was ever a good option here, but you have to think about your offense in case they did. Belichick could have called timeout with about a minute left. If SEA scored on second down, then Brady would have about 55 seconds left with a timeout to get a FG. Not ideal, but very doable in today's game. If SEA didn't score, I use another timeout, so if they score on third down, then maybe I get 50 seconds left to answer. Still doable. And who knows, maybe SEA throws an incomplete pass and stops the clock on one of these plays, so I can save a timeout.

Belichick couldn't risk SEA scoring in the final 20 seconds, yet that's exactly what he did by not calling any timeouts. This is the 1-yard line. The odds are against the defense in really any formation here. Belichick was bailed out by the Seahawks taking entirely too long to run the next play, which led to getting crazy with a pass instead of Lynch.

Sure, if Belichick used both timeouts and Seattle still didn't score on the ground, then the Seahawks could have ran the clock down to about 10 seconds, call timeout and set up 4th down. Then it's all on your defense to get that stop and win the game. But you can't expect the game to come down to that. So call timeout and save yourself some time. That extra 30-35 seconds is big.

Maybe I come off sounding like I think they should let them score right away, but I think taking timeouts and trying to make a couple of stops is the best you can do realistically. 2nd down at the 1-yard line is a brutal situation to be in, but damn, Seattle didn't finish.

Points: 0

#14 by RickD // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:06am

But there's no way to force the Seahawks to score while leaving you a lot of time on the clock. OTOH, while a time out isn't quite as useful as more time on the clock, having a timeout and a small clock would be better than having no timeout and a small clock.

The Giants accidentally left more time on the clock three years ago than they intended to. And even though that Giants' defense was weaker than this year's Seahawks' defense, the Pats couldn't even get a first down.

I'd rather put all my thought and care into preventing a TD than trying to have some magical backup plan for scoring again with less than a minute on the clock.

Ultimately, Belichick's thinking worked. The time out he didn't use was a time out he didn't need to use to help his team play the defense they needed to play, but very well might have been useful to the Seahawks to come up with a different, better plan for getting a TD. And they wouldn't have had any time pressure on them. The time pressure ended up working to the Patriots' advantage - and you were afraid of it for purely hypothetical reasons.

A lot of these discussions about the non-timeout focus only on the clock. But time outs have a lot of other effects, too.

Points: 0

#20 by goathead // Feb 03, 2015 - 9:03am

Giants game isn't a great example, since in that case the Patriots needed a TD in (I think) 35 seconds. I rarely think letting them score is a good strategy, but that was one time where it was clearly the right play.

If Seattle had scored, there's no question that people would be questioning BB's not taking the timeout. But, I agree with you about the other impacts of the timeout, and it does seem in hindsight that it would have improved Seattle's odds of a TD more than helping NE's D. It probably increased the odds of a false start as well, since Seattle looked a bit out of synch getting to the line. It was an interesting strategy, a decision that I don't think many coaches would have made.

Points: 0

#44 by Anon Ymous // Feb 03, 2015 - 3:47pm

Yup, and since all of this is known by most football fans, it certainly was understood by someone as time management conscious as Bill Belichick. So the question becomes, "what advantage did NOT calling a timeout create?"

Perhaps Bill felt like his best chance to win was right then and there and thought his team was more prepared.

Perhaps he had seen a lack of coordination in those game ending situations by Seattle's staff, and calling a time out would let them catch their breath.

Perhaps, since Seattle only had one TO and would likely have to pass on 2nd or 3rd down, Bill wanted them to be slightly more predictable.

Perhaps he really liked the personnel match up and worried that if he called TO Seattle would change things up.

Perhaps it really was a complete psych out intended to throw Seattle out of whack and force them to scramble more than intended.

The one thing we can dismiss entirely is that Bill was unaware of how much the added time would improve their ability to score if Seattle punched it in. Not that I wasn't lamenting the absence of a TO at the time, of course. But something inspired Bill to push all of his chips on the table right then and there and I think finding that reason out would be far more interesting.

Points: 0

#45 by anotherpatsfan // Feb 03, 2015 - 3:59pm

I certainly don't think BB was in shock or not aware of what was going on -- IMO did go all in on his D getting a stop. If there was score and not enough time left to get an FG he would have taken whatever heat there was. It worked out. Whether it was the right call is purely academic at this point.

Here is what one of the CSNNE writers said about BB's thought process, with some BB quotes.


The substitution pattern is what the Patriots keyed on. Expecting a run, the Patriots went with their big guys but also were forced to send in three corners to match Seattle’s three wideouts. The Patriots were not going to let Seattle score, as I incorrectly theorized on Twitter in the goofy aftermath. The season was going to end in that end zone, for better or worse. And while Carroll was fretting about the time element and having to burn a timeout if the second-down play had been a failed run, Belichick said he probably would have used one of the Pats’ two remaining timeouts so he had time to set defensive personnel for the final two plays.

That’s probably news Carroll hates to hear.

“We would have used our timeouts if [the second-down play] had been a [failed] running play,” said Belichick. "We might have done that. We put in our defense (on second down) with just three corners. It wasn’t true goal-line because they had three receivers in the game. So we were in our goal line with all eight guys stacked on the line of scrimmage and we were man-to-man on the three receivers. We prepare for that situation as part of our goal-line package -- three corners, two corners, one corner, no corners if they have all tight ends and an offensive line in there.”

Asked if he was surprised Seattle threw, Belichick indicated that the personnel Seattle had on the field was a tell that they weren’t running.

“When you’re on defense, you defend whatever they do,” he said.

And that meant matching personnel. Which meant Butler -- who replaced a struggling Kyle Arrington in the second half –-- was on the field with Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis as one of the three corners on that play.

Points: 0

#62 by Noahrk // Feb 05, 2015 - 9:12am

I think he just had a hunch that they were going to make a play. There's no other explanation. I don't buy that he was in shock and even if he had known for a fact Seattle was passing it wouldn't have changed anything. Except make the TO a better call, since an incomplete pass stops the clock, too.

Who, me?

Points: 0

#69 by CaffeineMan // Feb 06, 2015 - 3:31pm

I agree with this. I think he just had a feeling the defense could hold. Neither calculating genius nor deer-in-the-headlights idiocy. Just went with a feeling.

Interestingly enough, I think this is similar to the process he went through for the infamous 4th and 2 against the Colts, but with the opposite outcome: he just felt then the defense couldn't hold.

Points: 0

#67 by GoBlue // Feb 05, 2015 - 3:36pm

I think that Pete Carroll was anticipating that BB would call a timeout and he was waiting for him to do so. BB, on the other hand, saw who was on the field for the Hawks, was anticipating a pass, and preferred his chances vs taking a TO and giving the Hawks a chance to change to their heavy package. He put the pressure on PC.

When PC saw that BB was calling his bluff and not calling a TO, the clock was ticking and he didn't have time to change personnel, and they went into the play a bit disorganized, (with Beast initially lining up on the wrong side of the QB). Also, BB was anticipating that specific pass play and felt he would take his chances against it. I wonder if BB would ever admit this publicly as it would not reflect favorably on PC.


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#11 by justanothersteve // Feb 02, 2015 - 9:31pm

The 1966 NFL Championship may not have had the most costly interception, but it deserves mention. Dallas was on the two yard line with seconds to go, fourth down, score 34-27, and a hurried Don Meredith tosses up a prayer which is intercepted by the Packers Tom Brown. The Packers then went to the first Super Bowl. A TD would have only tied the score, but the Cowboys had been down 34-20 with barely five minutes to play and seemed to have the Packers on the ropes if it had gone to overtime.

Points: 0

#12 by manicfatigue // Feb 02, 2015 - 9:36pm

I don't think you're giving Butler enough credit on 3rd and 3. He got a good pull on Kearse's arm almost as soon as Kearse got his hands on the ball. It was beautiful defense. The impact he made in his few snaps is astounding.

I'm so glad you called out Ryan's D at the end of the half. That was dumbfounding. He couldn't have interfered with him because he was giving him too big of a cushion. Did the coaches not stress that with the clock where it was they had to meet those guys at the goalline?

And why hasn't anyone asked Belichick about not taking a timeout after Lynch's run to the 1 before Wilson's INT? He was set up to be the coach everyone was questioning.

Points: 0

#15 by RickD // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:09am

I would blame Matt Patricia there, for a couple reasons. First, he has Arrington in isolation trying to cover somebody 7 inches taller. But also, as you point out there, with only six seconds on the clock, there's really little downside to committing a penalty. Rather than retreat to the end zone with a very soft cushion, he should have been jamming at the line of scrimmage, holding even. Does the NFL have a rule against intentional fouling like the NBA?

That entire drive was a massive failure by Matt Patricia's defense. He's still got glaring flaws as a D-Con.

Points: 0

#19 by Will Allen // Feb 03, 2015 - 8:21am

Frankly, the coaching in the entire league has fallen short in this particular situation. Every receiver should be tackled at the line of scrimmage, forcing the opposing coach to make a no doubt about it trade off, with two or three seconds left; chip shot field goal or possible failed td attempt?

Points: 0

#23 by duh // Feb 03, 2015 - 9:59am

I think you might get away with this once and then the league would stop the tactic. I'd guess they'd refer to Rule 12 section 3

Article 2: Fouls to Prevent Score. The defense shall not commit successive or repeated fouls to prevent a score.
Penalty: For successive or repeated fouls to prevent a score: If the violation is repeated after a warning, the score
involved is awarded to the offensive team.
Article 3: Palpably Unfair Act. A player or substitute shall not interfere with play by any act which is palpably unfair.
Penalty: For a palpably unfair act: Offender may be disqualified. The Referee, after consulting his crew, enforces any
such distance penalty as they consider equitable and irrespective of any other specified code penalty. The
Referee may award a score. See 15-1-6.

Points: 0

#22 by Boots Day // Feb 03, 2015 - 9:58am

One thing I didn't understand: Why was the Arrington face mask penalty at the end of the first half tacked on to the end of the play? The infraction occurred well before the ball was caught. I assumed the Seahawks would have to choose between the play or the penalty in that instance.

I know there are some penalties that are always tacked on - roughing the quarterback, late hit out of bounds, etc. But I don't recall ever seeing a face mask penalty treated like that.

Points: 0

#24 by Andrew Potter // Feb 03, 2015 - 10:04am

Personal fouls are, I believe, always added to the result of the play. Usually though, the facemask occurs on the tackle rather than mid-play like that, which is why there's never any question about tacking it on.

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#38 by Sakic // Feb 03, 2015 - 1:23pm

I would agree with you but in the NFC title game one of the Seahawks lineman got called for a late hit (on Matthews, I think) and the Packers had a choice of accepting the play (a sack for a loss) or the penalty. I still can't figure out why the penalty wasn't tacked on as I've never seen a personal foul penalty NOT tacked on to the end of the play (especially as it was a late hit penalty which means the play couldn't have been anything other than over.)

Points: 0

#39 by pablohoney // Feb 03, 2015 - 1:52pm

The officials called it unnecessary roughness during the play, not a post-play late hit:

(Clay Matthews) "took a shot to the back from Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy that officials judged to be unnecessary roughness. The penalty was declined, however, because officials said it happened during the play rather than as a dead ball foul."

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#41 by Boots Day // Feb 03, 2015 - 2:23pm

That's one reason I was confused about the facemask call, because I was thinking about that Matthews play. The facemask infraction happened long before the play was over, before the receiver even caught the ball.

Points: 0

#42 by slomojoe // Feb 03, 2015 - 2:37pm

I think the refs simply blew the Matthews call - there doesn't seem to be a distinction about "during or after the play" for unnecessary roughness in the NFL rulebook (rule 12.2.8). Facemasks, spearing, blindside hits, launching - all the same. Otherwise, every time a play longer than 15 yards happens, head-hunting would be a logical strategy.

Points: 0

#63 by Noahrk // Feb 05, 2015 - 9:18am

They certainly did. It had me wondering if personal fouls were only tacked on only against the defense, and not against the offense. It was a ridiculous call.

Who, me?

Points: 0

#66 by Anon Ymous // Feb 05, 2015 - 12:41pm

Personal fouls get added on, but the refs *did* screw up later, when they tacked an additional 5 yards onto a Wilson scramble after Browner was called for a hold. That should have just been declined.

Points: 0

#18 by mikedewitt // Feb 03, 2015 - 1:01am

Thanks for the great work on this article, Scott. You put a new spin on a story that is already becoming a little old everywhere else (that being the case for the costliest interception ever). This series of articles has quickly become my favorite on the entire website. Looking forward to seeing more of it next year.

Points: 0

#21 by Pottsville Mar… // Feb 03, 2015 - 9:28am

I don't mind the call. I'm not sure if it was the best possible call, but I don't think it was objectively wrong.

From the Seattle perspective, the goal is not to maximize your chance of scoring on 2nd down, but to maximize your chance of scoring on one of the next three plays. If they run the ball on 2nd down and get stuffed, then they have to throw on 3rd down, which makes their playcalling predictable and gives a huge advantage to the Patriots defense. (To put it another way, the Seahawks had to throw at least once in those three plays, so it's best to do so when it's not predictable).

The only downside to throwing is an interception (given the play call for a pick/slant, a sack isn't realistic), which is of course what happened. But what are the odds of that - maybe two percent? I'll take that risk over the ~30% risk of getting stuffed on a run and becoming predictable. If anything EXCEPT an interception happens on second down, they can still run Lynch twice out of the three plays, which is the same mix they could achieve by running on second down.

Incidentally, I also don't mind the call for a slant instead of a fade, given that Revis and Browner together might be better at defending fades than any CB tandem except Sherman and Maxwell.

Points: 0

#25 by Will Allen // Feb 03, 2015 - 10:13am

The mistake was in taking forty seconds between the end of the 1st down run, and the snap of the ball for the second down pass, when you took a timeout after Kearse's circus catch. If you are organized, and snap the ball with forty seconds left, then your play book is completely wide open on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th down.

If a pass is to be called, the better choice is one that takes advantage of Wilson's skill set an intelligence, which likely entails bootleg action off of play action, or even a pass off of a zone read look.

Points: 0

#26 by GrandVezir // Feb 03, 2015 - 10:27am

If a pass is to be called, the better choice is one that takes advantage of Wilson's skill set an intelligence, which likely entails bootleg action off of play action, or even a pass off of a zone read look.

Both of those pass plays take longer than the slant. Since the Seahawks were (wrongly, in my view) trying to maximize their number of plays rather than the success chance of any particular play, any pass they choose must be a quick one. Quick slant, quick out, quick fade, quick (insert name here) -- these are the options once you've decided you want to attempt 3 snaps with under 30 seconds and one time out left.

Points: 0

#27 by Will Allen // Feb 03, 2015 - 10:46am

Yes, and if you snap the ball for 2nd down with forty seconds left, then the time taken to run pass play A, instead of pass play B is irrelevant. Frankly, even with one time out and 20 seconds left, it really doesn't matter. Even if you run 10 seconds with the pass play, which is very long even for a bootleg, and the clock stops due to incomplete or Wilson out of bounds, you have 10 seconds and a time out. Plenty for two more plays.

Points: 0

#28 by PaddyPat // Feb 03, 2015 - 11:13am

Objectively, all that you say is true. However, this happened in real time, and in real time, I think the Seahawks were as surprised and confused that Belichick didn't take a timeout as all of us were. I honestly was watching the seconds tick down while watching the game with an almost incredulous sense that it was one of those situations where the clock crew hadn't gotten the memo from the refs that there had been a timeout. I would propose that the Seahawks were operating under the absolute presumption that there had been or would be a timeout, until they suddenly realized they needed to hurry up and get a play off.

Points: 0

#30 by Will Allen // Feb 03, 2015 - 11:47am

It is a gigantic error to assume the behavior of your opponent when there is no advantage to be had in doing so. It should never, ever, be done. Do what you need to to do, and force the opponent to react to you. In that Seattle timeout, two plays should have been called, or three, with two choices for second down, depending on the 1st down result. Then, after Lynch is tackled at the 1 foot line, everybody lines up, and forces Belichik into decision mode.

Points: 0

#37 by PaddyPat // Feb 03, 2015 - 1:19pm

Understand, I am not justifying, or giving some rationale to try to make something seem reasonable. I was offering you my thoughts on the very fallible, human process that was going on for the Seattle coaches and players. I think they were confused that the Patriots didn't call timeout. I think there is a natural tendency to be stunned at the catch on the 5-yard line, and a muddled sense of befuddlement that goes along with suddenly finding yourself in that situation. Would Belichick have been muddled? Probably not. But being even-keeled is one of his strengths. I think the Seattle staff and players went into the play muddled--muddled about New England's clock management, stunned at the sudden reversal in the course of the game, nervous about their own time-management when they needn't have been, etc. etc. The desperate need to use all 4 downs when you have just run for 4 to the 1 yard line implies a fear of the opponent that tells you a lot about Carroll and Bevell's state of mind at that moment.

Points: 0

#32 by goathead // Feb 03, 2015 - 11:59am

Clearly waiting until 26 seconds was a mistake, but in no way should it have led to that call. IF the decision was to pass on 2nd down, Seattle needed to call the sort of play that involves Wilson's strengths, NOT having your 5'10" QB throw over a goal line defense to a 4th string receiver over the middle. The number of things wrong with this call still leaves me scratching my head. If they were truly panicked and needed to get a call in, handing to Lynch followed by a TO if they don't score is the obvious choice, followed by play action with Wilson rolling out and either running it in or throwing it away if nobody is open.

Points: 0

#34 by Will Allen // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:25pm

The entire sequence is indicative of a failure to think it through weeks and months ago. Time out, first and goal, about a minute or less to go, with one more time out left, down by four, is a pretty standard situation. It should have been automatic that two plays get called in the time out, the team lines up right after Lynch gets tackled, and forces the opponent into reactionary behavior. If the defense is ill-prepared, and you catch them trying to substitute, great. If you want to snap the ball at 35 seconds instead of 40, fine. If you just want to keep things really simple, and have the exact same run with Lynch, fine. If you want to run play action bootleg and give Wilson decision making responsibilities (which he has shown competence in, btw), fine. What you don't do is run a vanilla rub route, with 26 seconds left, that everybody practices against all the time, with one of your key receivers in the play in a total physical mismatch against a guy who can predictably jam him, thus increasing the pressure on another receiver, who has no track record of success, to make an outstanding play, on a pass that isn't among the upper echelon that your qb excels at.

Given the time out prior to Lynch's run, this can't be place on Bevell. Carroll screwed this up.

Points: 0

#36 by goathead // Feb 03, 2015 - 12:57pm

I agree completely. I see people cherry picking stats as to why this wasn't an atrocious call, but this misses the point of the specifics of the situation & who the players involved were. You're right this is a very normal situation that a coach should be prepared for, clearly though they weren't. The only thing I can think is that Seattle hadn't considered the possibility that there wouldn't be a timeout called after the first down run.

Points: 0

#43 by BJR // Feb 03, 2015 - 3:22pm

It was certainly a questionable playcall for all the reasons laid out above. But questionable playcalls happen all the time in the NFL. The backlash is against the 'atrocious, most boneheaded playcall ever' hyperbole, which clearly stems from the catastrophic, but extremely unlikely result of the play. If the pass falls incomplete it's questioned, and then depending on what subsequently happens perhaps totally forgotten about.

Worse coaching decisions are made literally every game.

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#48 by Otis Taylor89 // Feb 03, 2015 - 5:22pm

It's crazy to think about, but Pete Carroll has been on the losing end of maybe e the best SB game ever and the best college Championship game ever - I think he's probably doing soming right...

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#64 by Noahrk // Feb 05, 2015 - 9:27am

You know, I hate running the predictable play probably more than anyone, but in this case I had no doubt in my mind that they should have run it and that they would very probably succeed. And with Belichik letting the clock wind down, it was game over. All the talk about planning for four downs is not considering the fact that a 3rd down was unlikely. So yeah, it was an atrocious call.

That being said, of course the result of the play defines everyone's mindset. After all, any given play can work. Even the ones that are not your strong suit and that you call in the most critical moment of the entire season. But before the snap no one in their right minds would call a pass. To me it was the most obvious call of the year.

Who, me?

Points: 0

#50 by Bjorn Nittmo // Feb 03, 2015 - 6:08pm

I'm not sure I agree with the criticism of waiting until there were 26 seconds left. If indeed Seattle let the clock wind down to the point where it felt forced into a passing play it didn't really want to attempt, then I see your point. But the biggest risk (in terms of losing the game) was leaving NE enough time to score. Well, Seattle did of course still need to get the ball in the end zone, but 26 seconds seems to me to be plenty of time to get off 3 plays with one time out left. But I do agree that given the decision to pass a slant was not the best choice.

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#51 by Will Allen // Feb 03, 2015 - 6:32pm

Well, I also tend to think that 26 seconds with one timeout is enough to run three of any plays you want from the one yard line, if you are organized, but if somebody is worried about it, then go ahead and start at 35 seconds or wherever. The biggest risk of losing the game, when you are behind by four inside the last minute, is that you don't score a td. If Lynch had scored on the 1st down run, I don't think Brady would have jumped up and down in celebration, and there is a reason why Belichik didn't order his defense to let the Seahawks score on 2nd down.

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#54 by Bjorn Nittmo // Feb 03, 2015 - 7:47pm

Yes, difference between leaving 25 or 35 seconds is minor, and if those 10 seconds created any panic then that was getting way too fine with the clock management. (Of course, if they felt uncomfortable with the call or formation they probably should have used that final timeout.) But had Lynch scored on first down, there would have been a minute left, which with 2 timeouts left for NE (who, by the way, gratuitously burned one on their final offensive drive, something that at the time I thought they might regret) would have been an entirely different situation. I'm a Giants fan, so I remember quite clearly being very nervous about the amount of time Tom Brady had to attempt a final comeback in the previous two Super Bowls.

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#29 by dmstorm22 // Feb 03, 2015 - 11:21am

The end sequence reminded me a lot of the 4th and 2 game after the Colts took over. They were down 6, at the 28, with a full 2:00 to go, and Manning drained 1:45 off the clock and scored a TD. It was masterful. Clock management is tough, and a pick there is really unlikely, but I would have left a little more time when you have an offense that doesn't really excel at those type of quick-hit passing plays.

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#46 by Scott Kacsmar // Feb 03, 2015 - 4:05pm

Yes, I hate to throw Wilson under the bus here, but I really think if the Seahawks had a Peyton/Brady/Brees at QB on that last drive, they're repeat champions right now. Those guys know how to run the no-huddle hurry-up, and I think they would have known to have run plays ready to go for Lynch. Wilson's young and doesn't have that control yet. He also doesn't have the touch (or I guess height advantage) for those quick passes deep in the red zone. They called a play that 100% goes against what they are offensively.

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#40 by pablohoney // Feb 03, 2015 - 2:15pm

Seattle's short passing game has blown all year. This is arguably the 3rd game they lost because they couldn't convert a goal-line pass. They similarly failed passing on a 2-point conversion against St. Louis (lost by 2) and a 4th and goal against KC (lost by 4), and they looked similarly discombobulated on both. The play call is not bad on the surface, and if this was Denver with no real established power back and Julian Thomas/Damaryus Thomas running the pick play instead of Ricardo Lockette/Jermaine Kearse, I don't think the call is questionable all. But it wasn't. It's like Bevell doesn't even know his own personnel.

Points: 0

#49 by Bjorn Nittmo // Feb 03, 2015 - 5:59pm

Where is all the criticism for the Seattle play calling on their 3rd quarter drive in which they threw from 2nd-and-goal from the 3? How can they throw there when they have Beast Mode(TM)? Did they not notice that he had just ripped off a 14-yard run two plays earlier? What could they have been thinking? Sure, this particular call ended with a 3-yard TD pass to Doug Baldwin, but I wouldn't dare let the results of the play affect my evaluation of the play call decision. (Let me stipulate that this is in no way directed toward any points in this article, just toward the critical mob that's been in full force since the Butler interception.)

Points: 0

#52 by pablohoney // Feb 03, 2015 - 6:35pm

That play call was infinitely better -- not because it worked, but because it used play action, which Seattle is great at.

Honestly, unless you are a bad running team going against a great short yardage defense (neither of which applied here), I don't know why you would ever go 3 WR at the goal line. Just go into a standard short yardage formation with 2 TEs and maybe a FB. If the defense plays coverage, you run. If they stack the line (as happened here) go play action, roll the QB, look for the TE in the corner or the FB in the flat. Worst case you throw it away. Next play do the same thing.

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#55 by Bjorn Nittmo // Feb 03, 2015 - 7:51pm

I really don't mean to defend Seattle's decision to pass on either drive, and I completely agree that play action or a rollout would have been a much better pass play to run than a slant. My point is that if someone truly feels that throwing from the 1 yard line is the most idiotic decision in NFL history then I suspect their tacit approval of the pass from the 3 has more to do with the positive outcome than those 2 yards in starting field position.

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#56 by goathead // Feb 03, 2015 - 7:54pm

Very few real fans are criticizing Seattle calling a pass. They are upset about the specific play call. The TD pass to Baldwin is a great example of a well run play inside the 5. The pick at the end was a dangerous play call from a formation that telegraphed a pass play.

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#60 by Bjorn Nittmo // Feb 04, 2015 - 1:20pm

Certainly many critics are upset over the slant call, but I'd say the overwhelming majority of the torch-and-pitchfork mob calling for Bevel's and Carroll's head on a pike are criticizing passing at all there, instead of taking what most in that group seems to know was a 100% chance of scoring with a Lynch run.

Points: 0

#65 by Noahrk // Feb 05, 2015 - 9:38am

Any play call can succeed, but taking the position that the only way to judge a call is by its result is absurd. A pass is not a bad call there simply because it didn't succeed. Chances of an interception are very low, and yes, Lynch might have fumbled, too. But the entire logic of the game and the teams and the strengths of each demanded a run. It was open and shut, just run the darn ball. If it doesn't work, maybe you pass it on 2nd down.

Now someone might say, "if they pass on 2nd down they wouldn't have the element of surprise". And that would likely not matter because you have a high chance of scoring on first. And would anyone be complaining about a run-call had Lynch fumbled? No. People would be upset with Marshawn, not with the call.

Who, me?

Points: 0

#68 by Lyford // Feb 06, 2015 - 6:42am

"maybe you pass it on 2nd down..."

They did pass it on 2nd down. They ran it down to the one on 1st down.

Points: 0

#70 by SandyRiver // Feb 06, 2015 - 4:34pm

Was watching SoundFX last evening, and one clip was Carroll and the OC right after the Kearse pinball catch, with one (can't remember which) saying words to the effect of, "We run on 1st, pass on 2nd." Evidently the play call wasn't a spur-of-the-2nd-down moment.

Points: 0

#71 by Will Allen // Feb 07, 2015 - 10:03am

It's just ridiculous that they didn't call a more appropriate pass play, and that it wasn't called during the time out, with the instruction that everybody should get lined up immediately, after Lynch is tackled, to put more pressure on Belichik's decision-making. They were disorganized on that entire drive.

Points: 0

#57 by hawkwind // Feb 04, 2015 - 12:47am

Does anybody agree with with Heath Evans here that the play call was right but execution was lacking (I certainly didn't see it this way at the time).

Points: 0

#58 by SFC B // Feb 04, 2015 - 2:49am

The execution was lacking in part because, as Will Allen has mentioned upthread, Kearse had no chance to beat Browner's jam at the line and rub Butler. As long as the Pats properly identified the play and the CBs didn't do something stupid like give the WRs a cushion at the 1 yard line they were going to disrupt the play. That Butler not only broke up the pass but knocked a guy who outweighs him by 20 pounds on his 4th point and made the game-ending interception.

The playcall of "pass" is not, IMO, indefensible. Against a generic defense with generic CB that play call is probably tolerable in the situation. That they ran it against a CB who would 99 out of 100 times dominate their WR and prevent him from executing his responsibilities is a total failure of play calling.

Points: 0

#59 by goathead // Feb 04, 2015 - 11:00am

I don't. I can see the appeal in a generic team A versus team B situation, but apart from just the fact that the players involved weren't right for this play, the downside needs to be included. So yes, that's a higher than average risk pass play. But pick plays by their nature often lead to offensive PI. Similarly, other slower developing pass plays increase the possibility of an offensive hold. Coming into the game, and clearly in evidence throughout was that NE's corners > Seattle's receivers. Seattle was in a situation where they couldn't trust their #1 or #2 receiver to get open, but still wanted a pass play. They needed to be realistic about who they were, and play to their strengths. And THAT is why I think it was a horrendous call. Not because of the result, but because it opened itself to the result. Liken it to a blackjack player standing on 16 while the dealer is showing a 10. When the player loses you don't say it was a bad bet because he lost - you say it was a bad bet because he made a bet that minimized his odds of winning.

Points: 0

#61 by ronnyo // Feb 04, 2015 - 10:51pm

"Carroll's biggest problem is he, or maybe offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, chose a strategy that would maximize the number of plays he could run when he should have been trying to maximize the success rate of the next play."

I'm not sure that's right. Shouldn't he be trying to maximize the chance of winning the game, given three downs and 26 seconds left? It seems like there's a very big difference between that and either maximizing the number of plays or maximizing the success rate of the next play.

Just for argument's sake, if a pass play has a 40% chance of scoring (I'm sure they thought it was higher than that) and a rush has a 90% chance, then running a passing play first and a rushing play next is actually the correct call. Compare the options and their possible outcomes:

Pass first, rush next:
A. Pass scores (40%): Up by 3 and Patriots have possession with max time left
B. Pass fails, rush scores (54%): Up by 3 and Patriots have less time left
C. Both fail (6%): Time for one more play

Rush first, pass next:
Rush scores (90%): Same as A
Rush fails, pass scores (4%): Same as B
Both fail (6%): Same as C

Rush first, rush next:
First rush scores (90%): Same as A
First rush fails, second scores (9%): Same as B (assuming timeout after first rush)
Both fail (1%): Lose the game (no timeouts left after second rush)

The best outcome is B, and the first strategy above maximizes the chance of that outcome. (The exact percentages aren't important as long as the pass has a lower success probability than the rush.)

I suppose they may have underestimated the chance of LOSING the game via turnover (though not sure that's even true, given that there apparently have been some fumbles on rushes from the 1-yard line this season and zero interceptions on passes). But the point is that I'm not sure "success rate on the next play" is the proper outcome to be maximizing here.

Points: 0

#74 by usernaim250 // Feb 09, 2015 - 9:28am

If a run had a 90% chance there is no way anyone would ever call a pass play at the goal line. But it wasn't. The run was probably more like 50% and the pass at worst 35% in that matchup. Just look at the play by play for the game and you'll see Lynch failed on two third and shorts and made one.

Points: 0

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