Super Bowl 49 was, indisputably, one of the greatest football games ever played by the two best teams in the NFL this season.
The head coaching masterminds played a chess match as one of the greatest defenses ever lined up against the greatest quarterback ever. Yet none of that garnered much attention at all in the media following the Patriots’ victory. Instead, everyone lingered around one repetitive question: Why did the Seahawks decide to throw the ball on 2nd and goal from the one yard line instead of handing the ball off to the best running back in the NFL?
First, understand the situation the Seahawks were in at the time. After the Tyree-esque catch by Kearse down the sideline and a Lynch four yard run that nearly broke the plane, the coaching staff was certainly in a frenzy. But with 50 seconds left and the ball at the one yard line, they had to be careful as to not leave Tom Brady enough time to bring the Patriots down the field for a game-tying field goal.
Having just one timeout and three downs to play with, Pete Carroll and Darell Bevell had two options: Run the ball with Marshawn Lynch and risk him coming up short, which would have triggered the use of their final timeout, or throw the ball and either score the go-ahead touchdown or stop the clock to bring in your goal line personnel. With merely 10-15 seconds to make this critical decision, the Seahawks decided, as you well know by now, to throw.
Despite being received poorly because of it’s connotation, when Pete Carroll told reporters that he “was trying to waste a play” (via The Seattle Times‘ Jerry Brewer) it actually made logical sense. With three downs left to win the Super Bowl, the Seahawks are only afforded the luxury of running the ball on two of those downs. If Lynch, hypothetically, gets stuffed on 2nd down and the Seahawks burn that final timeout, that then gives the defense the bulk of the leverage given that they know what the next two play calls will have to be. Russell Wilson will be all but forced to throw the ball on 3rd down, and, if unsuccessful, will certainly hand it to Lynch on 4th down. When the defense knows what’s coming, they’re far more likely to stop it.
Was the play call on 2nd down cute? Sure. But if it works, as Malcolm Butler later admitted it had in practice, nobody utters a peep about the decision. The New England defenders fully expected the 220+ pound beast to carry the rock on the goal line there, and the element of surprise probably catches them 9 times out of 10. In fact, despite Brandon Browner’s fantastic job jamming the screening receiver on the last play, Lockette is actually streaking open when Wilson releases the ball. Malcolm Butler’s break on the receiver while somehow managing to catch the ball should be celebrated, as opposed to the decision on the other end.
If anything should fall into scrutiny it should be the actual play design, not the decision to throw the ball. Granted we have had days as opposed to the mere seconds the Seahawks had to decide, I would have run a read-option play which allows Wilson to either hand the ball to Lynch, take it himself, or if all fails, throw the ball out the back of the end zone. I tend to think the entire team would have bit on the fake to Lynch and Wilson could have walked into the end zone.
Granted we have had days as opposed to the mere seconds the Seahawks had to decide, I would have run a read-option play which allows Wilson to either hand the ball to Lynch, take it himself, or if all fails, throw the ball out the back of the end zone. I tend to think the entire team would have bit on the fake to Lynch and Wilson could have walked into the end zone.
Was the mastery in this sequence actually Bill Belichick’s decision not to call a timeout? With two timeouts and just under one minute of game time, Belichick decided to let the clock run and trust his defense over giving the ball back to Brady. Seattle wants to burn as much time as possible as to not give the greatest quarterback ever the ball back with enough time to tie the game up. Chaos ensued and “The Hoodie” won. Had he called timeout, the Seahawks put in the goal-line personnel, run the ball, and win the Super Bowl.
But no, Pete Carroll is not the scapegoat, nor is Darrell Bevell, or Russell Wilson, or Ricardo Lockette, or anyone else; Malcolm Butler is simply the hero. A big play in the biggest moment WON the Super Bowl, nobody lost it.