Two years worth of work. A decade since an NFL team had repeated as champions. A four-second play ends Seattle’s dream.
Watching as the Seahawks let immortality slip from their fingertips, we observed just one of the three possible ways a Super Bowl can play out, each with its own pre-determined public reaction. The first two receive the positive type of media spin. When Tom Brady marches down the field as time expires, willing his team to victory, this remarkable achievement is celebrated, even heralded as an historic moment in the games history.
Same goes for a blowout win, ala Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. As the quarterback kneels for the last time, the praise rains down on the victors, who will be ranked among the best ever to take the field. The focus is always on what the winners did right.
Except today. This is the third category of Super Bowls: the choke. And when the title game is lost rather than won, somebody has to take the blame.
The moment New England’s cornerback Malcolm Butler got his hands on Russell Wilson’s pass into the endzone, the sports tradition known as scapegoating took over social media. What else is there left to do after a championship is decided by a single mistake?
It seemed so simple. The Seahawks had the ball on the 1-yard line. With 30 seconds left in the game, a touchdown seals it. A single yard is all dynamic halfback Marshawn Lynch needs to rumble for a Lombardi Trophy. Instead, Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball, and that ball was intercepted.
So there you have it. Carroll is the newly crowned “easiest man to ridicule” in the world. Hindsight is 20-20, so everyone can clearly see the wrong play was called. Every self proclaimed expert from the pressbox at the University of Arizona stadium, to the guy hanging out in his buddy’s basement, strangely falling ill on Super Bowl Sunday, unable to attend work; everyone now has the right to berate Pete Carroll’s unorthodox decision.
Of course thats what we do. We need to pump our egos. What could be easier that waiting to see if the play works, then judging it accordingly. No matter how futile it is to form an opinion based on the result alone, the hoard of incredulous armchair coaches is growing larger by the second.
So hold on, what if the play had worked? What if the Seahawks receivers successfully picked the Patriots coverage with their crossing routes, as designed? What if Ricardo Lockette caught the ball wide-open in the endzone, effectively ending the game?
Here’s what would have happened, Pete Carroll would be kissing his second Lombardi Trophy, while social media hailed his play call as ingenious. Of course they would. Fans and journalists alike have the luxury of watching everything play out before they make up their minds. NFL coaches aren’t so lucky. They have to make a choice without knowing the consequences.
So why don’t we judge this decision the same way? Have we forgotten how effective the Seahawks have called plays that defy convention, only to fool defenses and convert key downs? Seattle has made their living on offense by rushing the ball when they are expected to pass, and vice-versa. With a run-first attack that lacks the balance of a true offensive juggernaut, what choice does Carroll have? Since week 1 he has needed to find creative ways to put points on the board.
We saw it two short weeks ago, when punter Matt Ryan threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal, pulling Seattle back into a game they were losing badly to a talented Green Bay Packers squad. Without that shot in the dark, it would have been Aaron Rodgers and the boys taking the field against New England today.
The Seahawks even pulled it off today, earlier in the game, when Russell Wilson threw the ball on 2nd and goal from the 3-yard line. Rather than handing it to Lynch, he found Doug Baldwin all alone in the endzone to put Seattle up by 10 in the 3rd quarter. It was an identical scenario to the one that ended the ballgame. The first time, Carroll’s decision to throw the ball paid off handsomely.
When in a goal-line situation, Seattle prefers not to simply pound the ball down the middle. A pass on first or second down, besides the opportunity for an aerial score, plants a seed of doubt into opposing defenses. They are forced to prepare for a passing play, no longer able to stack the box against a run. That opens up lanes for Marshawn Lynch, and thats why he lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns this season.
Yes, throwing the ball in the red zone introduces the possibility of an interception, as we found out the hard way today. Typically, Russell Wilson is adept at throwing the ball away, rather than jamming the ball into tight spaces, risking a pick. He chose the wrong day to try to force one, and he paid the price.
So is Russell Wilson the scapegoat then? Of course not. Without Wilson, the Seahawks would have had less than a prayer in this ballgame. Tom Brady methodically picked apart a battered Seahawks secondary all night. Wilson was forced to come from behind. He could no longer count on Lynch to rumble down the field, wasting precious seconds.
He needed to air it out. And air it out he did. Wilson’s barrage of long balls consistently found the hands of his no-name-brand receiving corps. New England’s stingy secondary could not have shut the passing game down any more effectively, yet Wilson kept finding ways to put up points. He was the team’s only hope, and he was a yard away from single-handedly carrying Seattle to a title.
His only failure was that he could not atone for the inadequacies of his teammates. The Patriots won their fourth championship in 15 years because they were simply the better team.
Pete Carroll did the right thing and took the blame for calling a pass on the goal line. He know darn well what his job is after a crushing loss: take the heat off his players. But if you can manage to block out the angry cries of arrogant sports junkies, you might be able to clear your head enough to realise the truth. The Super Bowl was won, not lost. The better team earned it.