GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas sat near lockers in the Seattle Seahawks’ locker room, with their jerseys off, their uniform pants on and way, way too much time to think. How could you explain this?
Losing the Super Bowl is brutal. Losing like this … well, maybe somebody, somewhere, has a good explanation for what happened at the end of this game. But that somebody is not Pete Carroll.
Carroll blew this game. He dropped the silver platter. He got three feet from the finish line and decided to grab a cheeseburger. The Patriots led, 28-24, but Seattle was on the Patriots’ one-yard line in the final minute.
Carroll’s Seahawks had three plays to gain one yard to win the championship. He had the best power runner in the league on his team, a mediocre set of receivers and only one logical option: Give it to Marshawn Lynch.
To that point in the game, Lynch had run the ball 24 times. He had gained at least one yard 22 of those times. And even on those two runs, he was merely stopped for no gain -- it’s not like he lost yardage. He rarely loses yardage, because he is the hardest man in the league to tackle.
Even Katy Perry, fresh off her dance with sharks and more than a normal day’s worth of sky-walking, must have been thinking “Hey, fellas, just keep it simple here.”
Before we get into Carroll’s explanation, let’s be clear about a few things:
1. There is no good explanation for that call.
2. See No. 1.
3. The Patriots are absolutely, unequivocally worthy Super Bowl champions. They were one of the best teams in the league all year and the best team over the course of the postseason. They were probably the best team in this game. And let’s be clear about something else: Butler made a fantastic play to intercept Wilson.
But the Patriots would have been worthy if they had lost, too. That’s the point. Sometimes these games just come down to one play, and it doesn’t really matter who played better in October or December or even in the first 59 minutes that day. We saw it when Seattle beat Green Bay, and when Green Bay beat Dallas, and when Dallas beat Detroit. And we saw it again in the 49th Super Bowl.
4. OK, back to No. 1.
Carroll said he didn’t like the personnel matchup. The Patriots had their goal-line defense on the field, but the Seahawks had three receivers, and he didn’t want to run Lynch into a goal-line defense, so …
… Seattle fans, take a deep breath before you read these words …
“We throw the ball, really, to kind of waste that play,” Carroll said.
Wait. WHAT? It’s 2nd-and-goal from the one-yard line. There is less than a minute left in the Super Bowl. You don’t waste a play there! And you certainly don’t choose to waste it by throwing to your No. 3 (or No. 4) receiver, Ricardo Lockette, in the middle of the field. Anything can happen there -- a catch, sure, but also a carom, a lineman tipping the pass, or, yes, the defensive back jumping the route. This was like having a great night at the casino, and on the way out, you bet all of your winnings on the Jaguars.
Mostly, though: The Patriots put their goal-line defense out there for a reason. They knew the only logical choice was to give it to Lynch. If you’re going to pass (which you don’t) you call a fade route to 6-foot-5 receiver Chris Matthews (even though you shouldn’t pass), because at least that would give Wilson a chance to throw it into the stands if Matthews isn’t open. Did I mention you don’t call a pass there?
“There is nobody to blame but me,” Carroll said. “They busted their tails and unfortunately it didn’t work out ... It’s a very, very hard lesson. I hate to learn the hard way, but there is no other way to look at it right now.”
Give Carroll credit for answering questions and understanding that this was the story of the Super Bowl. He said repeatedly: He gets it.
“I understand you have a million questions about this,” he said. “It’s really OK. I understand why you’re asking.”
That’s great that you understand, Pete, but the thing is, you needed one yard and had maybe the best running back in the world on your team and …
“Yeah, you can ask all you want,” he said, and he was a little testy, but he didn’t break down, so kudos to him. He just continued: “We were going to run the ball to win the game, but not on that down, and that was it.”
Carroll hadn’t really processed everything emotionally -- that could take days -- and he didn’t have good answers. But he stood there and took the arrows in the chest.
And yet … I suspect that the more Carroll thinks about this, the more angry he will be at himself. His players know he botched it. I heard a player repeat this sentiment in the Seattle locker room. (It may have been the same player, for all I know.)
The game was there to be won. Two plays before the interception, Jermaine Kearse made this ridiculous, David Tyree-esque catch at the New England five. It was so preposterous that anybody cheering for either team had to think this was just Seattle’s day. Then, on first down from the five, Lynch ran for four yards.
That play ended with 59 seconds left. Seattle had one timeout. New England had two.
I thought Patriots coach Bill Belichick would burn a timeout there, to give his offense some time if the Seahawks scored. I also thought Belichick might tell his players to let the Seahawks score quickly, to ensure that Tom Brady would have some time to drive for a game-tying field goal. You see that occasionally -- when he coached the Packers, Mike Holmgren let the Broncos score late in the Super Bowl -- and letting the other team score is never a great option. But sometimes, you only have bad options and worse options. I would not have faulted Belichick for letting Seattle score quickly.
But Belichick didn’t do that. He also didn’t call timeout. Frankly, he probably blew it there. If Seattle had scored, maybe we would all be wondering why Belichick, the best coach of his generation, didn’t call timeout. But this is where Carroll started to get cute.
Carroll had 59 seconds, one timeout and one yard to go. That was plenty of time for him and Bevell to run three plays they liked. They should never be in a position where they feel like they have to “waste a play” on second down.
But ... but … but: Carroll said he wanted to make sure New England didn’t have any time on the clock. And again, this brings up a question that I believe I asked before: WHAT?
You’re losing the game! You have the best defense in the league! What was the point of all that Legion of Boom trash talk the last two years if those guys can’t keep Tom Brady from marching 80 yards in 45 seconds? Carroll should have gotten his touchdown first and worried about the rest later.
Seattle sent an extra receiver onto the field, replacing its fullback, which was inexplicable. And then they lined up in the shotgun formation, which meant the Patriots didn’t even have to worry about Wilson, the best running quarterback in the league, taking the snap and trying to sneak into the end zone himself.
Then the Seahawks waited until there were five seconds on the play clock and 26 seconds on the game clock to snap the ball. This was the very opposite of the hurry-up offense. This was a beach vacation.
So let’s sum up here: The Seahawks didn’t want to leave any time on the clock. So they waited 33 seconds to run a play. Then they called a pass, which would have stopped the clock if it fell incomplete. It wasn’t any pass, either -- it was a dangerous pass. Meanwhile, Lynch was running a decoy pass pattern instead of carrying the ball like he should have.
Hey, we all second-guess coaches. It’s an American pastime. Usually, the coach has a decent reason for doing what he did, and almost always, we must acknowledge that the coach knows way more about the situation than we do. Pete Carroll is a great football coach who made an incredibly dumb decision, and he learned an incredibly painful lesson. He didn’t just waste a play. He wasted his chance to win another Super Bowl.