- The Falcons dodged a miniature version of their Super Bowl collapse thanks a little bit of help from Pete Carroll, who unsuccessfully tried a fake field goal at the end of the first half and burned a key timeout on a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter.
1. What if I told you the Falcons’ season was on the line and their ability to run time off the clock was a key factor in getting the critical win or losing in crippling fashion? Let’s start with the look on head coach Dan Quinn’s face around the 4:18 mark in the fourth quarter. Atlanta just got a rushing touchdown at the goal line called back. Quinn's insistence on getting the clock exactly right, and then running a full playclock’s worth of time off before taking a delay of game penalty, had to be like visual Tylenol for a fan base that has seen this movie before. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. It can’t be for Quinn.
Seattle mounted a stunning comeback with a rapid-fire touchdown to Doug Baldwin and put the Falcons back on their own 21-yard line with 2:54 to play up just a field goal. The Seahawks had one timeout plus the two-minute warning. The calls from new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who has a chance to stiff arm the ghost of Kyle Shanahan and his Super Bowl play calls? Tevin Coleman left. Tevin Coleman middle. And on third-and-3? Shotgun, lone running back, four wide receivers. Matt Ryan is dropped five yards in the backfield by Sheldon Richardson. Seattle gets the ball with 1:46 to go, down just a field goal at their own 25-yard line with a chance to tie. The Falcons are jumping offsides as the Super Bowl nightmare starts gripping them tighter. Should-be MVP candidate Russell Wilson gets the Seahawks to within field goal range…then, another heartbreaking NFL storyline takes over….
2. Poor Blair Walsh. A 52-yard attempt from the left-middle hash. The kicker best known for a playoff miss in 2016 nails a ball that looks dead on for those watching at home on television. Inside the stadium, the arc of the ball dies just before the crossbar. On one sideline, Quinn can’t stop smiling as his headset is unhooked off his waist. Walsh gets bear-hugged by Seahawks center Justin Britt. It was a situation Carroll didn’t want to put Walsh in to begin with. He tinkered with the idea of a quick sideline route with seven seconds remaining to inch the team closer. He opted instead for a decision that could end up having a damaging long-term effect on a Pro Bowl kicker who seemed to be on the road to recovery.
3. This was a horrible night for Pete Carroll. After calling an egregious fake field goal shovel pass to tight end Luke Wilson with seven seconds remaining in the first half that was blown up four yards in the backfield, he burned a valuable timeout in the fourth quarter on a challenge that was clearly not going his way. Carroll seemed to buy into Doug Baldwin’s on-field bit to sell the referees on a completion. Baldwin is one of football’s most cerebral wide receivers, and I cannot imagine he didn’t somehow notify Carroll not to waste a timeout there.
Back to the fake field goal: The Seahawks had a 35-yard attempt from the right-middle hash. There were only seven seconds remaining in the second quarter. Even if Wilson gains a first down, what’s the best-case scenario there? Budding star Grady Jarrett is lined up on a long-snapper, who he can easily toss to the side. No part of that scenario was in Carroll's favor.
4. This was a Monday night classic. The war up front was fascinating to watch. I could have spent 60 minutes tracking Vic Beasley spying Russell Wilson. It was so clear by some of Beasley’s maneuvers how closely he studied Wilson during the week. On one particular play in the first half, he was knocked down in pursuit and, instead of continuing to chase Wilson, he faded to where the quarterback typically reverses field, stopping the scramble cold. On another play, Wilson lost Beasley and raced for a first down. But it was more than just a man on man matchup—it was coordinator vs. coordinator at the highest level. The Falcons went back to their 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) to negate Seattle’s defensive line strength. The Seahawks ran several versions of a similar running back screen to negate Atlanta’s defensive line speed (and Jarrett’s plum matchup against Seattle guard Oday Aboushi).