It has been five years since Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell decided to throw the ball on the one-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX with second and goal to go and one timeout left.
Instead of handing the ball off to arguably the best running back in the NFL at the time in Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks brass opted to pass the ball over the middle on a slant play to Ricardo Lockette. With the receiver blanketed in coverage, Russell Wilson's pass was picked off by Malcolm Butler of the Patriots, eliminating the chance of a title repeat.
Many sports experts dubbed it the worst play call in Super Bowl history and a play that will define Carroll's legacy for the rest of his life. After the game, Carroll tried to explain his line of thinking to NFL.com's Michael Silver.
"It's not like we abandoned the running game or any of that kind of stuff," Carroll said. "The matchup happened. We knew that on one of those plays in there, you're going to have to throw it because you needed to stop the clock so you could get the other two plays run, and that's basically what happened. If we run it there and don't make it, then we'd have to use the time out. Then what happens on third and fourth down. Those are all the thoughts we'd already had. So we were clear as can be about it."
"It's really hard on everybody to understand that, but it had nothing to do with Marshawn, it had nothing to do with all the yards we'd rushed for. It was to make sure we had all three plays that we could execute at the end of the game, and not everybody gets that."
Since that fateful play, fans and experts presented the question: did Wilson have the go-ahead to audible and check-down to a run play for Lynch like some of his peers such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees would have?
After pitching that exact question to former Seahawks quarterback and current ESPN 710 analyst Jake Heaps, he indicated Wilson didn't have such flexibility at that stage of his career.
"I'll just tell you in that situation no. That's going to be a call that comes from your [offensive] coordinator, and at that time in his career, he doesn't have the same licensing that he has now," Heaps said.
Only in his third season in the NFL, the Seahawks understandably had yet to hand the keys over to Wilson completely to drive the offense on his own. Since then, particularly under the guidance of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer over the past two years, the organization has expanded how much responsibility he has as field general.
"I think one of the cool things now," Heaps elaborated. "Is ever since Brian Schottenheimer got to Seattle, he has given Russell more control of the offense at the line scrimmage. I think that relationship has been really good and they [will] continue to grow together."
It's easy to revisit that dismal interception and wonder if things would've turned out differently if Wilson had the ability to audible in that situation. Would he have even opted to make a change with his number called to potentially throw a game-winning touchdown? And if he did hand it off to Lynch, what happens if he doesn't get into the end zone?
There'd be one heck of a ripple effect if Lynch did plow his way forward for six points. Maybe Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are still Seahawks. Maybe Darrell Bevell would still be calling plays on the sideline. Maybe the franchise would have three or more Lombardi trophies. We'll never know.
Heaps believes Wilson would've been able to handle audibles and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage earlier in his career, including in that high-stakes scenario. With that said, given how the quarterback has grown into one of the NFL's best, he's not going to question how they handled his development.
After throwing 66 touchdowns and posting a passer rating of 108.4 over the past two seasons working with Schottenheimer, Heaps can't wait to see what the duo can accomplish in 2020.
"I think Russell has always had the capability and the knowledge to be able to do it, but in the last few seasons, they have given him more control, and he has been taking ownership of it. So, I'm excited to see what they put together in year three together."