PETE CARROLL DOESN'T have a reputation as a gambler. In fact, his Seahawks had fewer fourth-down attempts (11) than all but six teams this season. Yet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line and his club trailing 17--13 early in the fourth quarter, he called back his field goal unit on fourth-and-seven from the San Francisco 35.
At first glance the move seemed irrational—the Seahawks had failed on a fourth-and-six earlier in the game and were just 6 for 11 on such attempts during the season—but it proved to be more cunning than crazy. Carroll knew a 52-yard field goal was too far for Steven Hauschka, and a punt attempt could well have netted only 15 yards in field position. Quarterback Russell Wilson, capitalizing on a free play after the 49ers jumped offside, found streaking wideout Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown that gave Seattle its first lead in what would be a 23--17 victory.
It remains to be seen whether Carroll's gutsy call represents a philosophical shift or a coach caught up in the moment. In either case, expect fourth downs in Super Bowl XLVIII to be a little more suspenseful. (Broncos coach John Fox was even more conservative than Carroll during the season, with nine fourth-down attempts, eight of which were converted.) Although the percentages didn't work in Carroll's favor on Sunday—the Seahawks were 1 for 3 on fourth down—the lone conversion was game-altering because it forced San Francisco to play catch-up for the first time. "Sometimes you've got to go for something," says Russell. "You've got to believe in your guys and believe that you can get it."
It's surprising that more coaches don't go for it more often: Playoff teams converted on 56% of their fourth downs. That one conversion is unlikely to change the image of Carroll as a conservative coach who plays percentages; his blueprint for success remains a strong running game, stingy defense and good field position. Many people will want to make this Super Bowl about Carroll's proving his critics wrong, and he does take a small bit of satisfaction in doing that. On Sunday, rolling the dice his way, he cashed in his biggest NFL victory.