As entertaining as the 49th Super Bowl was, as splendidly as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots played in winning it, the enduring memory most of us will have is the boneheaded play ordered by Pete Carroll that ended it.
With 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Seattle Seahawks stood at the Patriots’ half-yard line, trailing 28-24. It was second down, and Marshawn Lynch, the most powerful running back since Earl Campbell, was waiting to carry the ball into the end zone.
It was a no-brainer, but Carroll’s brain malfunctioned. “Throw the ball,” the Seahawks coach told his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell.
So Bevell called a quick slant to Ricardo Lockette. Russell Wilson threw, and an undrafted rookie cornerback, Malcolm Butler, cut in front of the receiver and intercepted at the goal line.
It was a bizarre ending to a bizarre season. The Seahawks’ shot at the goal line was set up by a 33-yard pass from Wilson that Jermaine Kearse bobbled five times before securing the ball lying on his back.
Patriots Nation saw the game being taken from them, ever so tentatively. And then, Carroll gave it all back. Ever so stupidly.
Afterward, Carroll said he wanted to win a matchup against a defense that was packed in tight to jam the run.
“We were throwing the ball really to try to waste that play,” he said – surely the most bizarre quote ever made in context of the final half minute of a close Super Bowl.
Seattle’s final drive was a study in wasted plays and wasted time. After Kearse’s juggling act, Butler pushed him out of bounds at the 5, stopping the clock. But Carroll still called a timeout because he was unsure of what to do.
Lynch, in full Beast Mode, carried to the 1, and the Hawks burned off 40 seconds before the ill-fated pass. Carroll was right that with one timeout remaining, they couldn’t run three times. But whose fault was that?
Former linebacker Ted Johnson, who earned three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, said on Houston’s AM-610: “It’s a sign of poor coaching when you’re wasting that much time in a 2-minute drill.”
Another sign of poor coaching: a team that leads the league in penalties. A personal foul by safety Earl Thomas and a 3rd-down offsides by defensive end Cliff Avril were key factors in two New England touchdowns.
Now I see why Robert Kraft fired Carroll as his coach, in 1999. Kraft said he feared the easygoing “players’ coach” was not instilling enough discipline in the team. Enter hard-line taskmaster Bill Belichick.
After Carroll all but handed Belichick his fourth Lombardi Trophy, the Hawks coach said, “There’s really nobody to blame but me.”
Give him credit for honesty. Some of his players agreed with him. Linebacker Bruce Irvin: “Best back in the league, and the 1-yard line. It was like half a yard. I will never understand that. . . . That’s crazy.”
Carroll offered his explanations: “We had great matchups for the call we made. . . . You never think you’ll throw an interception, just as you don’t think you would fumble.”
Which only leads to more second-guessing. Why would you not consider the possibility of an interception, especially considering that Wilson threw four of them to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game?
And if you insist on passing, why that particular route? Wilson’s short stature – 5-10 ¾ — limits his effectiveness throwing from the pocket into the middle of the defense. He’s prone to having passes batted down or tipped up where they can be picked off by a defender.
A more prudent play would have been a rollout (no quarterback, save perhaps MVP Aaron Rodgers, is better throwing on the run). Or Bevell could have called a fade to be lobbed far over the defense into the back of the end zone.
But Carroll, Bevell and Wilson combined for just about the dumbest play possible in that situation.
And so we conclude what Roger Goodell in his State of the Game Address called “a terrific year of football.”
By his own admission it was anything but terrific for the commissioner, under heavy fire from all directions because of his botching of numerous crises: class-action concussion lawsuit, epidemic domestic violence among players, including such stars as Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy.
And then, of course, Deflategate, allegations that the Patriots tampered with footballs before or during the AFC Championship Game.
Goodell seems unable to deal with law, order and justice in the vast corporation he leads. Spygate, Bountygate and Deflategate all occurred after he succeeded Paul Tagliabue as commissioner in 2006.
Larry Stone of the Seattle Times cited “a general rule of thumb: If a commish has three ‘gates’ on his watch, something is amiss.”
Goodell seems to think all that matters is amping up the revenues. Given that the NFL owners pay him $44 million a year, it’s somewhat understandable that he’s obsessed with the bottom line. He has vowed to increase NFL revenues from $11 billion this year to $25 billion by 2027.
But as Tagliabue told GQ (“Season from Hell”), Goodell is losing the trust of the players: “If they see you making decisions only in economic terms, they start to understand that and question what you are all about. There’s a huge intangible value in peace. There’s a huge intangible value in having allies.”
Goodell’s persistent mismanagement has created chaos in the sport. Now there’s yet another gate: Noisegate.
The Atlanta Falcons admit they’re under investigation for piping in noise in the Georgia Dome to interfere with play-calling by opponents.
When the commissioner is arbitrary in administering discipline, he can expect little self-discipline from players, coaches, owners. He seems unable to grasp that there’s more to life and leagues than money.
There are reports Goodell is considering making the Super Bowl a pay-per-view event, taking a page from the boxing playbook. That’s a good plan if you want to make a lot of money fast. And you don’t mind sacrificing the future.