Pete Carroll Needn't be Sleepless in Seattle | THE POLITICUS

Pete Carroll Needn't be Sleepless in Seattle

Thanks to this year's Super Bowl we now have another example of how conventional wisdom is frequently wrong.

Two days after the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, the reactions to what is being labeled "The Call" have been unsparing.  

On second and goal from the 1-yard line and with just 30 seconds remaining, Seattle coach Pete Carroll decided to pass the ball rather than hand it to "human battering ram" Marshawn Lynch to get the final 36 inches for a Seahawks' victory.

Instead, Patriot rookie DB Malcolm Butler jumped the slant route and intercepted quarterback Russell Wilson's pass at the goal line to preserve New England's 28-24 victory - their fourth Super Bowl crown in the last 14 years - thus securing Tom Brady's place as arguably the greatest NFL quarterback of all time.

Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders said Carroll's decision to pass instead of run was "the worst play call in the history of the Super Bowl."  

Fellow Dallas Cowboy Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith did Sanders one better, saying Carroll's blunder was "the worst play call I've seen in the history of football."

"Worst ever" is fast-hardening into the near-universal conventional wisdom regarding coach Carroll's unfortunate call.  

But the conventional wisdom does not always bear up to the facts.

Coach Carroll's call may not be as bad as you think, writes the Boston Globe's Alex Speier who's run the numbers and finds that "history is not on the side of those who think the pass from the 1-yard line was the worst call ever."

First, consider the situation. Had the Patriots stopped Lynch on that second-down rush, the Seahawks would have been forced to use their final timeout. Then, Seattle would have had no choice but to pass. By passing on second down, the Seahawks had the opportunity to then run two more times -- providing there was no turnover.

Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said it wasn't the call he faulted but its execution. He had "no problem" going for the quick strike the way the Seahawks did since "a lot of people would have taken the shot."

Speier also finds that over the last three years, there were just four times a team had to score a touchdown while playing from the 1-yard line in the final 30 seconds of a game.  Twice the team rushed, getting stuffed once and scoring once. Twice the team passed, and both were incompletions.

Lastly, just handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch wasn't the no-brainer all those  Monday morning quarterbacks out there were making it out to be, says Speier, since "Lynch doesn't have the bulldozing track record that one might anticipate from the 1-yard line."  

In 2014, Speier says the Seahawks gave Lynch the ball five times when they were at the 1-yard line and Lynch got into the end zone just one time. That is well short of the league average in that situation, which is 57.5%  

Over the past three years, Lynch failed to reach the end zone from the 1-yard line seven times while hitting pay dirt just five times. Also factoring into Carroll's calculation was the fact that in the last three years, Lynch's runs had resulted in either negative yardage or a fumble more than 10% of the time.  

Those were the odds running through coach Carroll's head when Bill Belichick trotted out what Keith Jackson liked to call "The Big Uglies" to mount the Patriots' goal line stand.

The simple truth, as Speier notes, is that "the Seahawks simply haven't been very good from the 1." The Seahawks successfully passed for touchdowns on just 3 of  8 occasions from the 1-yard line, ran for a score just 7 of 16 times and converted on just 5 of 12 attempts when quarterback Russell Wilson tried to run or pass from the goal line.

Don' get me wrong. As a transplanted New England Patriots fan who lives just down the road from Foxboro's Gillette Stadium, I was elated when -- as one clever post-Super Bowl T-shirt described his game-winning pick -- "the Butler did it!"

But as a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan who knows all too well the agony of defeat, I instinctively empathized with the pain and suffering of the Seahawks and their coach, Pete Carroll.

After all, the Cleveland Browns have never been to the Super Bowl. Since becoming a Browns fan as a sixth-grader in 1968,  I'd seen my hometown team misfire five separate times when they were just one step short of going to the Big Show.

The Cleveland Browns have their own roster of infamous moments captured forever between quotation marks.  First was the "The Drive" that John Elway engineered when the Denver Broncos beat the Browns in overtime in the 1986 AFC Championship. Then was "The Fumble" that  Browns running back Ernest Byner coughed up at the goal line as Denver beat the Browns again in the 1987 AFC Championship.

However indelible and infamous "The Drive" and "The Fumble" might be in Cleveland sports lore, they cannot compare to another heartbreaking blunder known simply as "Red Right 88," a  disaster that reminds me of Seattle's own meltdown two days ago.

Trailing 14-12 with less than a minute to go in the 1981 divisional playoff game against the eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders, quarterback Brian Sipe and Cleveland's "Kardiac Kids" were in point-blank range from the Raider 14-yard line for a potential game-winning field goal.  

All season long, Sipe and the Kardiac Kids had stolen victory from the jaws of defeat with their thrilling last minute heroics. Against Oakland in the 1981 playoffs, Sipe led the Browns on a furious, late-game downfield drive from his own 15-yard line deep into Raider territory after Cleveland's defense came up big and stopped the Raiders on fourth and inches with less than two minutes to go.

Sitting at the Raiders 14 on second down with time running out, conventional wisdom that January afternoon 33 years ago dictated the Browns should have given the ball to their bruising full back, Mike Pruitt, to pound out what yardage he could before bringing in kicker Don Cockroft for the winning field goal.

Instead, the Browns threw the dice one more time with a pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome. When the Raider's Mike Davis jumped the route (just as Malcolm Butler did when he beat Richardo Lockette to the spot on Sunday) the Kardiac Kids thrilling season came to a crushing end.

Then as now the second guessing of Browns' coach Sam Rutigliano was intense. I couldn't believe it myself. I thought we'd literally thrown away certain victory.

But then as now appearances can be deceiving. Forgotten amid all the "what ifs" that followed Sipe's interception was the fact the Brown's kicking game had completely collapsed. Partly it was due to the 30-below wind chill conditions in Cleveland Stadium that day. Party it was the two herniated discs in Cockroft's back.

The bottom line was that the Browns had already left 10 points on the field - a blocked extra point plus three missed "chip shot" field goals from 47, 41 and just 30 yards away. It was enough to make NBC announcer John Brodie say during that last fateful drive that the Browns better try for a touchdown.  

Asked by a fellow ESPN analyst when Pete Carroll might get over the pain of Sunday's loss, Trent Dilfer said without hesitation: "Never." The second guessing over the "worst ever" call in NFL history and the agonizing suddenness with which the certainty of victory became the reality of defeat, are the kind of disappointments Carroll will never forget, said Dilfer.

And you never do. I still remember the disappointment of that sudden loss to Oakland more than 30 years after Sipe threw his wounded duck into a stiff Lake Erie breeze when another thrilling Kardiac Kid victory seemed so firmly within our grasp.

That's what is so unfair about sports. The agony of defeat lingers long after the thrill of victory fades away. And while Pete Carroll may never fully get over this loss, the facts bear out that his was not the "worst call ever."  Instead, the chips just did not fall his way. That consolation, perhaps, might help Pete Carroll sleep better at night, as it will all those other disappointed Seattle Seahawks fans everywhere.

 

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