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Super Bowl XLIX – Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots

28 to 24 – 26 seconds – 3 chances – 1 yard

February 1, 2014 – Glendale, Arizona

When National Public Radio takes time to report on an interception in a football game you can be assured it was a major event, even stunning, or more to point the stupidest play call of all time.

Before I rant anymore, Malcolm Butler defended that situation perfectly. That 1 yard pass was dead on to Ricardo Lockette who was in position to catch it when Butler blew him out of position. It is one thing to have your head handed to you; it is a whole different thing when your team gives the opponent the opportunity to make you lose.

Coach Pete Carroll runs a team that takes huge risks such as the touchdown at the end of the first quarter to tie the game at 14-14. At the time I thought he was out of his mind for not taking the field goal. A second later, I was all Tom Brady smug, secure in my insight that going for a touchdown was the only possible choice and that anyone, that even for a moment, considered taking a field goal, was a maggot faced sissy.

In the 3rd quarter Seattle got its game going and began to own both sides of the line and ran off 10 unanswered points. A key part of the dominance was Marshwan “I am only doing this so I don’t get fined” Lynch averaging 5.6 yards per carry. His running game set up the touchdown and the field goal. Without him Seattle was done.

At the end of the 3rd quarter, with Seattle ahead 24 to 14, the game looked as if Seattle was about to unleash a spanking on the Patriots that would leave them feeling like the Broncos did in the 2014 Super Bowl (embarrassed, crushed, and hopeless come to mind).

Tom Brady and the Patriots had different ideas about that and gave Seattle a clinic in how a championship caliber team plays. The next 13 minutes were awful. The 4th quarter, until Seattle’s last drive and the “THE INTERCEPTION”, was all about the Patriots owning the field.

In those first 13 minutes, New England had the ball 10 minutes, completed 15 out of 17 passes for a total of 130 yards and 14 points. They even bothered to run the ball four times for 13 yards. Seattle’s defensive backfield was, plain and simple, ripped apart by one the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The Patriots owned Seattle.

What did Seattle accomplish during that same period? Frankly not much. During the 3 minutes Seattle had the ball, Russell Wilson threw 2 incomplete passes and was sacked once. The only bright spot was Marshwan “Mr. Skittles” Lynch who ran 3 times for 8 yards. There is one conclusion here: New England’s defense went nuts and shut down Seattle. Once again, the Patriots owned Seattle.

4th Quarter recap to this point: Seattle was the equivalent of a prison wife to the Patriots.

But Seattle, as improbable as it seems, finds a way to win in these situations. The bravado and explosiveness is a direct result of Pete Carroll’s leadership.

This team is brutal. This team is relentless. This team is fearless. This team takes huge risks. This team has brilliant talent. Having watched nearly every game of the Pete Carroll period I am absolutely convinced they are the most exciting team to watch in football. It is a Roman Circus.

Proof of that bravado and absolute certainty of what can be accomplished was fully realized when Seattle came back from the dead to beat Green Bay in the NFC Championship two weeks earlier. And they did it overtime after looking like they were road kill. It was a crushing display of how explosive they can be.

With that win behind them, having Seattle getting the ball back with 2:02 left and down 28 to 24 was perfect. I feel pretty confident that I am speaking for most Seahawks followers, that we collectively felt, we had the Patriots exactly where we wanted them. The Seahawks had one chance to win the game that would leave Mr. Brady with no time to comeback.

Yeah, baby, bring it on, and boy, did Seattle deliver. In 1:42 Seattle went 79 yards in 6 plays

  • Pass – Wilson to Lynch 31 yards
  • Pass – Deep right to J. Kearse – Incomplete
  • Pass – Deep right to C. Matthews – Incomplete
  • Pass – Short Right to R. Lockette – 11 yards
  • Pass – Deep Right to J. Kearse – 33 yards. This catch was done in the most spectacular manner possible. The reception was broken up but somehow the ball stayed in the air and when Kearse went down he partially controlled the ball with his legs and hands. Eventually, with him flat on his back, he completed the pass. Wow.
  • Run – Left Tackle – M. Lynch – 4 yards.

At this point there were 26 seconds left and the ball was on the 1 yard line with 3 chances to score a touchdown for the win.

Again: 28 to 24, 26 seconds, 3 chances, 1 yard to make, and 1 timeout left.

The steady hand throughout this game was Marshawn Lynch. With 26 seconds left and 1 yard to go for the win he had carried the ball 24 times for 102 yards with a 4.3 yard average per carry.

Even more telling, in two of those runs he was held to no yards and in another two he gained 1 yard. In other words, 85% of the time he ran for 2 or more yards and if you include the two 1 yard gains he gained yardage 91% of the time. These are the kinds of odds, if stacked against the house, cause the management of a casino to have nightmares.

On the other hand Russell Wilson was having a wholly different type of interesting day. Some statistics will clarify what happened:

  • 1st quarter – He never threw a pass.
  • 2nd quarter – Completed 4 of 6 (66%) for 84 yards (average of 21). The first completion came at 5:36 in the 2nd quarter.
  • 3rd quarter – He completed 5 of 6 (83%) for 88 yards (average of 17.6).
  • 4th quarter – Not including THE INTERCEPTION, he completed 3 of 8 (37.5%) for 75 yards (average of 25 yards).
  • Overall he was 12 of 22 (57%) for 247 (average 11.8).

Going a bit deeper and to a rather reveling place is he completed 4 passes of less than 10 yards while he completed 8 passes for 10 yards with 6 of those being for 20 yards or more. 7 of the 10 incomplete passes were for 10 yards or more.

A different viewpoint is to look at the number of completed passes in terms of the short and long game:

  • 1 of 22 (04.5%) were less than 5 yards
  • 3 of 22 (13.5%) were between 5 yards and less than 10 yards.
  • 2 of 22 (09.1%) were between 10 yards and less than 20 years
  • 6 of 22 (27.3%) were 20 yards or more

Another perspective is to look at the total number of short and long distance attempts:

  • 7 of 22 (31.8%) were less than 10 yards
  • 15 of 22 (68.2%) were 10 yards or more

Clearly something was wonky with the short passing game. Even worse is Seattle tried and completed 1 pass for less than 5 yards all day long (it was a 3 yard pass in the middle of the field). That means that the Seattle’s short passing game, such as in the red zone, was completely eliminated by the Patriots defense.

Throwing short wasn’t just a risky bet but a near suicidal thing to attempt. 1 of 22 (4.5%) for 3 yards. These are the kinds of odds that cause the management of a casino to hand out free drinks and hotel rooms.

Again: 28 to 24, 26 seconds, 3 chances, 1 yard to make, and 1 timeout left. Your choices:

• Go with Marshwan “Beast Mode” Lynch who had gained 1 yard or more 91% of time when he got the ball.

• Go with a short pass to the middle of the line with odds of completing a pass, at best 18%, or at worst 4.5%.

Disasters in a sporting contests often hinge on such bets. The Seahawks at this moment pushed in every dime they had into the game, and with hubris, bravado, total confidence, and yes, blindness, went with a short pass in attempt to neutralize the run stuffing defensive the Patriots had on the field for 2nd down.

In the end it came down to a coaching staff betting huge and wrong, a pass an inch or so misplaced, and a defender that played perfectly. I think it fair to say they should have gone with Beast Mode and instead they went with Least Mode.

The result was two additional opportunities were squandered and the game was over; the Patriots had intercepted the pass and proceeded to run out the clock. With 26 seconds left the play began and it ended 4 seconds later with Seattle’s greatest opportunity to enter the most select group of teams that won back to back championships having evaporated like water in a desert.

This play transpired so quickly that it wasn’t clear what occurred for a moment or two and then came the realization that Seattle hadn’t used Marshawn and instead Russell had tossed an interception that cost them the win. What was inevitable unfortunately became inevitable.

I have spent more than a few words using numbers to explain why passing at that moment was a horrible choice. In the moment, while we watched it unfold, we didn’t have the time to calculate this disaster. Still there was a fine intuitive understanding of all this; the human mind is quite wonderful in how it can be brilliant at reducing complex and ambiguous data sets to reasonable answers.

The people I watched the game with were collectively stunned into a moment of silence and then let out a gut punch groan. It was awful, utterly awful thing to experience. The response was instantaneous and permanent: that not running the ball was stupidest call ever made in sports. The calculation and answer was far more perfect than any percentage.

A day later it is still clear that this decision was a stunning miscalculation that cost the Seahawks sports immortality. A day later Coach Carroll stands by his decision and I honor him for that. Then again it is his job to shine the brightest light possible on a dark, dark outcome.

As sports fans we were given one of the greatest games of all time. It was dramatic, it was dynamic, it had Brady at his most brilliant, it had Marshawn being brutally magnificent, and it hung in the balance until the score was 28 to 24 with 26 seconds left and 3 chances to make 1 yard.

The Patriots won and deserved it having played with precision and passion that was a thing a beauty. I can’t say Seattle lost beyond what the score says, that team has a wildness and brutality about them that is everything the Patriots aren’t; this too is a thing of beauty.

Such events, no matter how transitory, can profoundly define the human experience so plainly that even National Public Radio even has to take notice that a thing of great beauty happened.

Copyright 2015 – Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

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