Patriots rookie cornerback Malcom Butler making his historic pick

Patriots rookie cornerback Malcom Butler making his historic pick

Note: I apologize for how long it has taken me to get this blog written. The article itself explains why…This is a long one, and it covers a lot of ground. In the process of writing it I looked at and evaluated many things, which really helped me put the Seahawks Super Bowl loss on that last minute interception into some kind of perspective. I hope this article does the same for you…MA 

It has taken me a while to write this blog. Several times I sat down to do it, but I just couldn’t. To do so would have been like probing a raw, open wound with no anesthetic, and if you are a “Twelve” I am sure that you understand me completely. Nevertheless, our impulse to survive in this universe requires that we make some effort to evaluate our experiences, good or bad, painful or joyous, to derive what lessons we can from them that will assist us in future endeavors. It is important that we do this, not just to shed the pain of loss, but to gain the perspective and wisdom needed to understand.

Knowing this, I tried to write this article within the first few hours after our Seattle Seahawks epic 28-24, Super Bowl XLIX loss to the New England Patriots; and then tried again within the first few days after. In both efforts I could not get past what seemed to be, in my upset, the clear and only lesson of this tragedy:

When you have a 2nd and goal from inside the one yard line in the Super Bowl with 26 seconds left to play and trailing 28 to 24, and you have Beast Mode on your team, you give him the ball. 

The obviousness of that statement stood in stark contrast to what the Seahawks did do on that now historic 2nd and goal play—a Russell Wilson pass to Ricardo Lockette on a shallow, slant route that was picked off by Patriots defensive back Malcom Butler. Virtually all the pundits I have seen and heard, and all the fans I have talked to—even those who, with their vast reservoir of football knowledge and strategy, thought they understood why Pete Carroll might have called for a pass in that situation—said they would have handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch. With that preponderance of opinion in alignment with my own observation, I felt no wiser and had shed none of the sting of this defeat…and so I did not write.

In short, it hurt too much.

The great Johnny Unitas

The great Johnny Unitas

So I continued to live my day to day life while listening, watching and reading to gain insight; and let time do its thing. In the process much went through my mind. I thought back to the early days of football, before the high powered passing offenses of today, when the potential and effectiveness of the forward pass as a gridiron weapon had not yet been fully plumbed. Back in those days, the 1930s and 40’s, many a football coach, when confronted with the option of throwing the ball, would dismiss the idea out of hand. “Three things can happen when you throw the ball,” they said, “and two of them are bad,” a fact the Seahawks once again demonstrated on that 2nd and goal play in the Super Bowl. Hell, even the great Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, the man who did more to usher in the modern, pro football passing offense than any quarterback ever; and who carved up the New York Giants’ storied, Sam Huff [1]led defense with his laser precise throws to Raymond Berry [2] in that historic 1958 sudden death NFL Championship game—even Johnny U, when faced with a 2nd and goal from the one yard line in the overtime period of that classic game, handed the ball to his equivalent of Beast Mode, Colts running back Alan Ameche[3], for the win.

I thought back to other similar moments that I could recall of classic games and stunning losses across the 50 years of NFL history that I have witnessed. For the first nearly two decades of that time I was a Baltimore Colts fan, and any Colts fan who saw it is still upset by what happened in 1969 in the Orange Bowl in Super Bowl III. That was the pre NFL-AFL merger Super Bowl, where a Don Shula coached Colts team that had gone 13-1 in the regular season, had easily won  the NFL championship, and were 19 point favorites over the AFL’s Joe Namath and the New York Jets, was beaten by Namath and the Jets 16-7. Making that loss even more galling was the fact that during the week leading up to the game, while lounging pool side at his Miami hotel talking to reporters, Broadway Joe brashly guaranteed that his Jets would win, and then he went out and did it. I remember it like it happened last Sunday. That 1968 season had started on a down note for the Colts when Johnny Unitas injured his elbow in a pre-season game and couldn’t answer the regular season bell. Disaster was averted, however, when Earl Morrall [4] took over at quarterback and had an MVP season, leading the Colts to that 13-1 record and the Super Bowl berth. We Colts fans thought our team would throttle the Jets, only to watch in dismay as Namath picked them apart; and as Morrall picked the biggest game of the season to have his worst game of the season. (I still can’t fathom how Earl could have missed a wide open Jimmy Orr [5]deep behind the Jets secondary on a flea flicker play—the same trick play the Colts had run during the regular season with great success—but he did, throwing an interception instead.)

Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would beat the Colts, and then went out and did it!

Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would beat the Colts, and then went out and did it!

I recalled watching a great tight end from an earlier era, Jackie Smith, convulse in anguish after dropping a sure touchdown pass from Roger Staubach in the Dallas Cowboy’s Super Bowl XIII loss to the Steelers. And who can forget Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson being tackled one yard short of the end zone as time expired giving the St. Louis Rams a 23-16 victory over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV ? The Patriots themselves are no strangers to last second Super Bowl debacles, having lost two of the Big Games (2012 and 2008) to the New York Giants by a combined total of 7 points.

No team, however, can match the record of Super Bowl futility established by the Buffalo Bills. Here is a team that reached the NFL’s pinnacle game across 4 consecutive seasons, from 1990-1993, and lost all 4 of them! Good God! Can you imagine?! That team must have put half of Buffalo on suicide watch during those years, to prevent the other half from offing themselves. In the first of those losses, the 1991 Super Bowl (following the 1990 season), the Bills fell to the Giants 20-19 when Scott Norwood missed a 47 yard field goal with 8 seconds left in the game. After that it just got worse, with Buffalo losing the next 3 Big Games by successive scores of 37-24 (Redskins), 52-17 (Cowboys), and 30-13 (Cowboys again).

Aided by my recall of these past epic, Super Bowl failures, I at last began to be able to put what happened to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX into some kind of perspective. While I realized that Wilson’s interception will be talked about and debated for years to come, I also came to see again that the nature of the game, and all games really, requires that one team win and that one team lose; and that if you or your team ever want to experience the thrill of victory on the biggest stage, then you must also be willing to experience the agony of defeat on the biggest stage. It is when one is so insistent upon victory, and so abhorrent of the idea of losing, that a loss will destroy him; for he loses sight of the real joy of it all, which is the playing of the game and competing at the highest level; and that is something the Seahawks have given us plenty of over the last 3 seasons.

So, with all of that under my belt, I am finally able to take stock of what happened to our Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, and write about it. As is usually the case when a game turns on a sudden, dramatic play at or near its end, that one play gets too much scrutiny and the plays leading up to it not enough. In my view this is definitely true with Wilson’s interception.  There is nothing intrinsic about a last second miracle or disaster play that necessarily makes it more or less important than any of a number of plays that occurred earlier in the game. Indeed, it is the summation of those earlier plays that make that last second miracle/disaster even possible. So, to understand what happened, let’s take a look at some of those plays that occurred earlier in Super Bowl XLIX.

Gronkowski hauls in a Brady TD pass

Gronkowski  hauls in a Brady TD pass

With 31 seconds to go in the first half the Patriots future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady had just culminated an 8 play 80 yard New England drive with a 23 yard scoring throw to his All World tight end Rob Gronkowski. On the play Gronkowski was split wide to the right and was defended by Hawks linebacker KJ Wright, who was clearly over matched by the 6’ 7” tight end. The TD gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead and it seemed certain the Hawks would do the safe thing—run out the clock and re-group at the half. Instead Russell Wilson and Co. came onto the field and made some magic of their own.

Starting from his 20 yard line Wilson took the first snap of the possession and gave it to Robert Turbin on a zone read play, who promptly busted it up the middle for 19 yards. On the next play, following a time out, Wilson kept the ball on another zone read, broke out to his left and found himself staring Pats linebacker Jamie Collins right in the eye. Collins was perfectly positioned to tackle the Hawks quarterback for a loss, but instead Wilson gave him a shifty fake to the inside and then broke back to the outside leaving Collins grasping air. The play gained 16 yards before Russell stepped out of bounds at the Patriots 45 yards line with 17 seconds left on the clock.

Seattle wasted a play on a throw out of bounds, and with both of the NBC TV announcers  (Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels) speculating that with the time left (now 11 seconds) the Hawks could perhaps get a field goal, Wilson brought his team to the line of scrimmage on 2nd down with no such thoughts in mind. From the shotgun he took the snap, quickly located Ricardo Lockette running free in the secondary, and hit him with a perfect pass for 24 yards to the Pats 21 yard line. The gain on the play was then extended by a personal foul on Lockette’s defender, who, seeing he was beaten, tried to slow Ricardo down by grabbing his face mask. Those 15 yards brought the ball to the New England 6 yard line with a Seattle 1st and goal and 6 seconds left in the half. Having just witnessed the Hawks drive nearly the length of the field in 25 seconds you’d have thought that Michaels and Collinsworth would have known better, but now here they were agreeing that Seattle should settle for the safe field goal and go into the half trailing 14-10. (To be honest, I agreed with them) Again, the Hawks brain trust, knowing that in football 6 seconds can be an eternity, had no such thing in mind. Out came the Seahawks offense and Russell Wilson, who must have drooled upon coming to the line of scrimmage on that first and goal play and seeing the Patriots 5’11” defensive back  Logan Ryan  lined up against his 6’5” wide receiver Chris Mathews.

Many remarkable aspects of Super Bowl XLIX will forever be overshadowed by  Malcom Butler’s interception of that Russell Wilson goal line pass in the game’s closing seconds, not the least of which is the performance of Seattle’s Chris Mathews. Here is a guy who was a Seattle undrafted, free agent pick up from the Canadian Football League who, until the Super Bowl, had not caught a pass all season. Likely most “Twelves” didn’t even know he was on the roster until his magical recovery of that now famous onside kick in the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Unbelievably, one year ago he was out of football and working as a security guard with his father; yet in this biggest of games Mathews was nothing short of brilliant, catching 4 balls for 109 yards and a touchdown on the play that, with 6 seconds left in the first half, was just about to happen.

Seattle's Chris Mathews had a fantastic game: 4 catches, 109 yards and 1 TD

Seattle’s Chris Mathews had a fantastic game: 4 catches, 109 yards and 1 TD

When Wilson saw the mismatch presented to him by the Patriots defense, his scoring throw to Mathews was actually anti-climactic. Pats head coach Bill Bellichik should have just called a time out and conceded the touchdown—the play was that easy for the Hawks. From the shotgun Wilson simply took the snap, looked to his left where Mathews was split out against Logan, tossed the ball to the goal line and high, where only Mathews could catch it, and watched has the Hawks receiver snagged it for the score. Using 5 plays and just 29 seconds, Seattle had driven the length of the field for a touchdown, and went into the half with momentum and the game tied at 14!

Receiving the kickoff to start the 2nd half, the Seahawks sustained their momentum using an array Marshawn Lynch runs and another long Wilson pass to Chris Mathews to drive to a 1st and 10 at the Patriots 18 yard line. This time Mathews and Wilson victimized another diminutive New England defensive back, 5’ 10” Kyle Arrington, for a huge 44 yard gain. (In the first half Mathews had caught a similar deep ball on the right side to set up Seattle’s first touchdown.) This time Mathews lined up split to the left side with Wilson under center and fullback, Will Tukuafu and Lynch in the “I” formation behind him.  Having been gashed by Lynch already in this drive and it now being first down, the Patriots clearly expected another Beast Mode run. Instead, on taking the snap Wilson faked the hand off to Lynch while Mathews took off running a “go” route down the left sideline. All Wilson had to do was loft the pass down field and let his receiver go up above the overmatched Arrington and make the catch. The Patriots safety on that side, who had been influenced by the run fake to Lynch, had to hustle back to make the tackle, otherwise Mathews would have scored on the play. Three more running plays left Seattle with a 4th and 2 at the Patriots 10 yard line. From there Seattle’s Steven Hauschka kicked a field goal and the Seahawks had their first lead of the game at 17-14.

To this point in the game it appeared that the two teams were fairly evenly matched, but Seattle had scored on its last two possessions and if the defense could stop the Patriots now the Hawks could build a lead. On the next New England possession that is exactly what happened.

Bobby Wagner intercepts Tom Brady

Bobby Wagner intercepts Tom Brady

Starting from his own 20 yard line after the kickoff, Tom Brady moved his team to its 31 yard line where they now confronted a 3rd and 9 situation. On that play Brady took the snap from the shotgun and scanned the field to pass. At just about 1st down depth and moving from left to right across the center of the field, the New England quarterback saw Rob Gronkowski just beginning to come into the open as Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner was passing in front of him moving in the opposite direction, from right to left. Ordinarily you wouldn’t think that a player could stop and shift directions back the other way fast enough to get into the path of the pass that Brady was now trying to throw to Gronkowski—and Brady most certainly didn’t think it possible—but that is exactly what Wagner did. Amazingly he read Brady’s intention, stopped on a dime, reversed his field and cut right in front of Gronk just as the ball was arriving. The resultant pick, after a penalty was assessed against Richard Sherman for blocking in the back on the return, gave Seattle the ball, 1st and 10 at the 50 yard line. Hawks fans were ecstatic! Take it in for a touchdown now and we would have a 10 point lead with the 3rd quarter winding down. All of us were beginning to taste a 2nd consecutive Super Bowl victory.

And take it in for a touchdown is exactly what the Seahawks did. The drive started with another Wilson pass to Mathews, who by now was drawing coverage from the 6’4”, 239 lb, late Legion of Boomer Brandon Browner. To watch Mathews simply take Browner down field and trade with him, blow for blow and shove for shove to get himself open for the catch, made me wonder why the Seahawks waited until the Super Bowl to unleash him. The guy seems to have Calvin Johnson/Dez Bryant type qualities that I know we could have used earlier in the season. (I really look forward to seeing what Mathews does next year) As good as Mathews had been to this point in the game, however, the play of this drive belonged to Marshawn Lynch.

Wilson scrambling for yardage

Wilson scrambling for yardage

Following a Russell Wilson 15 yard scramble to the Patriots 23 yard line, which was extended to the 18 yard line by a 5 yard defensive holding penalty on Browner, the Hawks had a 1st and 10 in the New England red zone. The next play was classic Beast Mode. Wilson took the snap from under center with Lynch in the “I” formation tailback position. On the snap of the ball the Seahawks running back started forward and to his left, took the handoff from Wilson and followed his big fullback Will Tukuafu into the hole between left guard and left tackle. The hole was big, but nearly instantly filled by Pats linebacker Jaimie Collins. Watching a back as powerful as Lynch avoid Collins with a nifty cutback is simply exquisite; but then watching him bull his way through two Patriots tacklers and nearly a 3rd elicits a primal urge straight out of William Wallace and Braveheart! God, I love watching that guy carry the ball! Lynch’s dynamic run gave the Hawks a first and goal at the Patriots 4 yard line, and Seattle scored two plays later on a 3 yard Wilson throw to a wide open Doug Baldwin; a play on which Baldwin craftily used the referee to “rub off” his defender, Darrelle Revis, in the end zone.

Anyone who has watched football for a while knows that momentum in this game can be a deceptive, fickle and elusive thing. Suddenly your team seems to have it; and then just as quickly it can depart for no apparent reason. Following the Wagner interception Seattle had moved the ball 50 yards to a touchdown in 6 plays, and with 4 minutes and 54 seconds left in the 3rd quarter now led the Patriots 24-14! Our team had scored on 3 successive possessions and appeared to be on the verge of breaking the game open. Then, when Seattle held the Patriots on their next possession to force a punt, our hopes were out the roof. If the Hawks could now drive down the field and score again this game might be over. Whatever mystic power it is that dictates momentum, however, had other ideas.

Thus began a stretch of this Super Bowl game that for me was maddening to watch, and which I believe was the real reason the Seahawks wound up losing this game. With a 10 point lead and a chance to put the Patriots away with a sustained drive, the Seahawks just could not do it. Typifying the futility was a 3rd down and 3 play from the Pats 47 yard line that took place on this Hawks possession following the New England punt. On the play Wilson was in the shotgun and had 3 receivers, Kearse in the slot with Baldwin and Luke Willson flanked to his outside in a “trips” left formation. On the snap of the ball Kearse waited a count as Luke Willson crossed directly in front of him trying to “rub” Kearse’s defender, the soon to be famous Malcom Butler. Willson missed getting a piece of Butler but Kearse nevertheless had a step on him as he executed a wheel route, circling to his left into the flat and then downfield, whereupon Russell Wilson launched one of his beautiful, high arcing passes to the Seattle receiver. The pass descended perfectly and right into Kearse’s hands, but, with Butler in tight coverage, he just could not hold it. Had Kearse made that catch the Hawks would have had a 1st and 10 at the Patriots 20 yard line and for sure would have scored points, maybe a TD.  But he didn’t, and before this game was over Seattle’s failure on that drive and others in the 4th quarter would come back to haunt them in historic fashion.

After the punt following Kearse’s drop the Seahawks held the Patriots again, and with the 4th quarter just getting underway Seattle had the ball with a 1st and 10 at its 36 yard line. Two short Lynch runs gained just 3 yards, however, and Wilson was sacked on a 3rd and 7 play forcing another Seattle punt. Following a short return by Julian Edelman the Patriots started their next possession at their own 32.

Brady doing what Brady does

Brady doing what Brady does

Sometimes in football, the best defense a team can employ is its own offense. This is particularly true against great quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and the like. Those guys can’t work their magic when they are sitting on the bench watching your team sustain a drive and move methodically down the field. That is why, after evaluating this game, I believe that it was really Seattle’s failure to do anything effective offensively in the 4th quarter, until their last possession, that just killed them in this game. You can’t expect a defense, even one as good as Seattle’s, to be effective at stopping a quarterback like Tom Brady all the time. So when Brady engineered two 4th quarter Patriots scoring drives to give New England the lead 28-24, it was just another example of Brady doing what Brady does. On the possessions, both of which resulted in scoring throws, one to Danny Amendola and the other to Edelman, the New England future Hall of Fame quarterback executed the Patriots short passing game plan perfectly; efficiently marching his team down the field on both drives.

Following Brady’s 2nd TD pass of the 4th quarter, the Seahawks received the New England kick off with just over 2 minutes left in the game, but now trailing the Pats by 4 points; a position they never should have been in. For the last 6 games of the regular season and on into the playoffs, and particularly against the Packers in the NFC Championship game, the Seahawks and Russell Wilson seemed to be able to conjure up magic when they needed it. Now, to win this game, they would need to conjure it up again. That they did, and yet still lost this game in such ironic fashion, is what will make Super Bowl XLIX remembered and debated for decades to come.

The New England kickoff sailed out of the end zone and Seattle started its final possession at its own 20 yard line with 2 minutes and 2 seconds left in the game. On the first play Wilson came to the line of scrimmage in the shotgun with an empty backfield. Split to his left was Marshawn Lynch in the wide receiver position with Ricardo Lockette in the slot. To Wilson’s right were Kearse and Baldwin. On the snap of the ball Wilson took a quick look to his right and then came back to his left, clearly looking for Lynch. It really is amazing how talented a football player Lynch is, for on this play he looked every bit the wide receiver he was positioned as. At the snap he took off on what appeared to be a slant route towards the middle of the field. When the defender covering him, linebacker Jaimie Collins, bit hard on the slant, Lynch broke back to the outside and down field, whereupon Wilson dropped right into his hands one of  those gorgeous, rainbow “dimes” ESPN’s Trent Dilfer is always talking about. The play gained 31 yards and at the 2 minute warning (1’55” left on the clock) the Hawks had a 1st down at the New England 49.

On 2nd down Wilson tried to hit Kearse on a seam route up the middle but it was broken up on a beautiful play by the ubiquitous Malcom Butler, who seemed to be everywhere in the 4th quarter. (And speaking of Butler, I must say a thing or two. Here’s a kid who is a rookie, undrafted free agent from a Division II school called the University of West Alabama! Prior to the Super Bowl he had a grand total of one start in the NFL, yet because of what he did in this game his name will be forever etched in Super Bowl lore, alongside those of players like Lynn Swan and Joe Montana—the kid played a great game.)  When Seattle came to the line of scrimmage for the next play Wilson didn’t like what he saw in the Pats defense and tried to audible; but in the process the play clock wound down and, with 1 minute and 41 seconds left, he had to call a time out. He followed the time out with a deep pass to Chris Mathews at the goal line, who briefly had gotten open behind Brandon Browner, but due to the loft Wilson put on the ball Browner was able to recover and knock it away. That left the Hawks with a 3rd and 10, still at the Patriots 49.

With a first down now imperative, Wilson drilled a pass to Lockette on the right side for the necessary yardage. The play gained 11 yards and the Seahawks now were at the New England 38 yard line with a first down and 1 minute and 35 seconds on the clock. With the seconds ticking away Wilson quickly called another play without a huddle and took the snap from the shotgun at the 1 minute and 14 seconds mark. He retreated a few steps back in the pocket and then lofted another spiraling rainbow down the right side of the field towards Jermaine Kearse  about 30 yards down field.  Covering Kearse on the play was, you guessed it, Malcom Butler, who was about to experience for himself a healthy dose of that Seahawks magic.

jermaine-kearse-catch

Jermaine Kearse makes his magical catch

Kearse had a step on Butler and a perfect pass from Wilson could have been a touchdown right there. Instead the pass was a bit underthrown, which forced Kearse to come back for it slightly, and allowed Butler to stretch and get a gloved hand right between Kearse’s two hands as he reached for the ball.  As a result the ball deflected off Kearse’s hands and up into the air as both players fell backwards to the ground at about the 6 yard line. The ball, meanwhile, started its descent directly towards Kearse, who was lying on his back with his feet in the air. With Butler off to the side and out of the play, the ball came down and hit Kearse in the left leg, deflected to his right, and then, as Patriots safety Duron Harmon came flying across above him, hit Kearse’s right hand, then deflected up again, then once again off Kearse’s right hand, whereupon Jermaine at last secured the ball as he spun around on his butt towards the end zone.

At that point Kearse was about the only person in the stadium who knew that he had caught the ball. The referees seemed to be mesmerized for a second, as was NBC broadcaster Al Michaels, who calmly announced that Butler had broken up the pass. Meanwhile Kearse, who knew he had not yet been tackled, was getting up and starting to move towards the end zone. From what I could see on my TV screen I thought the pass was incomplete as well, but it seemed incongruous to then see Kearse making a football move towards the goal line. It was when I saw Butler get up and move to knock Kearse out of bounds at the 5 yard line that I realized that the Seattle receiver must have somehow caught the ball; and it wasn’t until the replays started showing on TV a few seconds later that it finally seemed that the NBC announcers, Michaels and Collinsworth, at last understood what had happened.  The TV image of Seahawks owner Paul Allen staring at the playing field, mouth agape in wonder as he finally registered what  had just taken place, was duplicated by every “Twelve” and most football fans, either present at the stadium or watching on TV.

Kearse’s magical catch was good for 33 yards and the Hawks now had the ball with a 1st and goal at the Patriots 5 yard line. As with the NFC Championship game against the Packers, and last year’s NFC Championship against the 49ers, it seemed some higher power had taken a hand in the proceedings and that the Seahawks were, once again, destined to win. For sure that is how it seemed to us “Twelves”, who have begun to regard this sort of magic as our personal possession.  Subtly though, and not grasped by most fans, a key factor had begun to shift in this game that would have a vast effect on this now expected, happy outcome. That key factor was Seattle’s “time out” situation. With all of the confusion surrounding whether or not Kearse had caught the ball Wilson could not get a play called and his team into formation fast enough; and so, with 1 minute and 6 seconds left in the game, had to burn another time out. Having already used their first time out earlier in the drive, that meant that by the time Wilson brought his troops to the line of scrimmage for their first and goal play from the 5 yard line, the Seahawks had just one time out left.

The fact of having only one time out left with 4 downs to score from the 5 yard line posed a dilemma for the Seahawks brain trust of Pete Carroll and Darrel Bevel. That dilemma became more acute when, on the first and goal play, Marshawn Lynch lined up in the “I” formation, took the handoff from Wilson and barreled for 4 yards over the left side to inside the one yard line. It was now 2nd and goal and less than a yard from the likely Super Bowl winning touchdown. Everyone in the stadium and around the country knew what was coming next—one more Beast Mode run and the Hawks would win their 2nd consecutive Super Bowl. Seconds were ticking off the clock, however, and Carroll and Bevell knew that if they ran Lynch on that 2nd down play and he did not score they would have to burn their 3rd and last time out. In that case they couldn’t run Lynch on the 3rd down play because if again he did not score the clock would run out before Seattle could run a play on 4th down. That dictated that the Seahawks would have to pass the ball on either the 2nd or 3rd down plays in order to ensure they would have access to all 4 downs, if needed, to get the score. Looked at this way you can see the sense in what Carroll and Bevell ended up doing, though my personal opinion is that they were over thinking things. When you have a back like Lynch in a situation like that, you just ride him.

Any doubt about the coming play call was removed for Bevell and Carroll when the Patriots, expecting another Lynch run, sent in their goal line defense to stop him. After the game Carroll explained his thinking as follows: “At that moment I didn’t want to waste a run play against their goal line guys—throw the ball, and when we’re on 3rd and 4th down we can match up.” You can see that Carroll did not like the match up of running Lynch against the Patriots “8 men in the box” defense. Therefore, expecting at worst a clock stopping incompletion, the Seattle coaches called for a pass; and the play they selected, if executed properly, would have been the game winning touchdown.

The fateful play: When Wilson saw him Lockette was open

The fateful play: When Wilson saw him Lockette (83) was open

On that fateful 2nd down and goal play the Seahawks came to the line of scrimmage with the clock ticking down below 35 seconds left in the game. Wilson lined up in the shotgun with Lynch in the backfield to his left and Doug Baldwin split to the left side. Split to the right side, but not wide, were Kearse and Lockette in an offset stack position with Kearse in front and Lockette about a yard behind the line of scrimmage and maybe a yard to Kearse’s right. Opposite them defensively were Brandon Browner covering Kearse, and Malcom Butler deeper in the end zone on Lockette. The concept of the play, which is called “slick” by some teams (coined from the combination of “slant” and “pick”), was that Kearse’s job was to get up field quickly enough to be able to screen off Butler to prevent him from having a straight shot at Lockette, who would be running a slant route underneath Kearse to the goal line. With the Patriots basically in a “Cover Zero” defense (no safeties, 7 men on the line of scrimmage and a “spy” a few yards deep in the center of the field in case Wilson tried one of his patented runs) designed to stop Lynch, had Kearse done his job Lockette would have been running free at the goal line and we “Twelves” would be reveling right now rather than ruing.

Instead here is what happened: As Wilson took the center snap in the shotgun with 26 seconds left on the clock, Kearse broke up field from the line of scrimmage only to be immediately stuffed by Browner, who overpowered the Seahawks receiver, completely preventing him from screening Butler. Meanwhile Lockette ran his slant route, as the play called for, angling toward the center of the field and the goal line. When first seen by Wilson he was wide open and in the clear. The unscreened Butler, however, having an unobstructed view of the play before him, simply read the Seattle quarterback’s eyes, and from about 4 yards deep in the end zone broke on the ball and Lockette like a bullet. The young cornerback was about to make the play of his life.

Without hesitation, on seeing Lockette open at his initial read, Wilson drilled the ball on a trajectory that would have had it and the Seattle receiver arriving at the goal line nearly simultaneously for the game winning catch.  Wilson, thinking that Kearse would be screening Butler, did not expect the rookie defensive back to be there. Likewise, neither did Lockette, who, as he was reaching for the ball, was blindsided and knocked flat by Butler as he made the interception.

The play was incredibly bang-bang, lasting a total of about 4 seconds from snap to Butler making the pick and going down inside the 1 yard line. Rarely has 4 seconds been so fraught with emotional impact, however. In that short period Hawks fans went from the brink of jubilation to the depths of despair, while Patriots fans made the reverse journey. Personally, I can’t think of another time in my life in which I have experienced such an emotional curve in such a tight window of time. Like most “Twelves” I thought we had this game won, and to go from that state of near glory to the abject shock of what we had just witnessed…is a really tough pill to swallow, especially when you are so emotionally invested.

If you are a Seahawks fan I am telling you nothing you don’t already know. We had just seen our team across the prior two months of the season make one of the most remarkable and magical runs to a Super Bowl in NFL history; to the point of being one yard away from a 2nd consecutive NFL Championship. Each of the 8 games the Seahawks played during that stretch had been of the “must win” variety, and the team had responded beautifully, turning what had been on the verge of being a lost season into a nearly historic one. If you followed this team through all of that, as I did, to then see the magic end one yard and one play short in this biggest of all games, and in this fashion, was and is heartbreaking.

Nevertheless, the best thing for the Seahawks to do is to learn from this defeat, and then put it in the past, where it now belongs. That’s sound advice for us “Twelves” as well. Of all NFL teams, the Hawks, with Pete Carroll as their head coach, are uniquely capable of doing this. I say this because I know that Carroll is strong in his philosophies of both life and football. For him there is much overlap between the two. A recent interview with Pete, conducted 3 days after the Super Bowl loss with “Today Show” host Mat Lauer, illustrates what I am taking about. At a point in the interview Lauer asked Carroll about a statement he heard Pete make on the radio in another interview regarding the crushing Super Bowl loss. The statement Carroll made, according to Lauer, was, “My whole life has equipped me to deal with this moment.” Lauer then asked Carroll to explain what he meant in saying that. Carroll’s illuminating response to Lauer follows:

Pete Carroll: feeling the pain

Pete Carroll: feeling the pain

“I’m a really optimistic, positive person,” the Seahawks head coach said, “that thinks that the next thing that’s going to come up is going to be a good thing. And it doesn’t really matter what situation I’m in, that’s just kind of the way that I’m wired. I’ve also been in the competitive arena for so long, and I’ve been through so many experiences and so many opportunities that go this way or go that way and you don’t know until the moment that it happens–that I’m equipped to handle the outcome. And I know that every time we play a game or we are in a situation like this, it could go to the win or it could go to the loss, and we have to face that one way or the other and be prepared to move forward….”

Regarding the interception, Carroll then went on to say, “That one moment, that moment, isn’t going to define this team and who we are. This is a Championship team, it’s a great team that plays great football, and plays as a team in a wonderful way. So that moment is what people might want to define us by, but it won’t, because we know the truth….When you believe that you can prepare yourself to be successful and you know things are going to work out, then it gives you a sense of boldness that maybe other people don’t understand because they always fear the outcome going possibly the other way. They’re correct. It could go the other way. I don’t think that way—I’m not wired that way. And our football team has not been raised that way. Our mentality is always to go for it, and trust that what we’ve been preparing for, it will work…This team is going to continue to move, we’re going ahead, they (the team) understand that, and they feel that, and they know. They know because we have approached the truth, and we understand that there is no one instant that’s going to define who you are…”

Later in the interview Carroll expounded further on his life views:

“I’m telling you, I’m made up that way,” he said, “I’m made up to go to what’s positive, what can get turned around. It’s a mechanism that I wish I could share with other people when they’re in really hard times and tough situations and tough places, because something good IS just about to happen, and what we do with our next step is what’s so powerful, and how we move forward and outlast the difficult times; so that you can come out the other end of it and go wherever you’re capable of going. That’s the great challenge.”

With such a man running the Seahawks I am not worried that this team will stay stuck in this loss, or allow it to define them, despite what anyone thinks. If the team won’t allow it, then neither should we “Twelves.” Speaking for myself, I feel that now, 3 weeks after that debacle in Phoenix, I have at last turned the corner and honestly feel that for the Seahawks and us fans, something good is just about to happen! 

I hope that you feel that way too.

Go Hawks!!!

 

Copyright © 2015

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved



[1] Sam Huff was a Hall of Fame Middle Linebacker for the New York Giants from 1956 to 1963, and then the Washington Redskins until 1969. He was elected to the hall of fame in 1982

[2] Raymond Berry played his entire career (1955-1967) with the Baltimore Colts as a wide receiver where he was the favorite target of legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas. At his retirement Berry had caught more passes than any receiver in NFL history (631). He also had a successful coaching career and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.

[3] Nicknamed “The Iron Horse”, Alan Ameche was a fullback for the Baltimore Colts for 6 seasons (1955-1960). He was named to the NFL All Decade team for the 1950s and was elected to the Pro Bowl his first 4 seasons in the league. He is most remembered for his game winning 1 yard touchdown run in the Colts 1958 sudden death NFL Championship game against the New York Giants.

[4] Earl Morrall was probably the greatest back-up quarterback in NFL history. For more about his life and career please see “A Tribute to Earl Morrall: The Greatest Back-Up Quarterback Ever” earlier in this blog site.

[5] Jimmy Orr was a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1958-60) and the Baltimore Colts (1961-70). He was a two time Pro Bowler and had 400 career receptions.

 

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8 Responses to A Yard and A Play Short: Seahawks Magic Ends in Historic Super Bowl Loss to Patriots—by Mark Arnold

  1. Jesse Dennerlein says:

    The next great thing is just around the corner. Agreed.

  2. Jonathan Ritson says:

    Mark, first and foremost thanks for an incredible commentary this season. I have always looked forward to it. When the pain of failing hits, you either run away from that terrible feeling and lose, or you look at it straight in the piercing bloodshot eyes of your greatest teacher, and ask yourself what just happened here and what can I learn, and move on to success. This is the difference between the whiner and the winner. John Maxwell said you don’t move through change, you grow through change. The Seahawks will never be the same, because they’re moving forward, with a tremendous leader, looking to the sunrise of the next season. Go Seahawks!!!!

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Jonathon! Thanks for the ack and the awesome and true comment. Maxwell’s comment on change is astute. For the Seahawks I definitely think. “Something goo is just about to happen.” L, Mark

  3. Steve Rodriguez says:

    Great work Mark! As usual, your ability so see the game within the game, to observe the not so obvious, and your in depth analysis is as good as many modern day sports writers.

    I especially enjoy your words about the coach and how well you’ve captured the essence of his viewpoint. In the words of the great champion Muhammad Ali, who too, didn’t win every championship fight in his career, “Champions are not made in the gyms, Champions are made from something they have deep inside them- a desire, a dream, a vision”. This is truly what we are fortunate to have here and now as SeaHawk fans with Coach Carroll.

    Watching the post SB interview with Coach and Matt Lauer, I noticed the only time Coach seemed uncomfortable was when Lauer seemed to be pressing him to talk about “Pete the individual”, and his “individual” thoughts and feelings. I really believe Coach doesn’t see himself as an “individual” but as a “part of a whole” and thus he views, responds and thinks from a “group” point of view.

    It’s as if Lauers insistence that Coach look at the game from an “I” viewpoint was completely foreign to Coach. To me this was very telling and showed me that he has an intrinsic perspective that is very real and rare indeed. He see’s, responds, acts, and coaches from a “true group” point of view; and as we know, there is no “I” in team.

    Add to that, his core knowingness that “something good is always about to happen” and we behold a beautiful approach, mind set, philosophy, and action level that has, and will continue to be, a treasure to witness and be a part of as “Twelves”.

    Thanks for all your great writing this past season Mark, I look forward to your work with the next magical SeaHawk Campaign!

    Go Hawks!!!

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Hey Steve!

      Thanks for the great Acknowledgement. I also noted lauer’s efforts at forcing Carroll to take a a “me” viewpoint and how Pete resisted this and as you were was struck by Pete’s “team” view….another aspect of why he is so successful. I am certain the Seahawks will be back next year stronger than ever, as will we “Twelves”!

      L, Mark

  4. Tony Berka says:

    Hi Mark,
    As Harry Hogge says to Cole Trickle in the movie “Days of Thunder”: “Great driving, great recovery”.

    So to you I say: “Great writing, great recovery”. I didn’t know quite what to think of that last play, other than it was a nightmare for Seattle.

    Your article put things in prospective for Seattle fans everywhere, because it spoke the truth about true talent and a great team.

    There is the love of the game of football, and with that comes the love for any team that plays the game and creates greatness while doing it.

    A person can be a fan of more than one team, and even though I live in Minnesota, I am also a Seahawks fan, simply because they are so good at creating greatness, and do so much for the game!

    Thanks for putting things in perspective for me – a long distance Seattle Fan.

    Tony Berka
    Minnesota

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Hi Tony!

      I remember that line in “Days of Thunder”. Thanks for the acknowledgement….The Seahawks have been so good the last couple of years, and that one play was so apparently devastating, that it could easily overshadow what they have done. My goal was to get all that back in some kind of perspective. I know I did that for myself, and I hope I did for others. Your response gives me hope that I did.

      Thanks again, Tony!

      L, Mark

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