The question will haunt the Seattle Seahawks for as long as they are the Seattle Seahawks.
What were the Seahawks thinking?
What process of crazy reasoning possessed head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to call for a Russell Wilson pass when the Hawks were one-yard away from scoring the touchdown that almost certainly would have beaten the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 49 on Sunday?
One yard. A team whose offense is built around the power running of Marshawn Lynch needed one yard to complete still another last-minute comeback. As the Hawks broke the huddle for their second-and-goal play, the suspense didn’t hinge on whether they’d slam the ball into the end zone. The suspense hinged on why the Patriots, allowing the game clock to tick down — 26 seconds, 25, 24 — were not leaving quarterback Tom Brady more time to carve up a defense he’d been carving up all night.
And then the Hawks followed through on what will be recalled as the worst decision in Super Bowl history. Instead of handing the ball off to Lynch for the kind of off-tackle scoring blast he’s come to regard as routine, Wilson threw a one-step slant pass aimed at Ricardo Lockette.
In his fourth year, Lockette is a backup receiver with the speed of an Olympic sprinter and the hands of, well, a backup receiver.
A second consecutive world championship at stake, one yard separating a team from distinction as a dynasty, you’d assume it would want its most effective offensive player doing what he does best. But the ball didn’t go to Lynch, and it didn’t get to Lockette, either.
The ball ended up in the hands of Patriots cornerback Malcom Butler, who cut in front of Lockette to pick off a pass that never should have been thrown.
Adding to the anguish over the decision to take the ball out of Lynch’s hands is the fact the Seahawks were in no need to hurry. Strategic blunders often are the consequence of urgency, but the Hawks had a timeout to deliberate a play call that really didn’t require deliberation.
Run Lynch. If the Patriots make a stop, spike the ball and run him again.
This is complicated ... how?
It’s complicated when coaches who should know better — Pete Carroll, for instance — over-coach, analyzing what doesn’t need to be analyzed, complicating the simple.
The decision to throw at the goal line, Carroll explained, was steeped in a personnel matchup unfavorable to the Seahawks.
“It’s not the right matchup for us to run the football, so on second down we throw the ball really to kind of waste that play,” Carroll said. “If we score we do, if we don’t, then we’ll run it on third and fourth down, with really no second thoughts or hesitation in that at all.
“Unfortunately, with the play that we tried to execute, the guy jumps in front of the route and makes an incredible play that nobody would ever think he could do. Unfortunately, that changes the whole outcome.”
“We make these decisions every game all the time,” continued Carroll. “They work out sometimes and they don’t other times. This one didn’t work out right for us. We could have run it and got stuffed, we could have run it and scored against their goal-line defense as well. I know that could’ve happened, but it just wasn’t a great football thought at the time.”
I beg to differ, Pete, and so would the 100-million or so TV viewers who understand that a pass thrown at the goal line poses far greater potential for a turnover than a hand-off to one of the NFL’s most dependable running backs.
Few Seahawks players were critical of the play call that denied them a second Super Bowl ring, but you can be sure they were second-guessing it Sunday night as furiously as Seahawks fans.
“I don’t understand how you don’t give it to the best back in the league inside the one-yard yard, line,” said linebacker Bruce Irvin. “We were on the half-yard line, and we throw a slant. I don’t know what the offense had going on, what they saw. I just don’t understand.
“It’s going to kill me,” Irvin went on. “I think I’m about to just lock myself in my room for about two weeks.”
I suppose there are worse ways to grieve a game that was there to be won if the Seahawks had only done what they do best.
But when Irvin returns from his two weeks of seclusion, the world still will be wondering what Carroll and Bevell were thinking when they collaborated to make the worst call in Super Bowl history.