Sports Football

Seahawks' Pete Carroll truly made the worst coaching decision in Super Bowl history

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll staggers off the field after the Seahawks handed the New England patriots the Super Bowl on a platter on Sunday night in Glendale, Ariz. (AFP)

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll staggers off the field after the Seahawks handed the New England patriots the Super Bowl on a platter on Sunday night in Glendale, Ariz. (AFP)

Could Pete Carroll have been more wrong?


For every play that a coach calls in a football game, there is a second-guess waiting just around the corner. It goes with the territory.

But this was ridiculous. Has there ever been a worse decision made by a head coach in a Super Bowl?

The answer is a resounding ‘No!’

The football world should be abuzz over the unfathomable catch made by Javon Kearse to put the Seahawks in position to win the game. It was every bit as stunning as the one that David Tyree made to skewer New England the last time they were in the Super Bowl.

Instead, everybody is preoccupied by Carroll’s decision to silence Marshawn Lynch in a way that the Patriots never could.

Down by four points, the Seattle Seahawks had second-and-goal at the New England one-yard line with 26 seconds to go Sunday, but instead of giving the ball to running back Lynch, Seattle ran a slant route intended for receiver Ricardo Lockette. Russell Wilson’s throw was intercepted by Malcolm Butler to seal New England’s 28-24 Super Bowl win.

Lynch already was over 100 yards for the game. Of his 24 carries to that point, 22 of them had netted at least 1 yard. He hadn’t been held to as little as no gain since Seattle’s first second-half possession.

In that moment, who doesn’t believe that Lynch would have carried the entire New England stop unit on his back for those three feet to paydirt? These are the kinds of plays that have defined him as a big-money player.

“There’s really nobody to blame but me,” Pete Carroll said. “A very, very hard lesson. I hate to learn the hard way, but there’s no other way to look at it right now.”

Lynch isn’t unstoppable, but he has proven himself over and over and over again since the Seahawks rose to prominence. Who in all the NFL right now would you want to hand the ball to from a yard away to win a Super Bowl but Lynch? In the big moments, Lynch is the best back in football at “winning car crashes,” as Seattle assistant coach Tom Cable once observed.

Over the past three seasons, the Seahawks have been big and bad and getting moreso. Nobody has been bigger or badder than Marshawn Lynch.

In the one moment that he lives for, it wasn’t the New England Patriots who stopped him. It was his own coaching staff. The buck stops at Carroll, but ol’ Pete had help on this one from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Let’s just call them Dumb and Dumber.

Carroll explained that the decision to pass was made because the Patriots had sent in their short-yardage defence.

Well, duh. It’s second down and one yard for the Lombardi Trophy, less than half a minute to go, and Marshawn Lynch is standing in the backfield in menacing anticipation, breathing fire and pawing the dirt.

If you’re the Patriots, just what other defence are you going to send in? The prevent?

Like the hundreds of millions of people watching on TV, Bill Belichick had already decided in his own mind that the next three plays would be Lynch up the middle, Lynch up the middle and then, if necessary, Lynch up the middle.

Carroll simply over-thought the situation. He got cute at a moment when he had the game’s most effective blunt object at his disposal to knock the Patriots out for good.

“It’s not the right matchup for us to run the football,” Carroll said. “So, on second down, we throw the ball, really to kind of waste that play. If we score, we do. If we don’t, then we’ll run it in on third and fourth down.”

That is, if there is a third and fourth down. Because of the call, however, what the Seahawks wasted was the Super Bowl.

The decision is out of character on so many levels. The swaggering Seahawks dictate to other teams. They don’t let other teams dictate to them. So what if the Pats sent in the goal line stand unit? If you’re the Seattle offence, you say, ‘I spit on your goal line stand’ and try to run over Vince Wilfork et al. If you somehow fail to make that yard, there is really no legit second-guess: You went with your best and the best wasn’t good enough.

So, Seattle allowed the other team to dictate its decision, something that this team famously doesn’t do, the Seahawks players repeatedly saying during the previous week that they play their game no matter what the opposition tries.

Carroll and Bevell will take the brunt of the criticism, and so they should, but Russell Wilson, who has gotten pretty much a free ride, needs to share some of the blame. Would a Peyton Manning or an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady have simply followed orders in that situation? Not on your life. They would have gone to the line and changed the play.

Wilson is still young and can be excused somewhat for following orders — even when those orders are spectacularly wrong — but at some point, he has to be able to meet that challenge and impose his own will.

“I trust my instincts and I trust the play,” said Wilson. “I thought it was going to be a touchdown.”

Seems the only Pats defender on the field who thought the play might be a pass was Butler. With eight men in the box, anticipating run, the Patriots had man coverage on the three receivers. Darrelle Revis lined up on Doug Baldwin on one and proven veteran Brandon Browner, a former Seahawk, lined up on Javon Kearse. Butler, a raw, unknown rookie, figured the action was coming his way with Lockette.

“I knew he was going to try me,” Butler said of Wilson. “I’m pretty sure he knew I was a rookie. Who wouldn’t try a rookie?”

Wilson dropped back and seemed to hesitate just a fraction of a second, then led Lockette maybe a foot too far and didn’t seem to have a lot on the throw. Butler shouldered Lockette out of the way and came down with the ball. Game over. Season over, and welcome to your worst nightmare, Pete Carroll.

You may remember that this isn’t the first time Carroll’s thought processes have gotten away from him at crunch time in a big game.

We take you to the 2006 Rose Bowl that doubled as the college national championship game between Carroll’s USC Trojans and the Texas Longhorns. Late in the game, the Longhorns trailed by 12, 38-26. Vince Young engineered a scoring drive that closed the gap to 38-33 with four minutes left.

The Trojans got one first down on their next series, trying to close it out. Then, on a third-down play, with Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush inexplicably on the bench, Carroll turned to fullback LenDale White, who fumbled. The Trojans luckily recovered the fumble but, on fourth down, White’s number was called again, once more with Bush standing on the sidelines. White needed to get two yards, but he got only one.

Texas took over at their own 44 with 2:09 to play and Young scored the game-winning TD with just eight seconds left.

Since then, Carroll has a Super Bowl win under his belt and should have had another one on Sunday. No matter how many more wins he has, how many brilliant calls he makes from the sidelines, Carroll will always wear this one colossal blunder as a part of that legacy.​ 

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