New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) intercepts a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (83) in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Super Bowl.
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
GLENDALE, Ariz. — A second straight championship rested at the 1-yard line. The Seahawks needed to move the football a mere 36 inches, maybe less, to defeat improbability one last time and end this taxing season with a champagne shower. The situation called for Marshawn Lynch.
You could almost see the eccentric running back nicknamed Beast Mode diving into the end zone and doing his handshake celebration. You could almost see the blue and green confetti falling at University of Phoenix Stadium. Instead, in one moment, the Seahawks forgot who they were. And Super Bowl XLIX turned into the most painful loss in franchise history.
It happened because of the worst play call in Super Bowl history, a decision that will also go down as one of the most regrettable ever in Seattle sports. With 26 seconds remaining, Russell Wilson took a shotgun snap and threw a quick slant intended for wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. New England cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped in front of the route, however, and intercepted the pass in the end zone.
Game over. History delayed. Legacy unfulfilled.
A few minutes later, the Patriots celebrated a 28-24 victory that should have ended with another of the Seahawks’ miraculous comebacks.
“We had it,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “I don’t understand how you don’t give it to the best back in the league on not even the 1-yard line. 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.”
Irvin isn’t the only one confused. The Seahawks have the best power running back in the NFL, and Lynch had rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown. He’s built for those short-yardage street fights. And he wins more than he loses.
The Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl this season by staying close to their identity. They ran the ball better than any team in the league. They played punishing defense. They won close games by thriving in tense moments.
They needed to do that one more time to become the first back-to-back NFL champion in 10 years. Instead, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a dangerous play that ended in disaster.
You’re left to shake your head at this loss and ask why.
But the explanation is only more maddening.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks didn’t have the ideal personnel on the field to run the ball. They had three wide receivers, a tight end and Lynch as Wilson’s weapons. The Patriots countered with their goal-line defensive package. Bevell didn’t think it was wise to run against New England’s defensive personnel, and Carroll agreed. So on second down and goal from the 1-yard line, the Seahawks threw a slant to Lockette, a receiver with 25 career receptions.
“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 on third and fourth down. Really, with no second thoughts or hesitation in that at all.”
We throw the ball, really to kind of waste that play.
It’s an incomprehensible and inexcusable explanation. Carroll should’ve chosen his words more carefully. It sounds as if the Seahawks weren’t even valuing that second-down opportunity.
They could’ve run the football with the personnel mismatch. They’ve done it before. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe Lynch, who doesn’t have many negative runs, loses a yard or two. The Seahawks would still be at the 2- or 3-yard line. They could’ve used their last timeout and still had time to run two more plays. Or Lynch could’ve plowed his way to a touchdown that surely would’ve made the ground shake in Seattle once more.
“We’ve done it before, and we’ve scored,” offensive tackle Russell Okung said of running despite the personnel mismatch. “We’ve also passed the ball in that same situation and scored. We just didn’t deliver. Sometimes, that’s football.”
The decisive play overshadows a wonderful Super Bowl. It was a fantastic display of momentum swings and explosive offensive plays in the face of great defense. The Seahawks scored on four straight possessions in the second and third quarters to take a 24-14 lead. Doug Baldwin pretended to go potty after scoring a touchdown. Richard Sherman made a “24” gesture to the television cameras, likely taunting rival New England cornerback Darrelle Revis for giving up a score.
But Tom Brady, the Super Bowl MVP who threw 50 passes and managed 328 yards and four touchdowns, led the Patriots back. But with 2:02 remaining, Wilson had the ball and the opportunity to stage his greatest fourth-quarter comeback.
When Jermaine Kearse made an unbelievable, juggling 33-yard catch with 1:06 remaining, it seemed the Seahawks were poised to pull off a stunning comeback to rival their NFC Championship Game rally.
But they couldn’t finish. The defense couldn’t stop Brady. And the offense didn’t keep it simple at the 1-yard line.
“It didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would,” Bevell said.
Said Wilson: “We were right there, so I put the blame on me. I’m the one that threw the ball.”
Carroll also took responsibility afterward, telling his puffy-eyed players, “There’s really nobody to blame but me.”
“I don’t want them to think anything other than that,” 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.”
It’s a haunting moment for a franchise that was so close to bliss.