Monday, February 2, 2015

Patriots 28, Seahawks 24: Initial reaction

I don't really want to be writing this post, but I am hopeful getting my thoughts out in a (maybe) coherent way will allow me to go to bed and get enough sleep to not be a total zombie with my kids tomorrow. Those kids include my almost-4-year-old who has taken on Daddy's love of the Seahawks, just had a Seahawk 4th birthday party, and fell asleep with Seattle up 10 in the 4th quarter.

This game reminds me of Seattle's Atlanta playoff loss 2 seasons ago, in that Seattle lost this game twice. In that game, the Seahawks didn't show up for a half, as Atlanta went into halftime up 20-0. Russell Wilson then led an amazing comeback to take a 28-27 lead with 34 seconds to go. a 34-yard kick return, 2 pass plays for 41 yards and 21 seconds later, the Falcons kicked a 49-yard field goal and took the win back. Seattle needed to hold the lead for 34 seconds, and couldn't. They had no business being in position to need only to hold a lead for less than a minute...but they got to that position and failed to execute. That loss stung, because it felt like Seattle squandered a realistic chance to go to the Super Bowl (they would have been one of the final four teams that season).

In this game, Seattle had a 10-point and the ball with 3:15 left in the 3rd quarter.

  • On 3rd down and 2, Russell Wilson takes a deep shot to Jermaine Kearse, who gets two hands on the ball but can't bring in what would have been a difficult catch. Seattle punts. 
  • The defense holds New England to a 3-and-out. On the ensuing 3rd down, Russell Wilson misses Doug Baldwin coming open on Darrelle Revis over the middle and takes a sack, killing Seattle's drive after 3 plays. Seattle punts again. 
  • Seattle sacks Tom Brady on the 1st play, but gives up a 3rd and 14 conversion. The Patriots score a touchdown 6 plays later, and Seattle's lead is cut to 3. 
  • One 1st down, Ricardo Lockette beats Patriots rookie CB Malcolm Butler, Butler falls down, reaches out with his hand and trips Lockette from behind. Wilson's pass to Lockette falls incomplete and no flag is thrown for defensive pass interference. 
  • On 3rd down, Marshawn Lynch appears to stop on his wheel route, and Seattle punts after 3 plays once again. The Patriots fail to reach 3rd down even once on their subsequent drive, taking the lead with 2:02 remaining.
The point is, Seattle has lost this game by not being able to make a play for the entire 4th quarter to this point. That they end up with 1st and goal on their final drive of the game (which started on their own 20 with 2:02 remaining) is essentially miraculous (see Kearse's catch). The Seahawks had a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter and the best (albeit injury-ravaged) defense in the league gave it up. They had no right to be a yard away from a repeat.

But they were. Somehow, some way, the Seahawks got there. They went 79 yards in 1:36 and had 2nd and goal from the 1 with the clock running down and 1 timeout.

And then Seattle's coaching staff lost the game again for the team.

First off, it has been posited that calling a pass on 2nd down isn't so bad because if it fails due to an incomplete pass you then have two downs and one timeout which means you can call any play you want on 3rd and 4th down.

The first problem with this is Seattle was only down to one timeout because they had called timeout twice previously on this drive. Both timeouts were called with the game clock at a standstill. They were called because the team was at risk of not getting the play off before the play clock expired. One such timeout was burned after Kearse's miracle catch. I can forgive that one. The other was called off an incomplete pass. That's inexcusable.

Even if we get past that, calling a pass there isn't a smart idea. Your best player is Marshawn Lynch. if he gets stuffed, call your final timeout and then you probably need to pass on 3rd down and then 4th down you can call what you want. You still get 2 runs and a pass on your remaining 3 downs. All season long Seattle has tied their identity to the running game. Add in that Seattle was the best in the league in power runs and New England was among the worst teams at defending power runs, and it boggles the mind why Seattle went away from their strength at this point.

So yes, calling a pass play is unwise here. But a play-action pass to a tight end or a fullback? I could see the logic there. The linebackers have to respect the run (Lynch just gained 4 yards on 1st and goal), and Wilson can either hit an open receiver or throw it away. Instead Seattle called a slant. Seattle stays away from slants most of the time, as they can be risky because if the ball deflects, there are lots of would-be interceptors in the middle of the field. There are even more when in the red zone and the field is compressed. I'm not sure Russell Wilson is particularly effective at throwing the slant either. Calling for a slant pass in this situation is unconscionable. All season long Seattle has dared teams to line up and beat them. To line up and out-physical them. To line up and out-finish them. And with their season on the line in the Super Bowl one yard away from glory...they draw up a pass play type they rarely use to their 4th receiver.

A quick add-on: Russell Wilson's throw was not good. Lockette has caught grief for not fighting harder for the ball (more on this in a second), and yes, more fight could have prevented the interception. But to make the catch would have required a tremendous diving catch at a high ball. On a slant that should not be required to complete the pass. Russell's throw was too far out in front of Lockette. He should never have been asked to make that throw, but he also executed it poorly.

Like I said, Seattle's coaching staff lost the game the second time for this team. The it got worse. Pete Carroll took the blame for calling for a pass. I expect nothing less from the head man. No matter what, the buck stops with him and he didn't overrule the pass call even if the idea didn't originate with him. It also makes sense for the bulletproof guy to take the blame to shield the offensive coordinator much of the Seattle fan-base has an uneasy relationship with. Russell Wilson also took the blame for not executing the play. Also makes sense, Wilson is the on-field leader and he didn't execute that play well.

Then offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell opened his mouth.

I don't have a problem with Bevell refusing Pete Carroll's life raft. I have a major problem with Bevell blaming Ricardo Lockette in any way, shape, or form. The biggest problem with this play was the play call, and that's Bevell. He screwed up and needs to own it. Throwing the player under the bus is unbecoming of a coach, and might even be worse than the play call itself.

The Patriots played a terrific game and are deserved victors, but Seattle gave this game away at the end. Did fortune smile on them to give them the chance to hand the victory back to New England? Absolutely. It didn't need to come down to the offensive coaching staff getting too cute. But it did, and they blew it.

This one will sting for a long time. San Francisco had first and goal late in the game down 4 and failed to execute. Two seasons later they haven't been back to the big game, their coaching staff has been blown up, and who knows what the future holds. Will Seattle suffer a similar fate? Who can tell. All I know is this team had a Super Bowl victory in their hands, and they (literally) threw it away.

I don't look forward to explaining the facts of the situation to my son tomorrow morning (later today, really). I'm glad he's only 4. He'll bounce back quickly. We'll play Legos and Superheros and who knows what else, and all will be well. Heck, Seattle even won the Super Bowl last year, so it's not all heartache (I shudder to think of what I'd be feeling right now without XLVIII). But this one will smart for a loooooong time.

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