In the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XLIX, everyone, including myself, has discussed, debated, and rehashed what didn’t happen at the conclusion of the Patriots’ 28-24 victory over the Seahawks.
But not nearly enough attention is being paid to what actually did happen.
What didn’t happen was Marshawn Lynch receiving another opportunity to pound the ball into the end zone less than a yard out. I don’t have a contrarian viewpoint on this topic; whether the Patriots were in goal line defense or had snuck 11 extra defenders onto the field in efforts to slow him down, the Seahawks should have handed the ball to Lynch on second down.
If New England stops him, so be it. But assuming Lynch doesn’t fumble, the Seahawks still would have had third down (or fourth) to attempt another play.
Instead, Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell decided to pass the ball on second down, thus became punching bags for Monday morning quarterbacks everywhere.
But after having a few days to reflect, I actually understand the reasoning behind throwing the ball in that situation. While I still don’t agree with Carroll’s decision to throw the ball on that down, I do understand the thought process behind the play-call.
Against man-to-man, rubs (or picks) are coverage beaters. NFL and college teams run rub routes at the goal line with great success, including the Seahawks. The problem, of course, is that Malcolm Butler made one hell of a play to seal Super Bowl XLIX. He recognized the formation, based on practice preparation, beat Ricardo Lockette to his spot and hung on for one of the biggest interceptions in Super Bowl history. Based on the outcome and the fact that the opposition knew what was coming (or at least Butler did), it was a horrible decision by the Seahawks, but one that wasn’t completely unjustifiable.
In fact, go back and watch the play right before that fateful second down: The Seahawks gave the Patriots a similar look on Lynch’s four-yard run on first down as they did on Butler’s interception. They came out in a two-receiver stack to Russell Wilson’s right and ran a rub route. The difference between the two plays is that Darrelle Revis played soft in coverage on first down. Doug Baldwin (who ran a slant) ultimately wound up blocking Revis because the play call was a run with Lynch, but you can see why Bevell thought another rub would work on second down based off the look he got on the previous play.
Had Butler played soft in coverage like Revis did the play before, Lockette would have waltzed into the end zone untouched and the Seahawks probably hold on to win their second straight Super Bowl. Instead, Butler did the polar opposite by relying on his instincts and made an aggressive, spectacular play.
Eric Ilich, a friend of mine that has called plays at the high school level for over a decade, was able to provide insight on the two plays from a play-caller’s standpoint.
“The Seahawks came back to that formation because they thought it was going to be an easy completion,” Ilich said. “It’s normal to build in looks like that. Butler had the matchup and won.
“If Revis was still in coverage and played the route the same way he did on first down, the outcome may have been different.”
Eric ultimately came to the same conclusion that many others did: he wouldn’t have thrown the ball in that situation. Had Seattle ran the ball with Lynch, Butler would have never had the opportunity to make the play of his life. But when you take a step back and look the series of events leading up to Carroll’s fateful decision, you come away with a greater appreciation for what Butler did in that moment.
Given the second-guessing that always occurs following games, the focus will remain on Carroll and who’s to blame from Seattle. And while I didn’t agree with his decision, I respect Carroll for taking the blame in the aftermath of his team’s downfall. Leaders are accountable and accept responsibility for situations in which they’re in charge. Deflecting blame, even when there’s plenty of it to go around, is a sign of weakness. While they may never get over the fact that Lynch didn’t carry the ball on second down, Seattle players will respect how Carroll didn’t pass blame when he was caught in the crosshairs of people demanding answers.
Even though we’ll continue to obsess over what Carroll didn’t do, let’s not lose focus on what Butler did. Football is about players making plays. And Butler made one of the biggest plays in NFL history.