Generally speaking, when you've got second and goal from the one with less than half a minute to play in the Super Bowl and you need a touchdown, that's not the best time to get cute.
Most people would generally feel comfortable letting the NFL's best short yardage back behind one of the league's best offensive lines take a crack at running the ball especially since you have a timeout in your pocket. I'm speaking generally because last night, that was exactly what didn't happen.
The aftermath was special. Fans hated the call. NFL players hated the call. Hell, the Seahawks hated the call. The hyperbole came flooding out.
It wasn't. It wasn't even the worst call this season. Hell, it's a call that the Rams made multiple times this year (that I criticized every time but only because I like conservative football). But it wasn't the worst call ever by any measure. If anything, it was a call that worked out in the worst way possible for the Seahawks in the most important waning moments of the final game of the season. That doesn't make it a horrible call and certainly not the worst call ever.
Here are five reasons why:
The Seahawks only had one timeout left. Had they run the ball and not made it in, they would have had to take that final timeout leaving them with a third, and possibly fourth down, situation where they would have had to pass. And the Patriots would have known they would have had to pass. This was the last down on which there was any chance of taking advantage of misplaced expectation. Granted, Patriots CB and morning-made hero Malcolm Butler said the Seahawks' use of three receivers in their goalline package tipped off the pass, but it was nonetheless the last opportunity for Seattle to exploit any pre-snap commitment by New England.
The look at the snap favored the Seahawks being able to execute the play. The stacked receivers showed the Patriots were in man coverage, and a pick play should leave one of those receivers open. If there was any trepidation on the part of Seahawks Offensive Coordinator Dick Bevell and QB Russell Wilson, the eight-man front the Patriots showed would have erased it. Wilson even said there wasn't a clear check out of the call, because it looked the way you're hoping it looks as a QB pre-snap.
3.) Malcolm Butler
To make things more enticing, the play was designed to attack the Patriots' fifth cornerback, an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama who a few plays earlier hadn't successfully stopped Jermaine Kearse from turning an incredible juggling act on the ground into a reception. If you were going to attack a soft spot in the Patriots' passing defense, Butler would have been it. He was it. He just made a play you don't expect a soft spot to make with seconds left in the Super Bowl in a man coverage situation.
4.) The play worked...at first
Just look at the window Wilson's feeding:
That's Ricardo Lockette in the red circle streaking underneath his pick a full four yards in front of Butler in the yellow circle. If you polled 100 people asking what would happen, how many would think this ball gets caught for a touchdown...
5.) The mind is the playing field
And yet for all the things that were set up in the Seahawks' favor, we all know what ultimately happened. What makes football and sports at large great is that they're not just about the performance or the execution of concept. They are concept itself. Take it with perhaps a grain of skepticism, but Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia suggested they were trying to draw a pass out of the Seahawks. The mental chess game sets the borders within which the game is actually played. Rams fans should know as much. Former OC Brian Schottenheimer consistently played into these kinds of calls where he avoided doing the expected (and like this situation, the more rational) to try to take advantage of an unsuspecting defense. It rarely worked out.
Football's complex. Incredibly so. And too often, we (fans, media, Americans, hu-mans) try to distill the complexity of the game into digestible simplicities. Oh, the ball got intercepted? WORST PLAYCALL EVAROFALLTIMEFORETERNITY. The result breeds the ignorance of nuance and context. We see it every Sunday. It's fitting that the Super Bowl would provide us with such an apt reminder in such a crucial situation.
Would I ever have avoided giving that ball to Marshawn Lynch? No. I lean toward conservative football and I'm fully in camp with Beast Mode plus that offensive line. But I can understand why the Seahawks would make the call they did. It has logic behind it. And for a sport that has seen horrible calls made in crucial situations with little functional logic behind it, perhaps we should pull back on the hyperbole today.
That wasn't the worst call ever.
Something we might be able to agree on though? The commercials last night were pretty weak. And a special trophy goes out to this St. Louis-area ad with a folksy touch on overdosing on heroin:
So let's focus on the important things today, kids.