BY Art Thiel 11:02PM 02/01/2015

Thiel: Pats knew Seahawks pass was coming

Belichick alerted Malcolm Butler, who blew it in practice, on the final, fateful play that crushed the Seahawks’ bid for a second consecutive Super Bowl win.

Russell Wilson releases the final pass of the season, picked off by Malcolm Brown, whose arm is visible in front of the Pats’ Brandon Browner (39). / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

GLENDALE, AZ. — Many of the players and coaches were showered, dressed and on the buses. Equipment had been loaded. Shirtless and wordless on their stools, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas still had on game pants and the thousand-mile stares of defeated men. Seconds passed. No words or movements.

Thomas, the most emotionally volatile of the Seahawks, looked so forlorn that Sherman, who was at angle to his friend, searched his face for clues about what to say. The moment was rare, because Sherman offered nothing.

For a team that, save for one, can talk chrome off a trailer hitch, the silence screamed.

The Seahawks, a team that so often finds ways to win close games, including the NFC Championship two weeks ago, found a way to lose one so devastating that it will be recited in a thousand years in Seattle and the nation whenever someone needs a metaphor for sports agony.

“An inch too far,” said Seahawks QB Russell Wilson of his ill-fated pass that was intercepted. A yard too short, when considering RB Marshawn Lynch on the previous play gained four yards on first-and-goal from the five-yard line with 20 seconds left. And one trip too many to the well expecting the same outcome and finding someone smarter in the way.

That would be Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who won the game Tuesday in practice. Yes, we all know that New England’s 28-24 win Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium will be etched in Super Bowl history as the game that coach Pete Carroll screwed up with a pass-play call that should have been a handoff to Lynch, which sheep herders in Mongolia  knew would have been a second consecutive Super Bowl win and ascension to sporting Valhalla.

More on that later. First, Tuesday with Bill at practice.

At least as intense in his opponent studies as Carroll, Belichick had his backups run the play the Seahawks would use in the seminal moment of the season, a bunch right formation in which receivers Jermaine Kearse and the ill-fated Ricardo Lockette would break into different routes designed to rub a defender off Lockette on a slant to free him for an easy touchdown reception.

In the Pats’ practice, scout team QB Jimmy Garoppolo fired a TD pass to wide receiver Josh Boyce, just as the Seahawks would intend. The victim Tuesday was Malcolm Butler, a rookie reserve cornerback from a school called West Alabama.

“Bill told me they were going to run it (in the game),” Butler said. “He got into me real good.”

Belichick knew the play would come. But likely he didn’t anticipate it in a goal-line situation where the defense has some advantage in tight quarters with the game on the line.

But it didn’t matter what Belichick thought then. His earlier chewing out of Butler did the job. Plus, moments earlier, Butler was the defender on Kearse when the Seahawks receiver came down on his back with the ball after it hit off three parts of his body at the 5-yard line.

“I felt like the game was on me,” Butler said.

So as Lockette moved into place, Butler leaped in front of him to intercept the pass. The Seahawks’ improbable comeback was thwarted by an even more unlikely stop by an even more unlikely defender, to win Super Bowl XLIX.

But no one can say now that the Pats didn’t know it was coming. That was the decisive element in the play call.

As Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell explained it, at second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, they wanted to score with little or no time left, a longtime Carroll strategic staple that cuts off the opponent’s longshot chance at a big kickoff return or a Hail Mary.

They knew they had the best back in the game. Lynch had run for 102 yards on 24 carries. And the Pats were in a goal-line defense. But if he scored on the next play, 15 or 16 seconds would be left for Pats QB Tom Brady, the game’s Most Valuable Player. So Bevell called a pass play practiced and used numerous times.

“It would either be a touchdown or an incompletion,” Bevell said, “and we still had two more downs and a timeout.”

But Lockette was the least experienced among the three receivers. Bevell said Lockette “could have done a better job at staying strong through the ball. But the kid from New England made a great play.”

Made easier because he and Belichick knew it was coming.

“I just told (Wilson), ‘Make sure and throw it in there,’” Carroll said. “We’ll run on third and fourth down.”

The strategy had some logic. But any pass play in such close quarters that isn’t a fade route to the edge of the end zone is subject to a higher chance of batting, tipping — or picking.

And a slant to Lockette isn’t a high-percentage move on a fastball from Wilson.

The Seahawks made a game full of bold decisions, including a risky pass to rookie WR Chris Matthews with two seconds left in the first half for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14.

But in the final moment, audacity did not serve them.  They took a chance on a pass play known to Belichick and Butler, ignoring a much more secure option. They paid for it with the game, and an episode that, no matter how hard they rationalize otherwise, will be on the coaches.

As LB Bruce Irvin put it, “I don’t understand how you don’t give it to the best back in the league on not even the 1-yard line.”

Carroll owned it.

“I take full responsibility; it’s my fault,” he said, in the automatic tone of a ship’s captain. That was good that he owned it, but he knows enough sports history to know that the play will permanently scar his otherwise remarkable legacy.

And enhance the legacy of the man across the way, Belichick, who was one play smarter in a splendid clash of titans in the desert.

And please, somebody explain it to Thomas before he spontaneously combusts.


  • Matt

    I’m trying to put a silver lining on this gut-wrenching loss. Maybe the Seahawks find a new offensive coordinator. And maybe Pete Carroll is a better play caller in the future, having learned perhaps the most painful lesson of his career. But right now, all I can think is that the Seahawks had the ball on the one yard line with one timeout left and three downs at their disposal. I suppose had they fed the Beast three straight times and not scored, we’d all be wondering why they didn’t try to pass. But at least they would have failed being who they’re supposed to be: a smash-mouth football team. I thought after Harvin left Bevel had figured it out and Seattle had rediscovered its offensive identity. I guess not.

    • Chris Alexander

      More to the point, the Seahawks had the ball at the 6 yard line with 2 timeouts after Kearse’s catch. Spike the ball, burn the down, but save the timeouts. That gives you ALL the options on EVERY play the rest of the way.

      Presuming the same play call on 2nd down (after the spike) that they called after the timeout before first down, we would have had 3rd and goal on the 1 with 1 timeout remaining. Run or pass, doesn’t matter, since you can stop the clock (with just a few ticks left) if New England stops you.

      We did well to get down inside the 10. But poor clock management, coupled with arguably the worst play call of all time, sealed our fate.

      There’s always next year though. Go Hawks!

  • PokeyPuffy

    A generous serving of humble pie for sure. I feel bad mostly for the players and coaches, who had a great season with a harsh and unfortunate end. I feel bad for me for having to see Bradys’ smug face on the tele
    The ending of this reminds me of the NFC title game last year. Kaepernick tossing what could have been a game winner, only to watch it get away from him…..

  • Snackycakes

    Wanting to leave them with little time on the clock excuse is contradicted when they run a pass play. An incompletion there stops the clock. If they patriots had beat us because their D stopped us from running it in then it’s an easier loss to swallow. But losing it on crappy play calling makes it a bitter bitter pill to swallow.

    • ReebHerb

      The wasted too much time after the first down play. The clock would stop on an incompletion if not a touchdown, they could call a running and change it with audibles for third down. If unsuccessful, use their last timeout and have time to run the fourth down play and change with audibles if necessary. Dang.

  • jafabian

    I could take losing to the Broncos, Steelers, Ravens or Colts. Losing to the Cheatriots on a play that you didn’t agree with it the moment they snapped the ball leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Frustrating to see a team with a history of circumventing rules and employed a man on trial for murder reach the top of the mountain. Now Goodell has to deal with Deflategate. Does he discipline the champs? If he brings the hammer down on them then it tarnishes their most visible, international event. It takes away it’s credibility. And everyone remembers the Patriots team owner publicly reminding Goodell who he works for. I can see the moral of the story being cheaters do win.

    Still, a solid game by the Patriots who came from 14 down to defeat the defending champ. Hopefully the Seahawks learn from this, apply those lessons and come back even stronger for next season.

    • art thiel

      The thing is, the Pats are good enough with the petty stuff. It’s like Nixon: Watergate in itself was unnecessary small-time crap for a guy who already won. The question always gets asked: What else is he doing?

      • jafabian

        At what price a champion? It all comes down to greed. Despite having a great coach and players they still need to do something to feel as though they’re in control of their destiny. They turn a blind eye to Hernandez’s past and feel they got a bargain by drafting him in the 4th round, believing whatever those issues are it’ll be worth it if they win a Super Bowl with him. Reminds me of when Pat Riley said the difference between the Celtics (another Boston team accused of underhanded tactics over the years) and the Lakers is that the Lakers do it with class. The Seahawks believe in their system, more apparently than the Patriots do in theirs, and have been fairly classy during the Paul Allen era. This team especially. They seem to enjoy being Seahawks and not have the “I play for the logo” attitude.

  • Illuminati Doomsday

    Donald Trump blames Barack Obama for Seahawks questionable call.

  • mindful

    Well there was 100+million people , Looking at mano to mano from the yesteryear in the NFL. Yet there were two NFL coaches that reminded us that it is, 2015 after all, and the pass happy NFL. On one play.

    Sucks though how we , The Fans in seattle , Were back to the same old, same old . From one #$#$#%$ play.

    At least we got a super bowl win though. Last year. So there is that memory.

    Time for super bowl 50 , and a dominating 2015 season. But we know, this could be a reeling lost that could effect the team. Time to see pete;s real coaching skills now. Time to Shine now. Get some real Wide receivers .

  • huskydwj

    Art – thanks for stepping up as usual to describe the most difficult, when we’re all still experiencing dry heaves!
    It shouldn’t surprise me that this happened, after my repeated disgust back with the play calls they made with Harvin – not that I’m not glad he’s gone, just really felt Bevell made poor choices. This call made no sense – every expectation in my body was to give the rock to Beast Mode. I absolutely agree that the only pass you’d attempt is a fade, if you MUST – BUT, HANG ONTO THE BALL AT ALL COSTS – DO NOT RISK LOSING IT

  • enscriptchun

    Fire Bevell. That is all.

    Other obvious priorities: Retain Lynch. Get Russell his contract without destroying the team.

  • Effzee

    I cannot tell you the number of times we have found ourselves screaming at the screen this season, “WHY THE HELL AREN’T WE RUNNING THE BALL?!?” It was the same way in the first half against Green Bay as it was in the first half yesterday. I have no idea why we try to all this cutesy BS and go three-and-out all the time, forcing our defense to bail us out and keep us in the game time and time again. Does Darrell Bevell even care that its Marshawn in the backfield? Does he just look at the person playing RB as any person playing RB? Marshawn’s carries and yards indicate he’s been a workhorse back, but those of us who pay attention realize he gets the vast majority of his yards in the second half of games, and only after we are either well in the lead against crappy teams, or when Bevell’s idiotic all-or-nothing passing attack has allowed the other team to stay in the game far longer than they should have. We had opportunities to push that lead yesterday and put the game away, but the play calling was bloody infuriating. What the hell about time of posession and keeping Tom Brady off of the field is so difficult to understand? Its the same thing over and over, all year. Its not rocket science!! Aaaargh!! Its just fine that Pete is falling on the sword for Bevell about the final play. Its probably what he should do. But calling that play to begin with is absolutely inexcusable. Absolutely. Inexcusable.

  • Derf

    Has anyone noticed the eerie similarity – right down to the dubious rationale about time left – between this and Petersen’s call at the end of the Arizona game?

    • ReebHerb

      Amen. Petersen must be real confused after watching professional clock management. How about not wasting time after Lynch’s first down run and reel off three more runs in a relaxed fashion if necessary. The team and fans would be willing to stake everything on runs. Score and let the other team have a try at miricles. After Kearse’s catch, I figured God was on our side.

    • RadioGuy

      I was thinking of that 4th-and-2 call PC made in the USC-Texas game with a 2-point lead and two minutes left, although it wasn’t the SMHer this call was. LenDale White was a power runner so I can see that reasoning, but why keep your Heisman Trophy-winning RB on the sideline with the game on the line?

      Marshawn Lynch is probably asking himself a similar question today.

  • Ray

    Perhaps some fans should consider “the magic just died today”. Wilson may become in his career a great QB? That requires years of work. He has had three magical years, every play, every pass, every bounce of the ball went the Seahawks way. The Seahawks are a great team, but great teams do not win all the games.

    • art thiel

      No magic involved, but the odds on running a perfect drive to win the two biggest games of the season against the two best remaining teams are high.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    The BEST Running back in the NFL at your service and we do not utilize
    him? It was murder trying to get back to the Super Bowl and we are
    served with this kind of incompetence? I wouldn’t want Bevell in the fox
    hole next to mine …that is for sure. That’s the worst case of decision
    making we will EVER see in a SuperBowl….E~V~E~R. Without a doubt ~ it
    should of went like this (one second on the play clock) …Pete:
    “Whoooaaaa! Time out. Whoaaaaa! We are doing WHAT??? Lynch! Lets rethink
    here. Lynch!Grab your crotch.Whatever you need to do but get it in the
    end zone Get out there!!!!”

  • Matt712

    Coming into this game, everyone in the football universe agreed that Marshawn Lynch was THE key guy for Seattle’s offense. Nevermind about the final idiotic insulting snub of the last play; it is the fact that Lynch only got 24 carries in the game that galls me even more. Regardless of whether New England stacked against it, the Seahawks needed a bigger commitment to the run than they gave – particularly in the second half. Never happened.

    Bevell’s insistence on the “more balanced” attack (which has shown up in the stats all year long) clearly demonstrates a philosophy that is at odds with the team’s personality and personnel. I’m not calling for Bevell’s head. But either he needs to change his mentality or the Seahawks need to acquire the necessary talent for Bevell’s philosophy to work. (Percy Harvin was obviously an attempted step in that direction.)

    This season it has been a mismatch. The refusal to fully commit to the run has made many games closer than they needed to be, it cost us the game in Kansas City, and it cost us the Championship this year.

  • ReebHerb

    Very exciting football. Dot.Com era of memorable commercials is finished with over wrought over produced ads. Where can I buy some of those Microsoft vaporware children’s blades using Apple Pay? Half time was nice even without malfunctions and South Lake Union Transit twerping. Gronkowski isn’t that good but is very okay. Two Seahawks players were very bush league at the game’s ending and need to attend off season finishing school. Speaking of finishing school; just run the damn ball.

  • Kevin Lynch

    The butler did it with knife in the living room. Butler knifed in front of Lockette and the season ended with 20 seconds on the clock.

    First, a great three year run is a healthy focus this morning. No shame in losing that game. Second, excellent reporting by SportsPress NW all season long. Thank you. Third, once the worm of fortune turned, and it did after Kearse’s catch, no God in anyone’s heaven was going to help you. Macbeth’s witches were on the other sideline by that point.

    First, Dallas fell to the turn of the screw, then Green Bay and then Seattle. Mom’s new apple pie NFL is still the same amazing and strange place where anything can happen and often does. I realize you make your own luck. But this ending seemed fated. Strange. Hard to believe.

  • Fullbacklead

    The Cowboys should have beaten the Packers. The Packers should have beaten the Seahawks. The Seahawks should have beaten the Patriots. Hawks fans are just the latest members of the “2015 Postseason Devastated Fan Club”. Give. The. Ball. To. Lynch.

  • Raymond Meyers

    If you can set aside the fact that it was our dear Seahawks that lost, that was one of the best Super Bowl games of all time. The Seahawks made the last mistake, but still, that was a game for the ages.

    • art thiel

      Good of you to notice, Ray. True.

  • Warchild_70

    I will feel this stinging more than the worse spanking that my Momma gave me many eons ago!

  • RadioGuy

    I think it was Darrell Royal who once said, “There are three things that can happen when you pass and two of them are bad.” So true. However, as much as people are focusing on this one VERY ill-advised pass attempt, I don’t blame Darrell Bevell for giving up two touchdowns and losing a 10-point lead with less than 8 minutes to go.

    Tom Brady deserves at least a little credit for figuring out what had worked against the Hawk defense earlier in the season: Throw to receivers in FRONT of Seattle defenders (not alongside nor behind them) while getting the ball to Gronkowski because the Seahawks have had some trouble against good tight ends. To be able to do this when the Patriots running game wasn’t working is even more impressive.

    Yeah, it was the wrong play to call in that situation and there’ll be second-guessing going on all spring and summer, but I’d point to the 14 fourth-quarter points that were scored before I’d point to the 6 that weren’t. However foolish, that pass didn’t LOSE the game…it just didn’t win it.

  • ll9956

    This is perhaps the most painful loss I can remember. Speaking as an old geezer, it hurts bad–real bad. I’m having trouble getting the picture of the last play out of my head.

    I keep thinking the players are almost all twenty-somethings and are more resilient than an old fogey like me. On the other hand they’re the ones who played their guts out for about five months and had a fantastic victory snatched away in a flash. It’s going to take some time even for young’uns to recover.

    I can see the logic of the call, so I won’t play Monday afternoon QB. Part of the pain is that there isn’t another chance up to bat for 6+ months. And the Hawks don’t play the Pats in 2015, so no chance for payback any time soon, unless they meet again in SB 50.

    It’s cliche, but perhaps one can argue that if the Hawks had done better earlier in the game, there would have been a different outcome. For instance, they allowed a 21-yard completion when the Pats had 3rd and 18. There are doubtless other examples.

  • Chris Alexander

    I’m going to throw out a thought that I haven’t seen listed anywhere else (yet). The horrible sequence of events that brought the Seahawks season crashing to an end actually started immediately after Jermaine Kearse’s improbably reception … when the Seahawks were unable to get lined up in time to run a plan and had to burn a timeout. Had “we” spiked the ball there, we’d have had 2 timeouts left with 3 plays to punch the ball into the end zone. Consequently, the end of the game COULD have looked like this:

    Run a play on 2nd down. If you’re stopped, let time run off the clock and call timeout.
    Run a play on 3rd down. If you’re stopped, let time run off the clock and call timeout.
    Run a play on 4th down. If you’re stopped, the Patriots DESERVE the win. If not, the title is yours.

    The “beauty” of this scenario is that the Seahawks would have had the option of calling either a run or a pass on EVERY attempt (except the spike, obviously). And it’s not like they don’t practice the spike drill. They just didn’t call it this time and it ended up costing them. Instead of having 2 timeouts and having the ability to stop the clock after every play the rest of the way, they painted themselves into a corner where if they didn’t call the pass on 2nd down and didn’t score on a 2nd down rush then they pretty much HAD to call a pass on 3rd down.

    I won’t lie. This loss HURTS. But even as I was watching the game, I was wondering why they didn’t just spike the ball on first down after Jermaine’s catch. Save the timeout. Keep your options open.

    C’est la vie.

  • notaboomer

    so after the “worst call in sports history,” the pats had the ball on the 1/2 yard line with 20 seconds and seahawks with 1 timeout. brady was about to kneel down and take a safety but some bonehead on the hawks jumped offsides (bennett?). had brady taken the safety, pats would have been punting to hawks from pats’ 20 with score 28-26. seattle would have gotten the ball around midfield with about 14 seconds left and a timeout and needing a hauschka field goal to win it. a longshot but not unimaginable way to still have bet tyhe pats. wtf did that hawk jump offsides?

  • David Horsey

    Art, providing that key detail about Belichick running the fateful play in practice really fills in the story of the throw that lost the game. Thanks for giving your readers facts and not just the usual sports blather. You’re a hell of a journalist, and I don’t say that just because I’ve share a few Paradigm Shifts with you on numerous occasions.

    • RadioGuy

      I’m sure the Paradigm Shifts didn’t hurt (especially if Art picked up the tabs), but you’re right. First-rate column.

      • art thiel

        Picked up the tab? Hell, I made them. The line for my bartending is long, so bring a lunch.

        • John M

          Love that reply. Good insight about what happened with The Call, though I can think of 2 other ops that would have been much safer and probably successful . . .

    • art thiel

      Would that you were there with your cartooning touch to add the twist of absurdity so needed.

      You’ll have to work your magic a year from now with the LA Times to send you to Santa Clara for the next Super Bowl, when the Seahawks return to avenge their loss to Lord Voldemort in the next installment of, “Petey Carroll: Return of the Beast on Second and Short.”

      Thanks for the good words.

      • just passing thru

        I sure do miss Mr. Horsey’s wit and art gracing the local newspaper. I’ve never seen a cartoonist draw better girls, either. heh heh

  • Gerald Turner

    Their run defense is stout, Our OL is average. They were in run defense. No problem with the call. What ifs? Would that have been Paul Richardson on the slant had he not got hurt? Would the defense have held up in the fourth quarter better if Lane had not got hurt? Brady stepped up in the pocket a lot, would he have had nowhere to go if our two starting DT’s been in there? Over the years I have learned not to play the what if game. Don’t care who the team we lose to is(except Pittsburgh pukes). Very good season for a young team that is still growing. Future is bright. Next season they will be hungry. Hey, we got to see 38 Seahawk games in two years, not bad if you like lots of football.

  • Leon Russell

    Marshawn Lynch is the best running back in the game? LOL
    You guys are pathetic homers. What is that based on?
    Lynch is nowhere near the best running back in the game.

  • Leon Russell

    Can we now finally stop hearing that utter nonsense about the Seahawks’ defense being among the best in the history of the NFL?

    • art thiel

      Given the rules changes in the game that would have disqualified the great defenses of yore, they are the best in the remade game. It’s about speed and quickness, not bludgeoning power.

      • Leon Russell

        377 yards and 4 touchdowns. 2 touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Seahawks have a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter and lose.
        Best defense of all time? lol

  • Leon Russell

    The Seahawks have been the luckiest team in the NFL for the past two seasons. Their luck just finally ran out.
    The Hawks should never have even been in this Super Bowl. It should have been the Pats vs the Packers.

    • art thiel

      Eager to read how you parse luck from self-generated opportunity.

      • Leon Russell

        Wilson throws a popup in the air up for grabs and a SeaHawk catches it for a 2-point conversion.
        On-side kick right to a Packer and he can’t control it and the SeaHawks recover.
        Winning a coin toss to get the ball in over time?
        Receiver lying flat on his back, ball bounces off his legs and drops into his arms.

      • just passing thru

        somebody’s up on a tight wire.

      • Leon Russell

        How many games has Russell Wilson lost to injury since he became starting quarterback?
        How many PLAYS has Wilson missed to injury since he became starting quarterback?
        Just “self-generated opportunity”? lol

  • PokeyPuffy

    One last bit of venting before i try to re-enter non football reality, here goes:

    This big wipeout reminds me of the 2013 NBA finals when the Spurs gave away game 6 in the closing minutes, squandering a 3-2 series lead and the chance to close out the Heat. The sidelines were being roped off, and the O’Brien trophy was present on the floor, Stern was ready to take center stage.

    They of course lost game 06 (questionable substitutions in the closing minutes!) and went on to lose the series in 7, an epic collapse that brought out the usual droves of haters in the media. One would think he was the worst thing to happen to San Antonio Texas that you could imagine! We all now know in hindsight that Popovich is a genius and presides over one of the most improbable and wonderful dynasties in all of sports.

    Of course the Spurs bounced back in 2014 and completely destroyed the league en route to a brilliant finals victory over the very same Miami Heat that vexed them the prior year. And looked great doing it, with key roster additions and significant contributions from there veterans. This happened less than a year ago.

    So getting to the point, Carrol has played a similar role in Seattle IMO. This place was a freaking sports graveyard before he came along, ‘specially relative to football. I for one am thankful that he’s here, idiosyncrasies and all. I think he has an opportunity here to turn this into a learning experience for himself and his young team, and bring relevance to this far neck of the woods.