Back in the place where he was fired despite success, coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks had a transcendent game against the NFL’s top team, the Patriots. “A nice little night,” he said. Heh-heh.
Storylines from the Seahawks-Patriots epic in Foxborough, MA., Sunday are wiggling like a big litter of three-week-old puppies. I’m going to pick my favorite: Delicious retribution for coach Pete Carroll. After a seven-point underdog beat the best team in the NFL, 31-24, on the road, on short rest, missing the unstoppable defender, and in a chillingly ironic replication and reversal of Super Bowl XLIX circumstances, Carroll can now say to the Patriots principals:
—- you, Tom Brady.
—- you, Bill Belichick.
—- you, Robert Kraft.
Of course, he didn’t say that. And he’ll try to convince all of us he doesn’t even think in those coarse terms.
Kraft was the owner who fired him after Carroll wasn’t like his predecessor, Bill Parcells, and gave the successor, Belichick, everything Carroll said a coach needed to succeed in the NFL.
Belichick outmaneuvered him in the final minute of the greatest NFL game ever played to leave a mark on Carroll’s record that comes with its own siren and blinking red light.
Brady was the quarterback who completed 13 of 15 passes in the final quarter of the most watched event in American TV history, against one of the greatest defenses the game has seen, by brilliantly ravaging the wounded FS Earl Thomas, CB Richard Sherman and SS Kam Chancellor — after CB Jeremy Lane went to the hospital with a arm broken and a knee torn up on the same play.
And this was just another win? Like Mt. Rainier is a speed bump.
The Seahawks Sunday beat the best at their best, in the best way possible for Carroll: In front of another national audience that has acutely debated the end of XLIX like no other game, he coaxed a goal-line stand from his defense to preserve the win as Belichick chose to throw from the one-yard line instead of giving the ball to one of the best short-yardage runners in the game.
The irony here is capable of bending light waves.
“When it got down to it,” Carroll said of the final-minute stand that had every one of his defensive-coach nerves afire, “you got a chance to win a game on the one-yard line . . . ain’t nothing like in football.”
Nor is there anything in football like Seahawks-Patriots. Nor is there anything like the excruciating competitiveness of Belichick-Carroll. Nor is there anything like the marvelousness 0f old Tom Brady against young Russell Wilson.
Never thought I’d write this, but the vibe is more intense than the one between Carroll and former 49ers coach and longtime contemptuous rival Jim Harbaugh.
For one reason: Carroll respects the hell out of Belichick.
“We played the best you can play out there,” Carroll said of the Pats, against whom he is 2-1 as the Seattle coach. “Great team. They have everything going for them — the best quarterback that’s ever played. Best coach that’s ever coached. You can’t get any better than that.
“We had a nice little night against all that.”
Read that quote again and know that that is as close as Carroll will come verbally to a posterizing tomahawk dunk on an opponent. A nice little night. Hah.
He also mentioned earlier the short practice week and the long trip, the Patriots’ bye and their general good health. He lined up all the advantages for the Pats, and his players knocked them all down.
In his former home, no less, where he took the Pats to two playoff appearances in his three seasons and still was fired by Kraft, regarded as the NFL’s most successful and influential owner. Carroll never returned to the area until this weekend.
Vindication? Validation? Closure? Redemption? Revenge? Carroll doesn’t deal in those words, even if each is partly true. He wasn’t even dealing in XLIX irony, despite the fact that every serious student of the NFL game was cramping up in amazement over the double helix developed by the two narratives.
“I’m not thinking about what happened before,” he said. “I’m just playing the game tonight.”
So then . . . how did it feel here tonight at Gillette Stadium, he was asked.
“The stadium is a lot better than the old one — this is a lot nicer,” he said, grinning as he dodged the question’s intent. Then he paused to look at the reporter:
“Whaddaya think? I liked it.”
Jeez, did he like it. Not only did he hang one on the NFL’s second-most insufferable franchise (Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have retired the trophy), he did it with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas blasting Pats players into trepidation and apprehension, then winning the goal-line battle in the final minute, five times denying New England inside the two-yard line.
This is from from Rob Gronkowski, the Pats’ all-pro tight end and perambulating sculpture of David, on the hit to the chest from Thomas that knocked him from the game for four plays:
“That was a big hit, for sure. Probably one of the hardest I’ve been hit in my career, for sure. (It was) by a good player — a good, fast player who’s like a missile. It was a good, clean hit.”
A missile. Yup.
Carroll was thrilled that the game came down to the final play when Chancellor defended Gronk into nothing. Brady’s pass never came close. Carroll said the moment replicated the play that ended the Seahawks practice on Friday, with Chancellor defending one-on-one a scout-team tight end and coming away with the ball.
“Kam slammed the ball and went crazy,” Carroll said. Of the real play, he said, “Great player throwing to a a great player, and a great guy covering him. Great matchup.”
The word “great” was tossed about a lot Sunday, rightfully so. Then Carroll offered this summary of his team.
“I’m so fired up about these guys,” he said. “The resolve, the focus and the leadership we have allows us to be in moments like this and come through like this. It takes experience guts and grit.
“As we make the turn here (into the season’s second half), I think our guys are really ready to push to see how far we can take this season.”
In November and December with Russell Wilson as the quarterback, the Seahawks are 30-6. After Sunday night, when Carroll and his Seahawks dunked on the Pats, a potential path begins to emerge toward something that may out-Cub the Cubs winning the World Series.
A Seahawks-Patriots rematch in Houston.