BY Art Thiel 03:49PM 10/04/2019

Thiel: Seahawks survive Pete’s ‘fatal optimism’

Coach Pete Carroll’s conservative approach on a fourth-down call blew up on him, just as higher-risk calls did in the loss to the Saints. “Fatal optimism” is tricky.

The wild, successful end Thursday kept Seahawks coach Pete Carroll from explaining how his decision-making “issues” contributed to a loss. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

A side benefit for Pete Carroll on Greg Zuerlein’s missed field goal that re-ignited the Seahawks season Thursday was that it relegated a fan favorite, debating the coach’s judgments on third and fourth downs, to also-ran status. The 30-29 outcome couldn’t have been more narrow, but the narrative couldn’t have changed more completely.

That doesn’t mean the circumstance isn’t worth reviewing, because Carroll is secure enough to admit publicly he has impulse “issues,” the polite term favored by mental health counselors.

“When you’re fatally optimistic, it’s hard to think you’re not going to make it,” he said Friday on his weekly radio show on ESPN 710. “That’s what I have to battle against. I wouldn’t call it demons, but there are issues going on there.

“Without other considerations, my gut feeling is always to go for it. That’s what I’m fighting, and have to deal with my own issues.”

That might be an NFL first, a coach self-identifying publicly that he’s too positive for the good of himself and his team.

But in one instance Thursday, he executed a nifty self-check, undoubtedly pleasing his therapist. Carroll walked back his impulse to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Rams 30-yard line and chose to attempt a field goal.

Except the decision blew up into nearly an outcome-changing sequence that, for a national TV audience, would have evoked the Play That Shall Not Be Uttered.

The Seahawks were up 14-6 with 1:38 remaining in the first half when RB Chris Carson was stoned for no gain at third-and-one. A subsequent field goal would have made for a two-score lead. But Jason Myers missed from 48 yards.

Rejuvenated, the Rams took over at the 38 and covered 62 yards in eight plays, abetted by a QB-roughing call on DE Ziggy Ansah. A nine-yard TD pass to Cooper Kupp cut the Seattle lead to 14-13 at the half, stunning the crowd into a mass murmur.

Asked what things he relies on in making such decisions, Carroll was amused.

“I don’t have a clue,” he said, laughing. “No, really, I try to take into account of everything, then go from my gut.

“In this game in particular, I wanted to do my part to play this as a championship game. Meaning you’re counting on your defense and your offense, and the length of the game, to not get into a moment where you feel desperate to go for it.”

More plainly, Carroll was not going to make the same mistakes he did in the loss to the New Orleans Saints, when he tried to play catch-up with higher-risk calls, and failed. Sometimes, your swash gets buckled.

“I wanted to attack (the Rams) conservatively, like we were going to beat them,” he said.  “I went into the game thinking that way and wanted to carry it through.

“We could have gone for it, taken a shot. But one thing we didn’t want to do was give them the ball back. We did. They had good field position. There was no question Myers was going to make it. Make or miss wasn’t a question.”

That where the optimism becomes fatal. He no more considered Myers missing than he considered against New England that Russell Wilson could throw an interception from the 1-yard line.

It’s tough being a coach. He went higher-risk against the Saints, and it failed. He went lower-risk against the Rams, and that didn’t work either. At least Thursday, he had enough game left — and Russell Wilson — to survive the presumptive 10-point turnaround.

Typically, the aggrieved parties on fourth-down optimism are fans, because players’ egos are more or less as intense as Carroll’s when it comes to risk-taking.

“They do appreciate it when you go for it,” he said. “They’re disappointed, but I don’t think it crushes them in any way.

“More than that, just do things normally.”

That’s what everyone tells an impulsive person. But rarely is life normal when in charge of a pro football sideline, making decisions every 40 seconds over three hours on national TV.

For most fatal optimists, the circumstances would be just plain fatal.


  • jafabian

    Myers hasn’t had the start I hoped for but he hasn’t had many opportunities. Pete doesn’t have the veteran team he’s used to so his success ratio is lower than what he’s used to. They seem to be trying to keep Metcalf involved in as many plays as possible, like the coaches are trying to get this young team to grow up fast. It’ll be interesting to see if they stay with that approach as the season progresses.

    • art thiel

      Carroll has always believed in playing quality kids early so they can contribute significantly by December. Metcalf is a priority.

  • Husky73

    I cannot dial up data, but it seems that the Seahawks have benefited numerous times by missed game-deciding field goals. Certainly the Minnesota playoff game comes to mind.

    • art thiel

      They have had more than their share. Dunno if the ghost of Paul Allen is reliable.

  • antirepug3

    Greg Zuerlein won this game for the Seahawks. The Hawks let the Rams march right down the field passing against a defense that apparently was up in the stands watching the game. I remember a game against the Falcons when they did the same thing only the Falcon’s kicker made it and the Hawks lost that game. I agree with John Madden when he says a prevent defense only prevents you from winning the game. The Hawks got luck on this one. Ain’t no other way to cut it.

    • art thiel

      What if I said what cost Zuerlein was the five-yard penalty before his kick. Was that luck, or a bad Rams play?

  • Husky73

    I just watched the 49ers dismantle the Browns. There’s a new sheriff in town.

    • Bruce McDermott

      We’ve heard that before. It was uttered by a coach in our division who took his team nowhere almost every season he was there. The Niners’ coach is smart enough not to make the same claim.

  • Bruce McDermott

    Actually, the statistical analysis I saw says that the chance of victory would actually have done DOWN if Myers had made it, from 51 to 47%, because even with a make, the Rams would have had the ball with 90 seconds left and a chance to do from the 25 what they actually did from the 38. Whereas if the Hawks went for it and made it, of course, their chances to win would have gone way up. The clear statistically correct call was to go for it. But Pete, for all his assurances that analytics in football are “legit,” shows no such respect for them in the heat of the battle. He’s a very good coach overall–good motivator, good teacher, good father figure, etc….but his weak link is game day decisions. Mood-driven, impulsive, apparently random and sometimes irrational.

    • art thiel

      As Pete says, he has issues. Credit him for public candor.