Carroll takes blame on call as world (including his own players) takes aim
Opportunities to win back-to-back Super Bowls only come around so often.
The Seattle Seahawks came inches short from making it happen for the first time in the NFL in a decade on Sunday night, but saw it all come to an end when unheralded — OK, unknown — rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler picked off a Russell Wilson pass in the end zone with 20 seconds to play to preserve the New England Patriots' 28-24 win in Super Bowl XLIX.
The ill-fated call came on second-and-goal from the Patriots' 1-yard line, and on the heels of a strong four-yard run by running back Marshawn Lynch on a first-and-goal play from the 5.
A run by Lynch — who finished with 102 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries — certainly seemed in order. But with a timeout left, the Seahawks put the ball in Wilson's hands with the in-breaking pass play.
Butler stepped in front of Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and made the startling grab, sealing the win with seconds remaining.
And no one is under more scrutiny than head coach Pete Carroll — even if you want to blame offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell who made the play call, the crosshairs are squarely on Carroll. And he knows it.
"I told those guys, 'That's my fault, totally,'" Carroll told NBC Sports after the game. "But we had plenty of time to win the game ... we were playing for third and fourth down, give them no time left ... but didn't work out that way."
After the game, Carroll reiterated where the responsibility sits, saying "Nobody to blame but me."
While Carroll accepted blame for the play call, Bevell said that Lockette could have gone stronger to the ball, according to the Seattle Times.
Common logic might say to give it to one of the best running backs in the league in that situation. Some Seattle players echoed that sentiment following the game.
"Give it to Marshawn ... that's what I was thinking," linebacker Bruce Irvin said via FOX 13, after the game. "Give it to the best back in the league on the 1-yard line.
"How do you throw the ball when you got Marshawn Lynch?" cornerback Tharold Simon said, per Detroit Free Press reporter Josh Katzenstein.
"We've got Marshawn Lynch, one of the best running backs in the league, and everybody makes their decisions and unfortunately, we didn't give him the ball," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said, according to The Associated Press.
“I think we all were surprised," receiver Doug Baldwin reportedly told ESPN. "We still had a timeout and felt we should take a shot. I don’t know, man. I’m just trying to make up an explanation. Everybody is going to want to blame something or somebody. It shouldn’t have come down to that one play."
And it was a lot worse on Twitter.
BREAKING: Seahawks Offensive Coordinator press conference!!! https://t.co/lE05UxinPQ— ANTHONY ADAMS (@spiceadams) February 2, 2015
Still stunned. That was the dumbest play call in a major game in the HISTORY of sports . WHY???????? #superbowl— Lou DiBella (@loudibella) February 2, 2015
Any way you look at it, Seattle’s insane pass at the end of the Super Bowl was the worst play-call in modern s... http://t.co/8hR3McKiJ6— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) February 2, 2015
2nd dwn, Beast Mode running gr8 and you throw a pass on the 3 yd line. That's a terrible play call. #Awful.— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) February 2, 2015
Carroll's explanation: He saw the Patriots bring in a formation with eight big guys and three cornerbacks and didn't think Lynch, who tied for the league lead with 13 touchdowns rushing this season, would be able to bull it in against that defense. Plus, if the quick shot in the end zone didn't work out, they were still saving the timeout for after third down, in case Lynch was unable to get into the end zone.
"It's not a great matchup for us to run the football, so we were going to throw the ball, really to waste a play," Carroll said. "If we score, we do, if we don't, we'll run it in on third or fourth down."
Instead, Wilson rifled in a pass and Butler made a fantastic play.
"They're goal-line plays. That didn't surprise me," Belichick told NBC Sports. "They do a lot of things down there. We had to be ready for everything."
For an unheralded rookie cornerback who played Division III football a year ago, it's a play that will go down in Super Bowl history.
"I just had a vision that I was going to make a big play and it came true," Butler said to NBC Sports after the game.
Only moments earlier, things were playing out much differently for Butler. He was in coverage — good coverage — against Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse and appeared to bat the ball down for an incompletion. But as Kearse was falling, the ball bobbled between his legs, and he kept it in the air by batting it twice while tumbling. Kearse made the catch on his back for a 33-yard gain that gave Seattle a first-and-goal at the 5.
Butler went to the sideline.
"My teammates were saying, nine out of 10 times, that ball is incomplete," he said. "It was devastating."
As for Lynch, was he surprised with the play call? The Seahawks running back was direct when talking to ESPN's Jim Trotter.
"No. Because we play football. It's a team sport."
Wilson, the third-year quarterback, put the blame on his shoulders for making the risky throw in traffic.
"I put the blame on me," Wilson told assembled media members after the game. "I'll have to watch it again. I don't know what I could've done different. I put the blame on me because I'm the one who gave him the ball.
"I thought it was going to be a touchdown. But I put the blame on me. I'm the one who threw it."
However the blame is divvied up, the Seahawks missed out on a golden opportunity to bring home another Lombardi.
I commend @DangeRussWilson for covering for his coaches.— Emmitt Smith (@EmmittSmith22) February 2, 2015
The only thing @DangeRussWilson could have done differently was object to the call.— Emmitt Smith (@EmmittSmith22) February 2, 2015
— The Associated Press contributed to this report