The Seahawks taking a penalty for delay of game near the end of their 2019 NFL regular-season finale might end up expediting their exit from the NFC playoffs. The irony is, the game-losing mistake might have occurred because coach Pete Carroll was worried about another epic big-game fail at the 1-yard line.
Seattle managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory again in its 26-21 home loss to San Francisco on Sunday night after failing, as in Super Bowl 49, to get running back Marshawn Lynch the ball near the goal line — only this time, it shouldn’t have tried so hard to give it to him.
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It seemed virtually certain the Seahawks would score their third touchdown of the quarter and take the lead after setting up a first-and-goal from the 1 with less than half a minute left. Then came a Russell Wilson spike to stop the clock with 23 seconds remaining. Then came the inexcusable 5-yard penalty ahead of second down for letting the play clock run out.
Three plays later, and with a questionable defensive pass interference non-call in between, the Seahawks came up just short of the goal line on fourth down. Game over.
After the game, Carroll told reporters something interesting: The delay of game happened because of wanting a running back (let’s call him “Beast Mode”) in the game for the pending second-down play from the 1 — a play that never happened because Seattle had to move back to the 6.
Pete Carroll said the delay penalty was a result of confusion on Seattle’s sideline in getting a running back into the game. They were in an empty backfield the play before. Carroll said there may have been less urgency because players can mistakenly treat spikes like timeouts.
— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) December 30, 2019
This wasn’t a playoff game, but it was the de facto NFC West championship game. Now, instead of going into the Super Bowl 54 tournament as division champions and a No. 3 seed with another game in Seattle, the Seahawks have to travel cross-country to play in Philadelphia for the second time in seven weeks. On the other side, they helped put the rival 49ers in great position to win the NFC as a No. 1 seed with home-field advantage.
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Unlike in Super Bowl 49, not everything was on the line for the Seahawks at the end Sunday, but there was some of the same feel to the situation, and that was enough for Seattle to find a way to create the same failure.
Keep in mind that Wilson and Carroll’s Seahawks will never stop being haunted by what could have been had they handed the ball to Lynch down 28-24 to the Patriots late in Super Bowl 49 — instead of calling for a Wilson pass from the 1 that Malcolm Butler jumped at the goal line and intercepted with 26 seconds to play.
Also note that Lynch, re-unretired because of injuries to running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, was playing his first game for the Seahawks since 2015 and that he had launched himself successfully into the end zone, to the thunderous delight of the Seahawks’ Skittles-throwing faithful, after getting the ball at the 1 earlier in the fourth quarter.
That classic Beast Mode play, as you might expect, gave the Seahawks a spark to go blow-for-blow with the 49ers until right before the end after showing little life on offense in falling behind 13-0 at halftime.
Carroll is fueled by emotion; that trait is part of the reason he has been so successful. His rah-rah translated from USC much better than anyone could have expected in Seattle, and it helped him to turn the Seahawks into consistent NFC contenders and one-time Super Bowl champions. Wilson is every bit the rah-rah QB as an extension of Carroll.
But the sentiment behind possibly allowing Lynch to score the game- and division-winner in his inspiring return may have been costly. Rational situational coaching and clock management were needed at the time. The heart no doubt called for “Beast Mode,” as if, in some way, setting up a chance to give him the ball at the 1 would make amends for what didn’t happen in Super Bowl 49. The head called for not wasting first down with Wilson and staying in passing mode out of the spread.
The good news this time is the Seahawks’ playoff dreams weren’t dashed by this meltdown. They live and die by the close game, and they depend on Wilson to save the day when everything else isn’t right — which really isn’t a bad plan.
The Seahawks impeded their own path to the end zone with the ill-fated delay. Unfortunately for them, that clock mismanagement means they are staring at a playoff roadblock as a wild-card team.