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The Eight-Layered Blame Game

A somewhat subjective attempt to assign fault for the outcome of "Second And One." Wherein blame is spread across a wide net of vessels.

time ended three seconds later
time ended three seconds later
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There's so much blame to go around. Here's one attempt to distribute it fairly fairly.

Batting Leadoff: The OC

Darrell Bevell is tops on my blame list. On a lot of blame lists. Which explains why people want him gone, sometimes expressed in vociferous manner. If that's you, I have patience for your point of view. Obviously. He's my top goat. But the rest of the upcoming names also explain why I don't want to see him fired -- he's only the first guy on a long list.

He called the play, as far as we know. Pete asked his OC to dial up a pass play, and the one Bevell chose was flawed. It relied on Ricardo Lockette and Jermaine Kearse to execute something they had rarely pulled off in a game situation.

I can't say this next paragraph enough. It's been my go-to-line for the month and I semi-apologize if you've read it before:

You didn't get to within one yard of a title by throwing slants to Ricardo Lockette. Why, why, why would you try to win one that way?

The choice of play and personnel is suspect. There were good reasons this particular call was made:

  • No sack possible
  • Low risk of turnover
  • Defense was in goal-line
  • It was the offense's last chance to keep the defense guessing between pass and run

But the play came with its own risks, which should not have been quickly dismissed:

  • A batted ball. Wilson tied Tom Brady for 11th most batted balls in the league this year, per PFF, with nine.
  • An opportunistic DB. If a corner recognizes the route and jumps it, trouble.
  • Lockette's route-running ability. When was the last time he was praised for his precise patterns?
  • Relying on Jermaine Kearse to be as physical as Brandon Browner at the line of scrimmage.

Should any one of those things not go as planned, the play could easily veer into disaster. As it turned out, the last three things all went wrong. All those pitfalls were foreseeable; all were preventable.

To not account for those negative possibilities is... disappointing. To say a little less than the very least.

Batting Second: The Man Who Would Win Forever

For all that Pete Carroll does exceptionally well, I do not believe end-of-half or end-of-game clock management is one of them.

With more than a minute left on the game clock of XLIX, Jermaine Kearse casually steps out of bounds, having just secured the second-most unbelievable catch in Super Bowl history. The Seattle Seahawks have two timeouts and a first-and-goal at the five-yard line of New England. Barring a meltdown, the re-Pete is likely. calculates the Hawks' win probability at that point to be 84.9 percent.

But before the Hawks can run another play, Carroll burns his second timeout. Eyebrows raise across the PNW and everywhere the Patriots are loathed -- but still there's no panic to be had with that decision. 66 seconds remain. More than enough time to run four plays.

With 1:06 left, the ball is snapped and handed to Marshawn Lynch, who gains four.

39 seconds elapse before the next play -- the stupid play of stupidity -- commences. It's those 39 seconds, poofed away by indecision and gamesmanship and fear of scoring too quickly, that nudge Carroll to turn to his OC and demand a safe pass play on second down, one that would either result in an incompletion or a touchdown. To preserve the possibility of running plays on third and fourth down, if necessary.

Point is, Carroll called for a pass play not to "waste" a down. That's just how he worded it, clumsily, in the unlistenable post-game moments. He did it to salvage the play-calling flexibility he squandered mostly by himself.

Batting Third: The Rookie

Malcolm Butler. Proof that Carroll remains right about a lot of important things.

He's an undrafted free agent from the University of West Alabama, which is not the most prestigious school in that state, I'm told. He's a young backup, born in the nineties (!), who practiced thoroughly for a pay-off moment that actually arrived.

Butler has told us he diagnosed the play, having prepared for it. Preparation matters. He took a chance, a gamble -- but it was an educated one. He got to Lockette a split-second early, the way our corners sometimes do, because why not? What did he have to lose? He knew where the ball would be. He practiced this play. And his sure hands clinched a championship. It was a brilliant moment for an unheralded, undrafted, aggressive young piece of depth who happened to be playing his best on the biggest stage because he was ready. Like I said, Pete Carroll is right about a lot of important things.

Here's what I know. A receiver isn't supposed to be bending this direction a split second after the ball arrives. Butler did it. He got there first, when getting there second meant defeat.

Malcolm Butler knew, or guessed, the pass was coming. He made a play. If Butler were a Seahawk, based on his last play, we would induct him into the LOB and we would love him and squeeze him and call him George. And all such kind of things.

Instead, he's third on this shit list.

Batting Cleanup: The Emperor

Was it brilliant or stupid, Bill Belichick's decision to let the clock run after Lynch's carry? If it were any other coach I'd say stupid. You want to save time for your offense to drive down the field. You want 30-45 seconds for that desperation field-goal drive. Not 20. And you can't expect your defense to make a stop here, on the one, against an opponent armed with three downs and Beast Mode. Certainly not when your short-yardage defense is one of the worst in the league.

But Belichick's unconventional choice forced Carroll to use a timeout he wanted to conserve.

BB also prepared his team for that goal-line play. That's kind of what coaches do. So when Butler jumped the route and changed the course of sports history, it was in part because his coach nudged him in that direction.

I'd wager any other coach in his situation uses a timeout after Lynch's near-score, and doesn't have his team prepared nearly as well. Next time, all other things being equal, let's not face The Hoodie.

Batting Fifth: The So-Called Rocket

I'm no route expert but Lockette's footwork looks imperfect, at best, on film.

Pre-snap formation, with routes:

Enter the .gif of pain.

Forget the interception, forget the pang of regret. Focus on Lockette's feet.

1. A stutter-step at the snap. This is part of the plan, as the red slanty arrow suggests. So far, so good. Unless it's too long a delay, in which case maybe a few valualbe hundredths of a second are lost.

2. But then, his right foot makes its cut. Watch it stab toward the sideline. That's either a sloppy move that flushes even more hundredths flushed down the toilet, or a poor sell to the outside that also happens to be useless.

3. As the .gif loops, keep your eyes on Lockette after the cut. Look at that windy path to the goal line. Another tenth of a second wasted, maybe more. When Lockette arrives at the half-yard line to meet the ball and catch the title-winning pass, he's the second guy there because of Butler's more direct route.

Other folks might well disagree with me on this critique of footwork, but on a timing route where two-tenths of a second matter enormously, I'm more likely to blame a receiver on his third team, with 25 career catches to his name, than the star quarterback, for the ball ending up in a different location than the ball-catcher.

That being said...

Batting Sixth: The Texas Rangers' Second Baseman

Yes, that being said, if there's one thing we've grown to expect from Russell Carrington Wilson, it's ball security.

On this play, with so much at stake, on second down, it's imperative to the imperative power that he prize ball security over scoring.

And yet, after weeks, months, seasons of careful decisions, Wilson failed to protect the ball on one play. The play. He could have placed it where only Lockette had a chance at it. It could have been lower, it could have been released .05 seconds later once he noticed Lockette's imperfect route and Butler crashing in.

He didn't do any of those things. In another goal-line situation on a different day, he might be the prime goat for submitting the same imperfect decisions and execution. Not today.

Batting Seventh: The Designated Hitter

In happier days, Brandon Browner used to be our DH.

But when he gave Kearse just enough resistance at the line of scrimmage, he allowed Butler's Gamble to pay off, for the rookie to run unimpeded to the spot where the title was lost/won.

It's the little things. Inches, fractions of seconds, hesitations and lack thereof.

As the .gif replays below, watch only Browner this time -- he initiates contact with Kearse on the Seattle side of the line of scrimmage. Only after that is he driven back a couple yards. Browner's immediate burst of physicality is what allows Butler to sneak in behind him. If there is no initial contact, the ball is in Lockette's hands at the half-yard-line and a sloppy route is forgotten to history.

Batting Eighth: The Onetime Hero, The Onetime Goat

Jermaine Kearse, goat of the NFCCG...

Until he wasn't.

Jermaine Kearse, minor goat of XLIX for this heart-breaking fourth-quarter drop...

Until he wasn't.

His effort on the title-squandering pick doesn't rise to the level of goat. It's not his fault he drew the assignment of holding Browner at bay long enough to keep Butler rubbed out of the play. But scroll up and watch the .gif of pain one last time, and picture Kearse winning the early push against his old teammate... or don't, if you want to sleep tonight.

Now You Vote?

So there's no ninth batter. I ran out of blame. Instead, I'm genuinely as intrigued to your feelings on the future of the coaching staff. As a parting shot, please participate in the poll below.