The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Worst play-call in Super Bowl history’ will forever alter perception of Seahawks, Patriots

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Seattle Seahawks forgot who they are.

And from that momentary lapse in identity came the worst play-call in Super Bowl history and a defeat that leaves the Seahawks historically irrelevant, further boosts the complicated legacy of Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and ups the stakes for Deflategate even more.

All of that from a single misguided play-call?

You bet.

But that’s the big picture. As the football world narrowed its view to Glendale Sunday, the virtually nonstop talk of deflated footballs, of potentially tainted legacies, of what this person did or what that person failed to do, of an NFL season that began and ended amid turmoil, finally gave way to a football game Sunday evening.

And what a football game it was.

The Seattle defense failed to do to Brady what it had done a year ago to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Brady threw the ball effectively. The Patriots had the early lead and had a chance to have a sizable early lead.

But just as they’d done in the NFC title game, the Seahawks minimized the damage and managed to hang around. They found an unlikely offensive standout in wide receiver Chris Matthews and they seemed to take control of the game in the second half. They had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and they looked to the most imposing defense in recent NFL memory to close the deal.

It didn’t happen.

[Read: Best of Super Bowl XLIX]

Back came the Patriots. Brady threw his third and fourth touchdown passes of the night, one to Danny Amendola and the other to fellow wideout Julian Edelman, as the Patriots roared back to reclaim the lead with just more than two minutes remaining.

Game over, right?

Not so fast.

Back came the Seahawks. Wideout Jermaine Kearse made a ridiculous juggling catch while on the ground — shades of David Tyree, the Giants receiver who helped end the Patriots’ unbeaten season in 2008 with a miraculous grab — and the Seahawks had a first down at the New England 5-yard line with a little more than a minute to go. Tailback Marshawn Lynch ran the ball to the one on first down.

[Kilgore:Belichick decision not to call timeout contributed to poor call by Seahawks.]

One more handoff to Lynch, the sport’s most determined and hard-charging runner, and the Seahawks would be repeat Super Bowl champions. Brady, Belichick and the Patriots would be three-time Super Bowl losers since the last of their three Super Bowl victories at the end of the 2004 season.

But that next handoff to Lynch never came. The most viable alternative to one more carry for Lynch — a fake to Lynch and a run to the perimeter by quarterback Russell Wilson — didn’t happen. Instead, the Seahawks inexplicably attempted a pass. Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler made a break on the football, got in front of wide receiver Ricardo Lockette and made the interception of Wilson’s throw with 20 seconds to play.

And everything changed.


In the wake of Sunday’s spectacular finish, we’re back to the big picture. The Seahawks are one-time Super Bowl champions. And in the grand scheme of things, one-time Super Bowl champions don’t matter.

The Patriots are four-time Super Bowl champions with Brady and Belichick. They have been to six Super Bowls in tandem, and it is increasingly difficult to argue against them being the greatest coach-and-quarterback combination in the history of the sport.

What the league concludes about Deflategate matters even more. Now the question is whether a team knowingly broke the rules on its way to winning a Super Bowl title, not while en route to being a Super Bowl runner-up. That’s quite a bit different.

And what of the play-call? The explanation provided by Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll made no sense. Carroll said the Seahawks had three wide receivers on the field and therefore had the wrong personnel grouping to attempt to the run the ball at New England’s goal line defense. Carroll said the Seahawks planned to get, at worst, an incompletion on that second-down play and then come back and run the ball on third and, potentially, fourth down.

But the Seahawks had three wide receivers on the field by choice. No one made them do that.

And, really, so what? Run the ball anyway. Seattle is a straightforward, bruising team built around its defense and the workmanlike running of Lynch. What the Seahawks do is run the ball. It’s what they should have done with the Super Bowl on the line.

Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 was a classic. But the Seahawks have only themselves to blame for the way history changed on a single play.

After a stunning end to Super Bowl XLIX, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks to win their fourth NFL championship. The Post's Des Bieler and Neil Greenberg discuss what went wrong for the Seahawks and why the Patriots are one of the NFL's best teams of all time. (Video: The_Washington_Post)

More on the pivotal play

Kilgore: Play-calling decision dashes Seattle’s dynastic dream

Seattle could have handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch, but instead handed the game to the Patriots.

Kilgore: Belichick’s decision not to call time-out complicated Seahawks’ decision.

With time winding down, it may have convinced them to throw the ball.

Fancy Stats: Decision to pass not as foolish as it seems

In goal-to-go situations during tight games, most NFL teams are 50-50 between running and passing plays.

Early Lead: Marshawn Lynch has little to say about Seahawks’ play-call

The Seattle running back didn’t alter his approach to the media after the Super Bowl loss.

Early Lead: The Internet hates Pete Carroll’s play-calling. A lot.

An array of NFL players are among those that sound off on the unsound logic of the Seahawks’ final play.

Early Lead: Pete Carroll takes blame for final play

Seahawks’ head coach tells his team it was “totally” his fault.