Count the Seahawks among the teams that almost always defer when they win the opening coin toss.
The AFC Championship Game on Sunday began with one of the rare things to happen in the NFL these days — the New England Patriots won the coin toss and elected to receive.
That situation occurred less often in the NFL this season than any other in league history. Teams that won the opening coin toss elected to defer their choice — and take the ball to start the second half — 82.5 percent of the time.
The Seahawks deferred and took the ball in the second half 100 percent of the time when they won the coin toss.
They won a whopping 10 of 16 coin tosses during the regular season and two more in the postseason.
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That continued what the Seahawks have done for much of the Pete Carroll era. In fact, choosing to defer is another area in which the Carroll-era Seahawks have been at the forefront of an NFL trend.
Consider that the Seahawks have deferred 35 consecutive times when winning the coin toss dating to the 2011 season.
As detailed in an MMQB.SI.com story this week, that’s also when a significant shift toward deferring took place.
In 2011, teams deferred 41.2 percent of the time, according to SI.com. In 2012 that percentage rose to 55.4 and has climbed steadily since (it was 65.6 in 2014).
The NFL changed the rules in 2008 so coaches could choose to defer their choice to the second half. Initially, coaches almost always took the ball (92.2 percent of the time, according to SI.com).
But that changed gradually, and then pretty suddenly, over the years.
One reason: If they get the ball late in the first half and to start the second half, teams have a chance to score twice without the opponent getting a possession. The Seahawks, for instance, often go with a two-minute, uptempo offense when they get the ball late in the second quarter.
That worked to perfection this season against the Bears when Seattle kicked a field goal on the last play of the first half then got a 105-yard kickoff return by Tyler Lockett to start the second half, turning a 3-0 lead into a 13-0 advantage without the Bears touching the ball.
“We pretty much have our way of playing — we’re going to do what we do,’’ Carroll once said when asked about deferring the choice. “There are always circumstances that can change, that and there are conditions that can factor in.’’
But factors that could get him to change that choice have not happened since before Russell Wilson became Seattle’s quarterback.
The most recent time the Seahawks won the toss and elected to receive was Dec. 12, 2011 against St. Louis. That actually capped a run of four consecutive times Seattle had elected to receive after winning the toss.
Lest you think something happened there to sway Carroll to the deferring side, the Seahawks won all four games.
Seattle oddly then went seven consecutive games without winning an opening coin toss. The next time the Seahawks did, in 2012 at Carolina, they deferred, and a streak was born.
And to be clear, we are not referring to coin tosses to start overtime periods, in which the Seahawks have famously won more than a few to take the ball and score — notably the 2015 NFC title game against Green Bay.
Teams that won the coin toss and deferred won 55 percent of the time this season, according to SI.com.
It was more pronounced in Seattle’s games this season.
The Seahawks were 9-3 when deferring this year. The Seahawks were 2-2 in games when their opponents won the toss and deferred. Only twice this year did a team win the toss against the Seahawks and elect to receive — Green Bay (which scored a TD after taking the kickoff) and the Arizona Cardinals in their November win at CenturyLink Field (the Cardinals punted on their first possession).
Deferring hardly could have worked better for the Seahawks in their biggest victory — the 43-8 win over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII. Denver, starting at its 14-yard line following the opening kickoff, allowed a safety after miscommunication on the first play. And with its deferred choice to receive starting the second half, the Seahawks got a kickoff return for a touchdown from Percy Harvin that pretty much ended the suspense.
The Seahawks didn’t have as much success in their most recent game, in their divisional playoff loss at Carolina on Jan. 17. They won toss and deferred. The Panthers responded with a four-play drive for a touchdown en route to a 31-0 onslaught in the first 22 minutes.
The surprising decision by the Patriots on Sunday to take the ball, though, didn’t inspire anyone to change their strategy. New England ran five plays and punted. Denver responded with a touchdown drive en route to the win that got the Broncos to Super Bowl 50.