The stage was set for what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said “was going to be a magical finish.’’
It already was improbable, with rookie John Ursua making the first reception of his career to get Seattle to the 1-yard line, converting a fourth-and-10.
After quarterback Russell Wilson spiked the ball with 23 seconds left, Marshawn Lynch was ready to trot onto the field to put a perfect cap on a typically Seahawky night of extreme twists and turns. A touchdown would have allowed Seattle to come back from an early 13-0 deficit and a 12-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter.
Then it all went haywire with a stunning delay-of-game penalty moving Seattle back to the 5-yard line with 22 seconds left. That in turn set the stage for one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in team history, 26-21 against the 49ers, giving the NFC West title to San Francisco.
As Carroll explained during his radio show Monday morning on 710 ESPN Seattle, the basic issue was getting Lynch on the field.
There was some concern over the status of left tackle George Fant, who was dealing with a stiff back. But he then waved off coaches, indicating he was OK, and Carroll said “that didn’t have anything to do with the next play.”
Instead, the complication was getting the personnel grouping changed, meaning getting Lynch on the field for what figured to be a chance to score the winning touchdown and put a fairy-tale ending to his return.
But as Carroll explained, the team had been in a passing-personnel alignment for the fourth-down play — all receivers and a tight end. Travis Homer had been the running back for the series to that point, with Lynch on the sideline (as Carroll said later, Lynch had not had time during the week to get up to speed on the two-minute offense, so that was designed for Homer). Thus Lynch had to go from spectator to participant at that point.
“Was Marshawn delayed a little bit? He was hesitant, but I didn’t see Homer at the time, but Marshawn was going on, he was supposed to go, and we just needed to get it done,” Carroll said. “And sometimes what happens when you spike the ball and kill the clock, guys kind of sense like it’s a timeout and it’s not, it’s just a regular sequence, so there was just a little bit of hesitation. … By the time he got out there, they called the play, we were late, and that’s it.
“That’s how it worked. I can’t tell you that we had enough opportunities to really smooth out the substitutions with the new guys that we were with and we just missed it by a hair.’’
That last sentence is a reference to the fact Lynch (and Robert Turbin) signed with the Seahawks last week and had only four days of practice.
Carroll, though, reiterated he felt the Seahawks were still in position to win the game.
“We had plenty of chances to win the game right there and unfortunately we didn’t quite hook it up the way we needed to,’’ he said. “With all that time (the pass to Ursua snapped with 42 seconds left and Wilson spiked the ball with 23 seconds remaining) to us it seemed like we had all the time that we needed in the world and we were going to win the game, and it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get the opportunity to give it to everybody.’’
Carroll: Hollister play was definitely pass interference
The controversial moments were far from over once the delay occurred.
On third down, the Seahawks felt 49ers linebacker Fred Warner interfered with tight end Jacob Hollister in the end zone.
Had a flag been thrown, Seattle would have had a first down at the 1 with 12 seconds remaining. Instead, it became fourth down at the 5.
After the game, Carroll didn’t offer an opinion of the play, saying he hadn’t seen a replay.
By Monday morning he had seen a replay and said bluntly, “Yeah, that was pass interference.’’
Under the new system implemented this season, coaches cannot challenge interference in the final two minutes, and Carroll said he hopes that play might lead to a rules change after this season.
“That would have been a perfect situation last night. That’s a stop-the-clock, look-at-that-thing again and give them another chance,’’ said Carroll, who added the reason coaches are not allowed to challenge in the last two minutes is that there was a thought “that guys were going to stall the game.’’
The NFL later said the play was reviewed during the time before the following snap — essentially 40 seconds or so.
Carroll, though, said he felt it needed a further review.
“They had 25, 40 seconds to make their decision there and they didn’t stop the game, and that was, I don’t know, I think they could have looked at that again in more depth,’’ Carroll said. “If I had had a timeout (Seattle was out of timeouts by then), I would have called it just for that reason, just to give them (time). … You give them time to make a choice so they are not rushed and hopefully clearer heads prevail and they can see it. That’s unfortunate and that was a big moment right there in the game.’’
During his Monday afternoon news conference, Carroll said what he also thinks should change is adding to the replays that the NFL reviews.
Al Riveron, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, noted after the game in a pool report interview that “NBC gives us a great look of the entire route.”
But Carroll said they’d get a better look if the league incorporated coach’s films into the replay reviews.
“I can’t imagine if we want to work to make this thing as good as it can possibly be that we should be the victim sometimes to what the TV copy has as opposed to all the other angles that we could present,” he said. “I think the coach’s copy along with the TV copy of a play that was in question in this game can be aided by seeing when the ball came out from the side view so they can make a determination of where was the ball in the flight and the action and how that all happened. So I think there are advances yet to go to make it even better.’’
Carroll: Hard to see if ball got in on Seahawks’ final play
The league did take a long look at Seattle’s final play, the pass to Hollister in which he was tackled at the goal line.
Carroll said he couldn’t argue the league’s decision that Hollister didn’t break the plane with the ball.
“I couldn’t see that he got in,” Carroll said. “And he (Hollister) did a great job to rip the ball to the goal-line side. And it’s skewed in the look, you can’t see it any clearer than that. So they are looking to see if he is down before he turned and that’s what they determined they couldn’t really see a good, clear look at it. And I couldn’t either. So he did everything he could. It was a gallant effort and all that. That’s the way it goes.’’
Ursua needed to stay in end zone on final catch
Sunday marked the first significant playing time for Ursua, so he is going to have to do some learning on the fly.
Carroll said the fourth-down play on which Ursua almost was the hero will be something of a lesson for the former Hawaii player. Carroll said the route was intended for Ursua to be in the end zone, so if he made a catch, it would be a touchdown.
But when Wilson began to scramble, Ursua moved out of the end zone. The moving part, Carroll said, was good. But he said Ursua needed the awareness to know to stay in the end zone.
Said Carroll: “It was a terrific route he ran. This is a route where you sit down in the end zone, and Russ moved a little bit, so he did, in a natural sense, he looked back to the quarterback and trying to stay in the end zone there, that’s the whole idea of the play.
“So it was a nice reaction, not quite what we needed for that moment, but still he looked great in the instance. And Johnny is going to be a really good player. He’s really natural, he’s really instinctual, he is more classically like a young player who has a lot of stuff to learn who is in a different style of offense and has a lot of things he has to carry over in terms of discipline and splits and alignments and blocking assignments that’s going to come to him because he’s a great athlete. So I picture him being a really big factor.’’