G LENDALE, Ariz. — A yard away from Super Bowl history, the Seattle Seahawks indeed made some.
Needing only three feet to become the eighth franchise in NFL history to win consecutive Super Bowls, the Seahawks instead were the victims of one of the most shocking turn of events in the game’s 49-year history.
A Russell Wilson pass intended for Ricardo Lockette was picked off by New England’s Malcolm Butler with 20 seconds left.
And just like that, the Seahawks went from potential dynasty to forever debated.
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The call to throw it on second down, with a timeout left, New England reeling and Marshawn Lynch in the backfield figures to be the subject of argument for as long as the Seahawks exist.
Seattle players tried their best to be diplomatic afterward. But at times their veneer slipped
“I don’t know,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner. “We’ve got Marshawn Lynch, one of the best running backs in the league, and everybody makes their decisions, and unfortunately we didn’t give him the ball.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell tried their best to explain the call, and even debated who called it.
Carroll said he did: “I said throw the ball.”
Bevell said he did: “I call the plays and I’m making the calls. Coach Carroll can tell me to do something different but we communicate, we talk and I make all of the play calls.”
Both explained that the Patriots sent in a goal-line formation that they figured would be difficult to run on with the lineup Seattle had on the field. Carroll said Seattle had sent its personnel — including three receivers and a tight end — before the Patriots sent in theirs. Carroll said he would have changed personnel if there had been another play.
“It’s not the right matchup for us to run the football, so on second down we throw the ball,” Carroll said. “Really, to kind of waste the play.
“If we score, we do. If we don’t, then we’ll run it on third and fourth down. Really with no second thoughts and no hesitation in that at all.”
Bevell explained that time was also a factor. Seattle wanted to take as much time as possible but also be sure to save enough if the play didn’t work.
“Tying to get a play where it wouldn’t have ended on the field of play,” he said.
Receiver Doug Baldwin went in motion with a New England defender following him. That gave the Seahawks the look they wanted — man-to-man coverage with Lockette and Jermaine Kearse on the right side.
Kearse went forward to block Brandon Browner and Lockette cut behind him. Butler should get rubbed off, and Lockette will break open.
Instead, Butler broke fast to the route and got to the ball before Lockette.
Afterward Bevell implied that Lockette could have fought harder to get the ball.
“(Wilson) put a good throw on it,” Bevell said. “We could have done a better job of staying strong through the ball. But (Butler) made a great play.”
The play concluded a drive that started with Seattle trailing 28-24 with 2:02 left after the fourth of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes.
A 31-yard pass to Lynch got Seattle into New England territory.
Then came a remarkable, juggling 33-yard catch by Kearse. As he fell to his back and batted the ball off his hands and legs six times before corralling it at the 5-yard line.
On the next play, Lynch ran to the 1, tackled by New England linebacker Don’t’a Hightower.
That left the ball 36 inches away with 26 seconds left.
“We were going to run the ball in to win the game, but not on that down,” Carroll said. “That’s what it was.”
Or wasn’t. Wilson said the play has worked often in practice, and he thought it would again.
“I thought it was a touchdown, honestly,” Wilson said. “Unfortunate situation, man.”
Carroll said Wilson also had a read on the other side to Baldwin. But he said Wilson went to the right place with the ball.
“I don’t know what I could have done differently,” Wilson said. “We were right there, so I put the blame on me.”
There will be lots of blame to go around, though.
Asked later if he was surprised at the call, Baldwin paused and said: “Um, yeah. I mean, I really don’t know. I still haven’t figured it out yet.”