The Rams' offense sputtered late on Sunday, and on fourth-and-1, they came out to punt. Then, the whistle blew. Seahawks timeout. The Rams returned with their offense and converted on fourth-and-1. Why the timeout? We explain here.
The short answer is that the Seahawks didn’t take the timeout after the Rams showed punt.
They actually took the timeout before. Before the Rams’ punt team came out, and even before the chain gang came out to measure Todd Gurley’s gain on third-and-1.
But, here’s a closer look at what happened on that play.
With 1:39 left in a closely contested Seahawks-Rams game on Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, Los Angeles faced third-and-1 and needed a yard to keep their offense going and, more importantly, keep the ball away from the Seahawks.
But the Seahawks’ defense stuffed Gurley on that 1-yard attempt, and upon the measurement, the ruling was upheld: The Rams were short of that first down conversion.
Then, right as the Los Angeles punt team came on field to kick the ball away, the whistle blew. Seattle had just taken its last timeout, the referee announced.
That was all well and good until the Rams’ offense came back on the field after the timeout looking ready to go for it on fourth-and-1.
Jared Goff got that crucial one yard on a QB sneak, and that ended up being the ball game: Rams 33, Seahawks 31.
Predictably, the TwitterSphere erupted with calls of “WHAT WAS PETE CARROLL THINKING? WHY TAKE THAT LAST TIMEOUT?”
“I think there was 33 seconds on the clock, and at 1:39 that would have taken us down to a minute. So it was worth using the timeout to save that 33 seconds,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
To elaborate, the Seahawks called the timeout before the chain gang came out to measure the spot of the ball after Gurley’s run.
If Carroll had not called the timeout, the clock would have started ticking down after the measurement. So Carroll called the timeout hoping to preserve an extra 33 seconds and hopefully give his offense added time to mount a theoretical game-winning drive.
He did not know, of course, that the Rams would change their mind after the timeout and decide to go for it instead of punting from their own 42.
For what it’s worth, even Goff, the Rams’ quarterback, was surprised to find — after that all-important timeout — that Los Angeles coach Sean McVay had decided to go for it on fourth down.
“We had a lot of time to decide and he (McVay) was kind of going back and forth,” Goff said. “I was off, I thought we were punting. I went back on the field just to talk to the official about something, and as I’m turning around, the offense was running back on, and I go, ‘All right, I guess we’re going for it.’ So I go to Sean and he called a QB Sneak.”
Goff said the Rams knew they were laying it all on the line with that one big play.
“They have a good field goal kicker, and if we don’t get that first down there, they’ve got a good chance to make it. If we get that first down, the game is over,” Goff said. “So it was all riding on that one play. We got a really, really good jump on them up front and really just fell forward.”
The general consensus is that McVay’s gutsy call to go for it on fourth-and-1 was the right decision. Per ESPN.com’s analytics expert Brian Burke:
“The Rams’ decision to go for it on 4th down to seal the win was the right call by a relatively large margin. They needed about 52% chance of conversion for it to be worth the risk, and league average rates in that situation are above 65%. In total, the decision to go rather than punt improved their chance of winning by 6 full percentage points.”
McVay said even he agonized over the dilemma at the time but ultimately took his cue from the players.
“You could see our guys believed. They wanted to go for it,” McVay said. “When you have your players that believe, you want to put the trust in them. It’s a players game.”
Goff “mixed up his cadence,” McVay said. “It was a formation (Seattle) were leaning pretty heavily on with some specific runs we had done. We found a way not to be denied.”
Still, no explanation will end the debate that rages on social media about whether Carroll was right to call timeout at that juncture.