Deflategate and the Carroll Call
Super Bowl XILX began and ended with two extremely controversial happenings. It began with Belichick spewing hot air about balls light on air and ended with the air punched out of Carroll’s air of unequalled pride. Lots of air was gained and lost, none greater than the amounts of air dispersed by the media that allowed the small amounts of gasoline from these two stories to mystically replicate into a bon fire scene from space. But the truly interesting points of these two incidents are rarely discussed, yet will be discussed here. Let us first turn to the problem that kicked off the pre-Super Bowl rumblings, “Deflategate”.
Belichick and the Asterisk
For those who find themselves in the minority of the American population come Super Bowl Sunday, Deflategate was the name given to an incident that occurred during and quickly following the Divisional and AFC Championship games the Patriots played. After the Ravens lost to the Patriots, coach John Harbaugh began his witch hunt to discover a reason for the Patriots’ victory over them when up to this point in recent history the Ravens were one of two teams in the postseason that had the Patriots number (the other, of course, being the Giants). The possible deflation of balls was brought up at some point to the NFL during this witch hunt, but little attention was given to the media as they focused on the much more enjoyable issue of possible cheating amidst Patriot formations (which just turned out to be really clever/verging on cheating…just how the Patriots like it). Then, as the refs were tipped off by snitch Harbaugh about the Belichick Mafia, they decided to check the pressure of the footballs at halftime of the Colts AFC Championship game. And, behold, under inflated balls. This led to countless ramblings on the air of the ever-cheating Patriots just trying to get an edge.
In the end, the problem isn’t the deflated balls, it’s the reputation of the Patriots, in particular coach Belichick, as cheaters. Belichick will forever be connected to the cheating scandal of Spygate. This incident was further fueled when years later an assistant coach of Belichick went on to coach another team and carry over the cheating aspect of recording other teams’ signals. The “everyone was doing it” argument diluted the fact that they cheated for many, but it never truly went away. Then, under the microscope, Belichick is harassed again for deflated balls. But it takes rather inflated balls to have the audacity to get such a minor advantage at the possibility of a much greater issue should you get caught. In the end, the slightly deflated balls had no outcome on the game. The Colts were going to lose. But I am hard-pressed to believe that Belichick and/or QB Tom Brady didn’t know about the deflated balls. But then my problem is, why stretch for this tiny advantage with such a great cost should you get caught? I think this is the Belichick way, and sadly it will follow him his entire career, and even perhaps his legacy. Belichick may end up with an asterisk next to his name simply because he had to have that edge. And another coach who loves to bend and break the rules just to get that little edge is the guy who was obliterated by the media for his call in the final seconds of the Super Bowl, Pete Carroll.
Anyone who knows me understands my hatred for Carroll is unfathomable. I have little respect for an individual who cheats and gets away with it because he can escape his current predicament in college and hide in the professional venue. I also have images burned into my memory of him unprofessionally and pretentiously standing and cheering next to the ref on the field after the horrible replacement-ref call in the “Fail Mary” game against the Packers. Basically, no fiber of my being likes Pete Carroll, but I do know he is a good coach. He is part of the reason his team is in the Super Bowl, and one of those reasons is his need to bend the rules during practices.
Carroll takes penalties regularly during the season for being more physical during practice than is allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. While he sacrifices a couple of bucks for the organization, he gives his team a significant advantage over the opponent as his team is more prepared from a physicality perspective. The team that bends the rules on pads-on practice happens to be the best tackling team in the NFL…While some of that is certainly superb defensive players, I can’t believe it is all coincidence. So now that we have concluded that both of these coaches are elite yet dirty, let’s move on to the real problem: Carroll’s Call.
The play at the end of the Super Bowl will haunt Pete Carroll for the rest of his career, but sadly not for the reason it should. The reason it should haunt him is because he was on the unlucky end of two poor coaching calls, one by each team. Let’s review the play one more time:
Down by 4 points with about a minute left in the game at the Patriots’ 5 yard line, the Seahawks call a run play and bring it down to the 1/2 yard line just short of the [essentially] game-winning score. They have one timeout left and the Patriots have two. Belichick inexplicably doesn’t call timeout despite the almost-guaranteed touchdown that was about to occur. And while everyone was trying to figure out if Belichick was conceding the game or trying to put pressure on the Seahawks, Russell Wilson hikes the ball and throws the game-clinching interception at the goal line. Carroll called a pass play on 2nd and goal with one timeout and paid the price, but Belichick doesn’t call timeout and wins the game. Luck decided who was smarter. Allow me to explain.
Carroll’s logic for calling a pass play on 2nd down was sound. The Patriots were in goal line stand mode on defense. The Seahawks have one timeout left. If Lynch happens to get stuffed at the line, the Seahawks will have to call their final timeout and the Patriots know the Seahawks will have to throw their final two downs of the game. By trying to pass it surprisingly on 2nd down, Carroll gains a chance to catch the Patriots defense off guard, but also saves time on the clock for any kind of play he wants for 3rd and 4th down should there be an incomplete pass. The problem wasn’t the play call, it was the play itself. The formation told the Patriots defense that the play could legitimately be a pass. Instead of having the 3rd receiver break after the hike, the 3rd receiver broke out pre-snap, telling the Patriots secondary that a pass was likely and that cutting routes became priority one over stuffing the line. This allowed the information Butler needed to cut the route and make the game-saving interception. Carroll’s pass call was sound, the play design was not. That may be on the coordinator, but it was a poor decision. But it was not any worse a decision than the one Belichick made.
Belichick decided that limiting the Seahawks’ play calls was more important than extra time for a possible game-tying field goal. He made this clear when he decided not to call timeout in the final seconds of the game. Instead of awarding the Seahawks more time to call any goal line play they want to, he decided to take a chance that the Patriots defense could hold the Seahawks out of the endzone at the 1/2 yard line with three “generic” chances. Everything up to this point in the game indicated the Seahawks were going to score. Lynch was running with authority, the Patriots defensive line was fatigued, and they just gave up a huge pass play on yet another fluky catch that would happen to go against the Patriots. The signs pointed to a 3 point lead in the Seahawks favor. By Carroll calling a pass play on 2nd down, he gave his team the time it needed to run any play on 3rd and 4th down. This negated the disadvantage Belichick tried to instill. The only problem is that Carroll’s predicted “worst-case scenario” of an incomplete pass was in fact the actual worst-case scenario of an interception.
In the final seconds of the Super Bowl, both coaches made the wrong call for the right reasons. Both should have lost the game. But somebody has to win, the Patriots came out on top, and history is written by the winners not the losers. Therefore, instead of Belichick being eviscerated after the game for letting time expire and “conceding” victory to the Seahawks, we get Carroll getting castrated for not running the ball. Both coaches could have equally been questioned for their calls at the end of the game, but only one was because of the outcome. It is unfortunate for Pete, but obviously I won’t be shedding a tear. His reaction combined with Richard Sherman’s was the highlight of the evening.