We know what everyone thinks was the worst decision of the Super Bowl – Pete Carroll’s decision to throw on 2nd down (everyone except for our very own Young Gun). But let’s talk about the moment before that 2nd down throw: The moment when every Patriots fan in the U.S. of A. was yelling at the televised image of Bill Belichick “Why aren’t you calling time out????!!!!” I doubt that we will ever know exactly what Bill Belichick was thinking at that moment (I don’t know if you’ve heard, but he tends to be fairly tight-lipped in general). But what is interesting to consider is the following: If the Patriots spend a time-out there, they almost certainly lose the Super Bowl.
Let’s play through this hypothetical: On the play before, the Seahawks have first and goal from the 5. Marshawn Lynch gains 4 yards to the 1, where Dont’a Hightower makes (what we now know is) a game saving tackle. Depending on how quickly he gets the ref’s attention, Belichick could have called timeout with anywhere between 50 seconds and a full minute left on the clock. What happened instead was that the Seahawks milked the play clock for all it was worth, and did not get the next play started until there was about 20 seconds left on the clock, which was when Butler made history.
Now I’ve watched Pete Carroll attempt to explain his thought process numerous times to numerous reporters (he is the opposite of Belichick in this way). This is my interpretation of what he’s said: He wanted to leave as little time on the clock as possible in case they scored on the next play, but also wanted to preserve the option of running on 3rd down. So by throwing on second down, the clock would stop if they didn’t score, and they could still run on 3rd down, knowing that if Lynch got stuffed, he can call a timeout, and get one last look on 4th down. He also liked the matchups his offense had with 3 receivers going against the Patriots goal line (or pseudo goal line) defense.
At this moment, I’m not interested in analyzing or critiquing that thought process. But instead, let’s ask ourselves what Carroll would have done had the Patriots called timeout with 50 or more seconds left. By his same logic above, he would want to run, so that if they didn’t score, the clock would continue to run, or at least force the Patriots to use their last timeout. The match ups would also change, since the Patriots would have a chance to substitute.
The prevailing opinion last night and this morning is that if the Seahawks run the ball on the next three downs, they score; and it’s really hard to doubt that. In which case, I think the end of this Super Bowl would have played out similarly to the previous two Patriot losses to the New York Giants. Even if Tom Brady and the Patriot offense had a full 30 seconds to work with, they don’t have an offense built around gaining large chunks of yardage at a time; it’s safe to assume that Seattle wins.
So did Belichick know this when he refused to call timeout while all of Massachusetts screamed at their television sets? I doubt it. More likely, he wanted to win or lose on that goal line. When he saw that Seattle was milking the clock, he liked his chances with the 11 defenders he had on the field – or at least he liked those chances better than what he was going to be left with after Seattle scored. Even a football genius can get lucky every once in a while.