If the third-down conversion that had allowed the Packers to ice the clock and win the divisional round game against the Seahawks hadn’t been so close and controversial, the focal point of the final minutes of the game would have been the decision of the Seahawks to punt the ball to the Packers with 2:32 left, down five points from their own 36.
Seattle faced fourth and 11, after a sack that lost six yards. And so, with the clock running at 3:22, the Seahawks opted not to go for it, sending out the punt team, using most of the play clock before getting the snap off, and hoping to get the ball back, needing a touchdown to win.
“We were thinking about going for it in that sequence but not at fourth and 11,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters after the game. “We thought our odds were so low. We had all the clock, we had the time, we had all of the opportunities to stop them, to get the ball back. And so we didn’t want to put it all on one play.”
So instead of trusting Russell Wilson, who as Carroll said “was phenomenal” and “did everything he could have done,” to add to his legend by converting on fourth and 11, Carroll trusted a non-Legion of Boom defense to stop Aaron Rodgers in his home building from converting a couple of first downs and icing the game.
Saying “our odds were so low” grossly oversimplifies the situation. If they’d gone for it and failed, the Seahawks still would have had three time outs plus the two-minute warning. And while they would have given the Packers the ball on the fringes of field-goal range, another three points for Green Bay would have kept it to a one-score game, 31-23. So the flow-chart formula in that moment has plenty of branches, and ultimately it comes down to whether you trust Wilson to get it done against the Packers defense or whether you trust your defense to get it done against Aaron Rodgers.
No abacus should be needed to resolve that one.
But the Seahawks opted to punt, and in so doing they allowed the too many precious seconds to evaporate from the game clock. The third-down sack happened with 3:22 left; the ball was snapped for the punt with 2:41 remaining in the game.
Carroll was asked about the lack of urgency to get the play started. In response, he didn’t have much to say.
“There was a little, you know . . . I don’t know . . . . Go ahead,” Carroll said. “That’s a good one to pick on.”
It is a good one to pick on, especially since throughout the second half the Seahawks displayed on offense the kind of nonchalance that suggested they didn’t realize they were trailing by multiple scores.
Still, the Seahawks often don’t sweat such details because they have ultimate faith in Russell Wilson. As they should. But they didn’t have faith in Wilson with the season on the line. Maybe they should have.