Two months into his 37th season as a football coach, Pete Carroll is learning that his worst game-day enemy is often Pete Carroll.
Carroll – not for the first time – committed a pivotal strategic blunder Sunday afternoon.
I am comfortable pointing out Carroll’s mistake because Carroll volunteered himself accountable before he took a single question after the Sea-hawks’ 34-12 loss to Cincinnati.
“We found out what happens,” Carroll said, “when a coach gets hormonal.”
What happened Sunday was that the Seahawks were denied a chip-shot field goal before halftime only because their coach wanted a touchdown. He wanted it even though his team was 3 yards away from the end zone after spending its final timeout with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The prudent call – really, the only call – was to settle for the three points that would’ve cut Cincinnati’s lead to 17-6.
Instead, Carroll approved a fourth-and-2 option play that ended up sending running back Marshawn Lynch into the teeth of the defense. Lynch picked up 2 yards and the first down, which stops the clock in those college games Carroll used to coach but did him no favors Sunday.
Nor was Carroll helped by an officiating crew that allowed the Bengals to kill time by piling on Lynch. Just to make sure the Seahawks wouldn’t be able to attempt another snap, an unidentified Cincinnati player kicked the ball away as Lynch was hurrying to pick himself off the ground. That’s worth a delay-of-game penalty, but only if the officials see it. They didn’t.
Then again, the officials are irrelevant if Carroll settles for three points.
“If I had to do it again, knowing that we have the ball coming out of halftime, I might have changed it,” he said. “But I still wanted to jam it there and make the frickin’ touchdown.
“I knew that we would have to hurry up if we didn’t make it, but I was gambling on knocking it in. I’ve been there before; I’ve been in that situation a lot of times.”
Carroll was in that situation just last season, in Week 3, when the Seahawks had the ball at the San Diego 2 with 19 seconds remaining before halftime and no timeouts to spend.
Take the easy three or jam it down their throats? Carroll couldn’t help himself. He dialed up a quarterback keeper that left Matt Hasselbeck a yard short of the end zone. The Seahawks were scrambling to send their field-goalunit on the field when time expired.
“I need to do a better job and make sure we get our points when we get our opportunities,” Carroll said then. “They’re not always going to come around again.”
Thanks to Leon Washington’s two touchdowns scored on kickoff returns, Carroll’s time-management gaffe against the Chargers was an afterthought to a substantial upset victory.
Given the margin of defeat Sunday, you could make a case the sequence at the end of the first half was similarly moot.
But renouncing those three points put the Seahawks in a spin cycle from which they never recovered. When Steven Hauschka’s 25-yard field goal made the score 17-6 at the end of the third quarter, the suspicion nagged that the score should’ve been 17-9 – a one-possession game.
“It would have been nice to have nine points after that field goal and to work with an eight-point deficit,” Carroll admitted. “That was totally on me. That was totally my deal.”
When Lynch did score a 2-yard touchdown with 8:55 remaining in the game and the Bengals’ lead down to 17-12, the Seahawks attempted a two-point conversation – a Tarvaris Jackson pass to Ben Obomanu – that failed.
Do the Seahawks try a two-point conversion if Lynch’s touchdown makes the score 17-15? Probably, but now there’s more at stake.
When the final gun sounded, CenturyLink Field was as empty as the playoff chances of a home team that dropped to 2-5.
But there was some redemptive value to this clunker at the Clink: A week after the Seattle offense went to Cleveland and turned in one of the worst performances in franchise history, the Sea-hawks rolled up 411 net yards on the NFL’s second-ranked defense.
Before Sunday, offenses averaged 189 passing yards against the Bengals. Jackson came off the bench to throw for 323. Even embattled quarterback Charlie Whitehurst managed four completions, for 52 yards, before Carroll replaced him.
Despite the gaudy passing stats, the Seattel offense remains a project. The line has yet to gel. Gaining positive yards on any running play is a chore. The next sustained drive without a penalty flag dropped will be a 2011 milestone.
There is too much wrong with this offense to turn down three points on the last play before halftime.
Pete Carroll knew this, and yet he turned down three points on the last play before halftime.