RENTON — Colin Kaepernick’s sweep to the left not only gave the San Francisco 49ers a crucial fourth-quarter first down, it also challenged Pete Carroll’s most beloved mantra.
Kaepernick was able to a convert a third-and-7 play from the Seattle 15-yard line with 3:24 remaining in the game in the 49ers’ 19-17 win Sunday. That 8-yard gain trumped the usage of Seattle’s last two timeouts by Carroll during the series and put the Seahawks in a bind.
With no timeouts, and only the 2-minute warning to stop the clock, Carroll had a decision.
The 49ers were in a perfect spot to wring out the clock and kick a winning field goal. At their disposal was kicker Phil Dawson, who had not missed since September.
With San Francisco seven yards from the end zone, Carroll had to decide: let them score and preserve as much time as possible, which would force the Seahawks to have to score a touchdown to win; or, hold them out, lose time, force a field-goal attempt and need only a field goal to win.
Carroll considered the first, but opted for the latter.
“That’s a serious decision that you can make. We don’t have examples in our history or our backgrounds of any of the guys that we’ve been around of anyone that has ever (let them score) and it’s worked. If it has, I don’t know that.
“But, we do know it’s an
alternative. People have tried it. I was clear about it to see if we could knock the ball down and just stay with our principles on defense. But, when you have a guy like Russell (Wilson), that and your offense that can hit two minutes and are really good at it, it does gives us that option.”
One notable instance of letting the other team score happened in Super Bowl XXXII, when Mike Holmgren was coach of the Green Bay Packers.
With two timeouts left and the Denver Broncos facing a second-and-goal from the 1 with 1:47 remaining, Holmgren instructed the Packers to allow the Broncos to score.
Broncos running back Terrell Davis ran it in and left Holmgren with two timeouts, 1:45 and a 31-24 deficit. The Packers did not score a touchdown and finished their drive at the Denver 31, right on the edge of kicker Ryan Longwell’s range. Longwell’s long that season was 45 yards.
Another complication in the decision for Carroll was the concept of letting an opposing team score. This would be counter to his “Win forever” slogan that covers his competitive mentality.
“That’s exactly one of the issues,” Carroll said. “I think there’s a decision to be made about that, as the situation rises and it has to do with a lot more than that. It has to do with the time; it has to do with your offense versus their defense, your quarterback and all that.
“Like I said, we know that our offense can go down the field in two minutes on anybody. You give us four plays to make a first down, we really believe we can get that done. Russell is great at it. Those are all of the considerations.”
The Seahawks fought to hold the 49ers to a field goal. In turn, they were left with a two-point deficit and 21 seconds to get into Steven Hauschka’s field-goal range. His long this season is 53 yards. To have that shot, Seattle would have needed to go from their 16 after the kickoff return to the San Francisco 35 or so.
They didn’t gain a yard because Wilson was intercepted on the Seahawks’ next play from scrimmage.
WRIGHT TO HAVE SURGERY
Linebacker K.J. Wright will have surgery Tuesday to repair a broken bone in his right foot. He will be out from four to six weeks.
Backup Malcolm Smith will take his starting spot.
Center Max Unger is on day-to-day status, according to Carroll, after straining a pectoral muscle Sunday. The Seahawks won’t know until later this week if Unger can play Sunday when the Seahawks meet the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Cornerback Brandon Browner still has not heard back from the NFL on his appeal of a one-year suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy. Browner (groin) will try to get back to practice this week while awaiting a conclusion on his appeal.