It’s been three days since the Seahawks fell for a phantom punt return converted into the trickiest trick-play touchdown you’ll ever see, and the urge to point a finger won’t go away.
But rather than piling on the usual suspects, here’s a new name worthy of scorn.
The veteran Buffalo Bills cornerback was playing for Chicago when the Bears duped the Green Bay Packers in a 2011 game. All eyes were on the incomparable return specialist Devin Hester, who appeared to await a punt near the west sideline of Soldier Field. Meanwhile, some 40 yards away, the ball landed in the hands of teammate Johnny Knox, so alone he ended up trotting into the Green Bay end zone.
Figuring the Packers would converge on Hester, Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub had drawn up the ultimate trick play, destined to be recalled — until the end of time — as a cautionary tale by every special teams coach interested in keeping his job.
But the ultimate trick play didn’t go down in history, and that’s the fault of Graham. He was called for holding, which negated the touchdown and redefined every previously held notion of a beef-brained penalty.
Three years after the Packers were coaxed into covering a punt that landed on the other side of the field, the label of most gullible special-teams unit now belongs to the Seahawks, whose focus on the Rams’ Tavon Austin enabled Stedman Bailey to score a blooper-video touchdown.
Aside from the insurmountable lead it assured St. Louis, the phantom return gave Hawks coach Pete Carroll a distinction at odds with his lucky-for-life persona: A handful of outrageously brazen trick plays have worked on an NFL field, and his teams were victims of two of them.
The other occurred in 1994, when Carroll was coaching the New York Jets. With 30 seconds remaining and the Jets protecting a 24-21 lead against Miami, quarterback Dan Marino prepared for the snap with the apparent intent to the spike ball at the New York 8 yard line.
“Clock! Clock!” yelled Marino. It was a bluff, called by Dolphins coach Don Shula, designed to put the defense into a whistle-expectant lull. Instead of spiking the ball, Marino lofted what had to be the easiest of his 420 career touchdown passes.
The Clock Play, as its known in NFL lore, was brought to Miami by backup quarterback Bernie Kosar, who once attempted a fake spike as a starter for the 1987 Cleveland Browns. The ruse didn’t succeed the first time, but Kosar believed in it, and persuaded Shula to stash it away for a special occasion.
Seven years later, Marino caught the Jets taking a red-zone nap with 30 seconds remaining.
Here’s the thing about trick plays: They’re as old as, well, the Statue of Liberty. Every gimmick in the book has been tried.
The “bounce-pass” lateral masked as an incompletion?
The quarterback feigning confusion and approaching the sideline to confer with the coaching staff, just as the center snaps the ball to somebody else in the backfield?
Those concepts might have been fresh out of the box years ago, but marginal NFL players who fall for that stuff in 2014 are soon-to-be-waived NFL players.
As for the phantom punt return that embarrassed the Seahawks in St. Louis, feel free to curse it, or marvel at it, or do both.
You won’t get fooled again.
And yet trickery endures. Ten days ago at Miami, home of the Dolphins team that immortalized the Clock Play, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went through the pre-snap motions of spiking the ball during a last-minute drive with the game on the line.
But there was no spike. Rodgers saw that cornerback Cortland Finnegan, assuming a quick whistle, was positioned well behind receiver Davante Adams. Rodgers hooked up with Adams on a 12-yard pass, setting up a short touchdown strike to Andrew Quarless.
“That’s usually how it is when you see that a team’s about to spike the ball,” Adams said after the Packers’ victory. “You think it’s going to happen and so you’re not going to be all tense on defense.
“I guess he was a little off,” Adams said of Finnegan. “I wouldn’t say he was lackadaisical. Most people would do the same thing. That’s why we took advantage of it.”
Those words could be applied to Seattle’s special teams effort during the punt return in St. Louis. Tavon Austin pretended he had dibs on the ball, and the Hawks tracked him down. Most people would do the same thing.
Unless, perhaps, they had seen how the 2011 Bears used a similar tactic to outwit Green Bay, only to be undone by the Corey Graham holding penalty that erased a trick-play touchdown executed to perfection.
So it’s all on you, Corey. Nothing personal. I’m just searching for a new and different kind of scapegoat responsible for the Seahawks’ abrupt fall from grace.
Percy Harvin is so yesterday.