If the Seattle Seahawks return to the Super Bowl — and during the second half Sunday afternoon, they very much looked like a team capable of returning to the Super Bowl — a single moment will recalled as the season’s turning point.
It came with 9:34 remaining in their sometimes sloppy, ultimately satisfying 24-7 victory over the New York Giants. With a smothering defense, an offense that seemed to move the first-down chains whenever it wanted and superior special teams execution, the Hawks had dominated every aspect of the game.
Yet only a missed field goal prevented the Giants from turning their 10-7 deficit into a 10-10 tie. For the better part of three hours, whatever could go wrong for the Seahawks went wrong.
And then Russell Wilson lofted the ball to Paul Richardson on a flea-flicker play that began with a toss to running back J.D. McKissic. A scrum for possession in the end zone ensued, reminiscent of the controversial “Fail Mary” touchdown against Green Bay in 2012.
Richardson appeared to have initial possession after his leaping grab in the stratosphere, but as the receiver returned to earth Giants safety Landon Collins pried the ball out of Richardson’s hands.
In what resembled a pro-wrestling cage match, Richardson and Collins engaged in a duel that no replay angle would be able to clarify.
Referee Tony Corrente finally signaled a Seahawks touchdown that hinged on a review.
While the officials were trying to maintain order amid the confusion, CBS analyst James Lofton offered some insight.
“You always hear that the tie goes to the home team,” said Lofton, who added, “the offense.”
The Giants were the home team. The Seahawks were on offense. Whose ball?
By NFL rule, simultaneous possession is awarded to the offense, and explains why Richardson soon was dancing and Collins stewing.
But the Seahawks being the Seahawks, it wasn’t quite that simple. As Richardson and Collins were competing for the ball, the scrap extended to the left corner of the end zone, where Richardson’s foot was out of bounds.
The Giants were outplayed so thoroughly Sunday that their spirit was sapped for any kind of comeback, but the pummeling they took won’t diminish the “We Wuz Robbed” outcry.
“It was contested, that’s for sure,” said Wilson, who might have had the worst view in the house.
“Definitely a pretty crazy play,” continued Wilson. “It’s like in baseball, simultaneously hitting the bag at first. It was a great play by Paul — and a great effort, obviously by Collins as well — but it was fortunate for us.”
If the call had been reversed, it’s possible the Hawks still would have escaped New York with a victory. With Eli Manning’s three favorite passing targets out with injuries and a listless rushing attack, the Giants offense was a three-and-out clunker.
But who knows? Maybe it’s the Seahawks whose spirit is sapped in a tortoise-and-hare tussle rife with self-inflicted mistakes.
On their second offensive series, the Hawks snapped the ball nine times inside the New York 10-yard line. They ended up with no points after the ninth play, a waist-high pass to tight end Jimmy Graham he couldn’t secure on fourth-and-goal.
Three dropped passes were a problem, but not as much of a problem as 15 penalties.
“The offense moved the football the whole night, but we just couldn’t get out of our own way here,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We had eight penalties for a bunch of yards in the first half, and then we got way better. We had seven in the second half. We’re going in the right direction.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, stuff we’ve got to clean up. But it was a good, solid football game.”
The first question put to Carroll afterward regarded the disputed touchdown pass to Richardson: Was it a turning point?
“Hmm-hmm,” Carroll replied. “I can’t give less of an answer than that. Of course it was.
“We always catch those.”