It wasn't the WORST CALL OF ALL TIME. That's our internet age of hyperbole and lack of perspective, much less memory, screeching. And a lot of post-facto wisdom. As if wisdom would be expressed BY SHOUTING IT IN CAPS! Face it: had Ricardo Lockette caught that ball, they'd all be screeching 'UNLIKELY HERO!' and 'WHAT AN GUTSY PLAY CALL' into the cyber black hole of media.
In the studio Osi Umeniyora had his hands on his head; I had mine spread in disbelief (you may have seen the screen shot @c4nfl put up on twitter!). We were both aghast that the Seahawks hadn't run the ball: they'd nearly got the TD two plays before, when Marshawn Lynch picked up five of the six yards they needed, and only a brilliant diving tackle by Dont'a Hightower saved them. Then Rob Ninkovich came down the line to stop Lynch for no gain. Bill Belichick didn't call time out, leaving the game in the hands of his defense. Was he figuring the Seahawks would throw on second down, to ensure they had a chance to run three plays? They'd thrown for a TD from the three, to Doug Baldwin, who went all scatalogical in celebration and cost Seattle 15. I tend to think he just wanted his players to put the pressure on the Seahawks.
Were the Patriots to lose because of the Malcolm Butler tip that Jermaine Kearse caught on his back (while Duron Harmon leaps over him, rather than playing the ball and probably getting a penalty for hitting an unprotected receiver) it would have been a sure sign that the gods were still very irritated with New England, or that Phoenix was no place for the Pats to ever play again. But football is such a game of inches. Butler had been beaten by Kearse earlier, only for Kearse to drop what was possibly Russell Wilson's best throw of the playoffs. He'd also gotten away with a trip, when he slipped in coverage.
The Seahawks, as they do so often, marched right down the field after Tom Brady to Julian Edelman for the TD. A wheel route to Marshawn Lynch beat Jamie Collins, just as they'd beaten the Packers on the same play. Now it was second and goal from the 1, down to 26 seconds left.
You can see Pete Carroll on the sidelines watching the subs. 'They're in goal-line!' he yells into the headset, which was probably all the prompting Darrell Bevell needed to try a pass. But the Pats' in goalline had two problems, defending both edges. Watch the previous play, and as Nink comes down the line, they've got Hightower to his outside, to defend the option. When they went 6-2 goal-line, I was sure the Seahawks would try an option, and Wilson, not Lynch, would get the winning score.
Aside: Marshawn Lynch was one touchdown in five carries inside the one this season. One for five. He's only five for twelve in the past three years.
When the Seahawks come out with the stack right, you can see Butler checking with Brandon Browner on who has whom. Butler, as we now know, knew the pick play was coming. A pick was a good call, you were unlikely to see a flag on it. But Browner stands Kearse up, which forces Lockette to run his pattern flat (compare it to Brandon LaFell's slant for the TD earlier). And if you watch from the ground-level sidelines camera, you see Butler is breaking to the spot the moment the play starts. Wilson saw an open receiver, but Butler was already beating Lockette to the ball. And all of a sudden Tom Brady was 'cemented' to use the word I saw in a number of internet columns, first from Mike Freeman, as the 'GREATEST QUARTERBACK OF ALL TIME'.
Now he might well be; I think he's got a strong case. But lets say Butler drops the interception, and Seattle scores. Is he then not the greatest ever? If not, who is? The title of greatest ever is a moveable feast, and I relish the discussions and arguments it produces. But quarterbacks do not win games alone, as Malcolm Butler reminds us.
If not the WORST CALL EVER, was it at least THE GREATEST SUPER BOWL EVER? It may well be, but the last one in Phoenix was pretty good too, as was the Steelers-Arizona game the following year. The Ravens-Niners game when THE LIGHTS WENT OUT had a bit of everything, including the late goal-line stand. And that's just in the last seven years!
I have to admit, I'm getting tired of everything having to be decided instantly, definitively, and triumphantly. It's just white noise, and the problem is that it tends to interfere with the clear signals that a brilliant game like Super Bowl 49 sends to us. It tends to turn the spectacle into the equivalent of a video game, which may be the way the NFL prefers it anyway. I should note that when the game was 'played' officially on Madden, the result was 28-24 to New England. I'm glad the players decided to show up anyway.
A lot was made of the Seahawks undrafted wideouts: Baldwin, Kearse, Lockette and Matthews. They did have two drafted rookies, Kevin Norwood and Paul Richardson, but I'm not sure either actually played. But what was interesting was on the other side of the ball. When Jeremy Lane (sixth round pick in 2012) got hurt on his interception return, Tharold Simon (fifth round pick in 2013) replaced him, but they moved Byron Maxwell (sixth round pick 2011) into Lane's slot assignment. The Pats immediately went after Simon, who struggled. But it shows how the Seahawks pick up corners with the size and length they like, and then coach them in Pete Carroll's system, which can take a couple of years. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were both fifth round picks because scouts thought they weren't fast enough to cover; backup safety DeShawn Snead was undrafted.
The Pats, on the other hand, got to the Super Bowl in part because of free-agent corners Darrelle Revis and Browner. Revis shut down Baldwin completely—I think betting his over of 4.5 catches was my dumbest call of the day. But when Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington (undrafted) had their problems, Belichick had no hesitation in turning to Butler (undrafted rookie from Division II West Alabama) who had shone in camp but hadn't had a lot of meaningful snaps. The Pats haven't done as well developing corners, but their lineup is littered with undrafted guys, waiver-wire guys (sometimes both) whom they've identified as guys who can contribute. These are two well-coached teams. And it's no coincidence Dan Quinn follows Gus Bradley from the Seattle defensive coordinator job to a head coaching job, his in Atlanta.
When I previewed the game, I said the Pats would have to play perfectly with the right game plan, while the Seahawks could win simply playing their game. And so it turned out. In the fourth quarter the Pats schemed their way into the match-ups they wanted, content for the most part to take short gains on passes, and getting a lot of yards after the catch from Edelman (seventh-round pick) and Danny Amendola (undrafted, originally signed by Dallas, but high-priced free agent from the Rams). Meanwhile Seattle got the kind of big plays in the crucial moments late in both halves to keep themselves in the game and put themselves in position to win, at least before THE WORST CALL IN FOOTBALL HISTORY ™. Maybe you can argue that, by passing on second down, they were playing the Patriot game, trying to outfox New England, rather than just doing their own thing.
DOING THE RIGHT THING:
As I predicted/suggested on the show, Tom Brady did give the pick-up truck to Malcolm Butler. I hope Chevy give him a choice of colours. The MVP car is one of two things I dislike at the end of the game, well, make it three with the Disneyland business. It turns an honour into a gridiron version of The Price Is Right; it ought to have a woman in a gown opening her hands to show the car off. But what I really dislike is handing the Lombardi trophy to the owner, rather than to a team captain. It shows you who runs the game, and who the game is run for. Game? Every time I call it a game, you remind me it's a business, and every time I call it a business you say it's a game (cf North Dallas 40). At least the beauty of this Super Bowl kept us free from Spygate, Deflategate, arrest reports, and all the other stuff that will occupy THE SCREAMING PUNDITS for the rest of the off-season. It was a Super Bowl to remember, and isn't that enough?
LAST WEEK: 0-1 PLAYOFFS: 8-3 REGULAR SEASON: 169-86-1 SEASON: 177-89-1
In the end I tied with Neil Reynolds for the NFLUK championship (the NFL.com failed to credit my picking the Colts in week 13 in case you're counting) but it should be pointed out that Paolo 'The Great' Bandini was ahead of us both before he missed an entire week. I had never before done better than 7-4 in the playoffs, and I wound up just two games behind last season; two games after 267! I've been between 64-68 per cent correct in nine of the ten years I've been doing this column; as the internet would say 'YOUR STUPID CARLSON, TWO THIRDS ISN'T EVEN HALF, YOU SUCK!'
This is the last Friday Morning Tight End for the season. After a few weeks in Tahiti recovering from the strain of Channel Four and FMTE, I'll be back at the end of the month with the off-season Friday Monthly Tight End, talking about the draft, free agency, arrests, and all the other stuff that prompts the GREATEST OFFSEASON EVER! See you then, and as ever, thanks so much for reading, and responding to this column. JUST NOT ALWAYS IN CAPS!