GLENDALE, Ariz. – John F. Kennedy famously said that victory has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. But then again, he was a Patriots fan. (The team even recruited him.)
The staggering final play of last night’s enthralling Super Bowl XLIX, in which Seattle inexplicably called for a passing play on the one-yard line that was intercepted and cost them their second consecutive NFL Championship, was a failure in every sense of the word. And in the 16 hours since the play went down, the Seahawks have been standing in a circle, all pointing at each other, yelling, “He’s the dad!”
The play is destined to go down in Super Bowl history; a game that might have secured Bill Belichick’s and Tom Brady’s legacy as the greatest NFL coach and quarterback of all will end up known almost exclusively for that play. As is inevitable with a fiasco of such magnitude, the troops are screaming at the generals, and the generals are screaming right back.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who made the call—with the approval of coach Pete Carroll, who, by taking blame for the play, is the one person who isn’t standing around accusing everyone around him—says wide receiver Ricardo Lockette should have “fought through” the defense. Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin, who earlier became the first player ever ejected from a Super Bowl, blasted Bevell, saying “We were on the half-yard line, and we throw a slant. I don’t know what the offense had going on, what they saw. I just don’t understand.” (This was a sentiment heavily shared by many in the Seahawks locker room afterward.) One anonymous Seahawk even claimed that Carroll made the call to have Russell Wilson throw the ball, rather than Marshawn Lynch run it, because Carroll simply likes Wilson more. It was that sort of loss.
But why choose? Why can’t everyone be at fault? Below, a full paternity report of this failure's many, many fathers:
Carroll: Calling for a pass in the first place was particularly risky because the Seahawks had a time out left. He could have run Lynch—the toughest back to tackle in the league—and even if he hadn’t made it, he could have called time out and tried again. Carroll actually admitted afterward that passing was “wasting a play.” Suffice it to say, the final decisive seconds of a Super Bowl is a strange time to waste a play.
Bevell: Carroll asked for a pass, but Bevell’s the one who came with the rather inexplicable idea to throw it in the middle of the field, pretty much the only place the ball could have been thrown where it could be intercepted. Why didn’t Bevell call for a fade route? (Perhaps to Chris Matthews, the surprising star of the game, who had been using his height to grab jump balls all evening?) Or even have Wilson try a play action and roll out, with the option of throwing it, running it in or tossing the ball out of the end zone to regroup? (Seattle could have held on to its precious time out that way, too.) Heck, even if Wilson had been sacked, it would have been OK. The one thing that couldn’t happen was an interception. Bevell had countless options, and he still found a way to choose the worst one.
Lockette: The collision with Butler knocked him several feet, adding insult to injury. The receiver couldn't possibly have seen the cornerback coming—though, on a slant route on the goal line with 20 seconds left in the Super Bowl, he should have known someone was coming.
Wilson: Uh, he is the one who threw the interception. We do still occasionally blame the quarterback for that, yes?
The referees: Seattle had every opportunity to put this game away earlier, and very well might have, had a blatantly incorrect call not happened on the Seahawks’ previous drive. The Patriots’ Malcolm Butler—who of course would later make the game-saving interception—clearly tripped Lockette on a play that would have given the Seahawks a first down and might well have helped ice the game away, and made the last six minutes entirely irrelevant.
The Seattle defense: The Seahawks offense had dominated the third quarter and given the team a 10-point lead with 15 minutes remaining. Seattle has been calling itself an all-time great defense for two seasons now, but let’s be honest: An all-time great defense doesn’t give up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Patriots: If Brady isn’t brilliant on the last drive—even if he was throwing to a receiver, Julian Edelman, who clearly looked concussed—the Seahawks have already won. Also: Not every defender makes the play Butler did.
No one—just the fickle hands of fate: After all, as ESPN’s LZ Granderson pointed out, it might not have actually been the worst play call? The key stat: There were 109 pass attempts from the one-yard line this season in the NFL. The first 108 did not result in an interception. The 109th? Last night. That’s to say: Sometimes shit just happens. Sometimes you get struck by lightning. But you can’t blame the gods. So you must blame somebody. Well: Somebody else.