Last night’s Super Bowl really was super. This season’s two best teams played hard and well. There were great plays by great players. There was also great coaching by the NFL’s two best – Seattle’s Pete Carroll and New England’s Bill Belichick.
The Patriots didn’t secure the 28-24 decision until only 20 seconds remained in the game when undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler intercepted what likely would have otherwise been a one-yard game-winning Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Ricardo Lockette. Butler demonstrated intelligence and humility on the field and in a postgame interview. In addition to Butler, more likely stars MVP quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Julian Edelman, and cornerback Darrelle Revis led the Patriots to victory. With four Super Bowl wins, including three MVPs, in six appearances, Brady is the most impressive postseason performer ever.
Still, the defending champion Seahawks gave the Patriots everything they could handle and more with especially fine performances by third year quarterback Russell Wilson, Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and their own undrafted unlikely star (for this game anyway) receiver Chris Matthews.
Unfortunately, for too many media personalities the great game and players couldn’t be the story. Pundits as diverse as national commentator Deion Sanders, right after the game, and Washington DC radio announcer Kevin Sheehan, Monday morning, expounded at length on what they perceived to be egregious errors by both head coaches and by Russell Wilson.
Sanders called 1) the Seahawks’ decision not to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch and 2) Wilson’s decision to throw to Lockette rather than out of the back of the end zone the worst he’d ever seen. In fact, Sanders twice rhetorically asked Brady whether he would have called off the play to Lockette and then whether he would have made the throw that was intercepted if he had been in Wilson’s position. To his credit, Brady avoided answering the question – perhaps because he didn’t know the answer.
In implying that the great Tom Brady would never have made such a stupid play, Sanders ignored the fact that Brady did throw two interceptions in the game – one particularly ugly – to go along with his four touchdowns. What was a little odd about the whole exchange was that, despite the fact that Sanders and his cohorts Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin were obviously in awe of Brady, they blamed Wilson for losing the game as opposed to crediting Brady for winning it.
Certainly, there are legitimate questions about the play call and Wilson’s throw. But there are reasons to defend it as well. On second down, with 25 seconds left on the clock and only one timeout in his pocket, the Seahawks might not have had time to run the ball three times. Or, they might not have been able to call timeout if Wilson saw a Patriot defense he didn’t like.
The consensus is that Wilson should have handed the ball to Lynch but, as great as Beast Mode has been, he has been less dominating in short yardage situations. A New York Times analysis of the turnover from Wilson’s perspective shows defensive back Butler hanging back and then breaking hard for the ball as Wilson committed to the throw. Simply put, the Patriot made a great play and won the game for his team.
WTEM’s Kevin Sheehan on Washington, DC’s ESPN 980 defended the Seahawks decision to throw to Lockette – kinda. Taking issue with Sanders’ description, Sheehan said it was not the worst decision ever – just the worst in a Super Bowl. Concluding that slamming one Super Bowl coach wasn’t sufficient, Sheehan argued that Belichick was as deserving of opprobrium as Carroll.
Belichick’s crime, according to Sheehan, was failing to call time out with one minute left in the game when the Seahawks drove to the Patriots one-yard line. At that moment, the Seahawks had one timeout remaining. Sheehan argued that the Seahawks were bound to score from the one so Belichick should have used timeouts to give Brady enough time to drive down the field to set up a game-tying field goal.
As I watched the game clock wind down, I did wonder why Belichick didn’t call timeout. But in retrospect, the decision made sense and it certainly worked out. First, he may not have wanted his troops to think too hard about the situation. They were playing loose, he may have figured, and might tighten up during the break. Second, by calling timeout Belichick would give Carroll an extra chance to size up the Patriots defense and determine the best play to call – during the Patriots timeout and then during his own if he needed to call it.
Carroll and Belichick rely heavily on late-round draft picks and undrafted players. They find talent where other coaches can’t. If Belichick needs Brady to throw the ball 50 times, he does. If Carroll thinks the best man to lead the Seahawks is undersized third round pick Russell Wilson, Russell Wilson starts. Both head coaches have had extraordinary success as has Wilson who won a Super Bowl in his second year and barely lost one in his third year. The criticism from Monday Morning quarterbacks is misguided and unfairly minimizes their, and Brady’s, accomplishments.