Seattle Seahawks

Bonked Pete Carroll’s decisions hurt Seahawks in self-inflicted loss

Last game, the Seahawks celebrated Pete Carroll’s birthday and 100th coaching victory by dunking water on him.

This game, they smashed his nose.

The just-turned-68-year-old coach was standing on the field readying to go back into the locker room for the final time before Sunday’s home game against New Orleans. Suddenly, a football in flight from his players’ warm-ups crash-landed out of the sky into Carroll’s face. That left a gash across the bridge of his nose.

“It would have been a really good story that I had head-butted Bobby (Wagner) in the pregame, getting fired up in the locker room,” Carroll said. “But I heard that they captured it on film: I got smacked in the nose with the football, the last play of warm-ups.

“I didn’t see it coming.”

Asked if the swollen, bloodied nose was broken, the former defensive back at the University of Pacific said: “It’s been broken many times.”

The blow—or something—seemed to affect Carroll’s judgment in Seattle’s 33-27 loss to the Saints, a game that thanks to a series of Seahawks mistakes wasn’t nearly as close as that final score hints.

Seattle converted just one of four attempts to go for it on fourth down Sunday. That’s the most times Carroll went for the first down on fourth down in a game in his 10 seasons as the Seahawks’ coach.

“I could have changed the situation on fourth down some. I could have kicked the ball and done a couple more conservative things that I like to do often,” Carroll said. “But I felt pretty good about how we were playing D.

“I tried too hard.”

First quarter, Seattle had already gifted New Orleans a touchdown with a short, 38-yard punt by usually-booming All-Pro Michael Dickson and a 53-yard return for a touchdown by Deonte Harris on which five unblocked Seahawks did not tackle the rookie. The offense responded by driving to the Saints 39-yard line, thanks largely to a 29-yard completion from Russell Wilson to David Moore on third down in the receiver’s return from a broken arm.

On fourth and 4 from the New Orleans 39, Carroll did not go for it. He also decided against a 57-yard field goal into a light rain by Jason Myers, who has the leg for that distance, especially into the closed end of CenturyLink Field. The coach had Dickson punt. The All-Pro did—29 yards to a fair catch by Harris at the Saints 10-yard line.

Second quarter, with the Saints leading 13-7, Carroll does go for it on fourth down. The coach sends Chris Carson back into the game; Carroll had benched his lead running back for the first three runs of the drive because Carson had fumbled again, into a New Orleans touchdown to end Seattle’s previous series. Carson gets stopped on a dive run inside right on third and 1 at the Saints 41. On fourth and 1, Carson takes another hand-off from Wilson and runs inside right—right into the Saints’ defensive front again.

New Orleans gets the ball back near midfield, still leading, then adds to the lead with another touchdown on a short field. Seattle is suddenly down 20-7 and in frantic chase mode the rest of the day.

“Generally, we count on Michael to put the ball inside the 10-yard line,” Carroll said. “That’s why I didn’t like the way it went today. If I stick to my guns on that, and we kick it deep, we’ll see what happens, and I would rather play it that way.

“You get choices in this game. And sometimes you go for it, and sometimes you don’t.”

After the Saints’ subsequent touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara on a 29-yard screen play with two missed tackles made it 20-7, Seattle started its final first-half possession at its own 21. The offense had 29 seconds and two time outs remaining.

On the first play Wilson threw over the middle and low to tight end Nick Vannett for 9 yards. If you decide to throw over the middle there, it begs for the quarterback or coach to immediately call a timeout. If not, logic says you should have run it or taken a knee, to let time run out in the half.

Neither Carroll nor Wilson, nor any other Seahawk, calls a timeout.

The offensive line is slow to get to the ball for a quick snap, so 19 seconds elapse between plays. Wilson then throws a desperate, 54-yard jump ball that rookie DK Metcalf pulls down over defenders at the Saints 16. The clock keeps running, all the way to zero, without the Seahawks ever calling timeout to set up a chance to cut into that 20-7 deficit.

Seattle went into its locker room with those two, unused timeouts. Subpar, to say the least.

The home fans booed as if CenturyLink Field had just run out of beer and coffee at the same time and all that was left to serve in the stadium were Malcolm Butler highlights from Super Bowl 49.

“It’s just, we were on the wrong side of the field and all of a sudden the big play hits, and we pop,” Carroll said. “We had already been kind of stung by the sequence before, and it’s a long ways home, but Russ came up with some magic and made a great play with DK.

“If we knew that was going to happen, I would have called time out earlier. But, it didn’t work. That was just kind of how this thing went.

“It was one of those days.”

Wilson said of not calling a time out there: “Yeah, I think that we could’ve done that. We tried to make another play real quick and then use him. We’ve got to review that stuff. I’ve got to check it out before I see it all.”

There were more puzzling decisions on a day the Seahawks needed every edge to overcome mistakes, yet created none.

Down 33-14, Wilson’s playground ball in the fourth quarter results in an 8-yard scramble for the quarterback’s second rushing touchdown of the period. It’s 33-20 with 2:55 remaining. Carroll decides to have Myers kick the extra point to make it a 12-point game when a two-point conversion could have made it 33-22, a field goal then touchdown and another two-point conversion away from tying it.

Why?

“We didn’t do that right, either.” Carroll said. “We didn’t do that right.”

One fourth-down decision Carroll wasn’t at fault for: Wilson’s incomplete deep pass on the final fourth and 1, with 9:47 left and New Orleans leading 27-14. Wilson checked out of the called run there, after he saw the Saints in “zero” coverage with no safeties. Lead receiver Tyler Lockett got banged around inside while Wilson decided to throw outside incomplete well beyond fifth wide receiver Malik Turner.

“Yeah, we tried to make the play. They had everybody up,”: Wilson said. “We’ve done that a lot in the past. We’re usually pretty good at that. We didn’t hit it, unfortunately.

“There were some other plays in there that we could’ve made. I think the reality is that we still played good football I think in the sense of offensively and trying to do some things. We scored some points. We made some plays. They’re a great defense. They’ve been able to do a lot of things throughout the years and stuff like that.

“For us today, there was probably six, seven, eight plays in there that we wish we could’ve done better.”

Next time, his coach is likely to be more aware of balls in the air during pregame warmups. At least he needs to be.

“Well, this was an unusual game. So many things happened in this game that (we) just hurt ourselves,” Carroll said. “Even the coach got hurt in this one.

“We made mistakes, errors, the big plays, the returns. ...

“I had a particularly bad day. There were too many chances I had to make some things happen, and I tried too hard at times. And, I kind of got in the flow of it, and it was really disappointing.

“Just disappointing across the board.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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