The Seattle Seahawks had just become the third team in NFL history to score 50 points in consecutive games, but Pete Carroll wasn’t giddy. He realized the discussion among America’s Monday morning quarterbacks would dwell less on the dozens of plays that worked to perfection in Toronto than on one play that needn’t have worked at all.
A week after some national pundits ripped Carroll for running up the Seahawks score in their 58-0 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the head coach invited more legitimate criticism during the Hawks’ 50-17 obliteration of the Buffalo Bills. Nursing a 47-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Carroll gave his go-ahead for a fake punt at the Buffalo 43-yard line.
Because the Bills were no more adept at stopping trickery than they were at stopping Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks converted the fourth down into a 30-yard gain for fullback Michael Robinson.
The fake punt was difficult for the Bills to defend in the moment, and even more difficult for Carroll to defend afterward.
“I feel bad about this,” Carroll told reporters. “It was part of our game plan, but it was something I could have called off and didn’t. It’s unfortunate that it comes across like there’s something wrong there. That’s my fault, totally, for not stopping that from happening.”
Carroll acknowledges he’s sometimes prone to what he calls “hormonal moments” — when his natural aggressive urges are at odds with situations demanding a more circumspect kind of game management. He’s working on it.
When the Seahawks were looking at a fourth-and-goal opportunity at the Buffalo one-yard line in the first quarter, Carroll resisted the hormonal-moment instinct to attempt a touchdown. He settled for the chip-shot field goal that extended the Hawks lead to 17-7.
Good call. Another hormonal moment avoided.
Then Carroll allowed his emotions to override reason in the fourth quarter. The punt team, after all, had spent all week practicing the fake in anticipation of surprising the Bills, but Wilson and the offense were operating with such precision, there was no opportunity to run the trick play until the game was into its blowout phase.
Carroll, I suspect, was so infatuated by the idea of a well-executed fake that he blocked out everything else.
Running up the score is not against the law, and many fans are fond of repeating the famous bromide first attributed to former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
“It’s not my job to prevent my team from scoring,” Bowden used to say. “It’s the other team’s job.”
Still, there’s a certain etiquette expected of any sportsman. A baserunner doesn’t steal second in the ninth inning of a 9-2 blowout. A basketball team leading by 40 points doesn’t maintain a full-court press with three minutes remaining. And a football coach doesn’t dial up a fake punt when the score is 47-17.
Suggestions that Carroll ran up the score last week are unjustified. He replaced Wilson with backup quarterback Matt Flynn in the third quarter, and Flynn — rusty after spending 12 games on the sideline — needed work more meaningful than taking snaps and delivering handoffs. Carroll did a much better job emptying his bench against the Cardinals than he ever did at USC, when he was consistently accused of rubbing it in.
There are those convinced Carroll still has a ruthless streak (which is kind of funny, because others are convinced he’s too soft) and for them, the fake punt only reinforced perceptions. The fake also distracted from another comprehensively impressive Seahawks performance.
Admitted Carroll: “It looked bad,” and for a coach to use that term, minutes after his team joined the 1950 Rams and 1950 Giants as the only NFL teams to explode for 50 points in two straight games, it had to look really bad.
At least the San Francisco 49ers must honor the possibility of some special-team trickery as they prepare for the showdown at CenturyLink Field next Sunday night. The possibility of a fake punt means one more bell to answer, one more egg to fry.
I just wish Carroll had kept the fake under wraps until it could help decide a more suspenseful game. So does he.