By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Matt Flynn throwing deep to Jermaine Kearse, a play much more commonly seen in a mid-week practice than on a Sunday at CenturyLink Field, has spawned quite the debate during the past couple of days.
Midway through the fourth quarter of 58-0 thrashing of the Arizona Cardinals, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had a decision to make. His team was up 51-0, and facing fourth-and-23 from the Cardinals 33 yard line, something of a no-man’s land between short punt and long field goal attempt. So rather than have his team pooch a punt or attempt a 50-plus yard kick, Carroll decided to air it out.
Mind you it was his backup quarterback airing it out to an undrafted rookie who until recently was on Seattle’s practice squad, but that decision still left a lot of people wondering if Carroll and the Seahawks were running it up on the hapless Cardinals.
Carroll insists he wasn’t, but rather that he wanted to give Flynn a chance to throw the ball a little bit, and Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt declined to criticize the Seahawks’ play calling, saying, “It’s our job to stop them and we didn’t get that done.”
The real question isn’t whether or not the Seahawks were running up the score — which their passing stats say they weren’t — but rather, who cares if they were?
This is the NFL folks, a big-boy league, not Pop Warner, or high school or even college football, where talent levels can be so disparate that it is simply mean spirited for a team to keep its foot on the gas throughout a game. Carroll knows that as well as anyone.
Back when his USC teams were dismantling Pac-10 opponents, he took often precautions to keep the score from getting too out of hand. When his 2008 Trojans were thrashing Washington State, he had his offense take a knee deep in Cougars territory rather than score with the clock winding down … in the first half. Later that season against Washington, Carroll had Mark Sanchez hand the ball off four times to run out the clock in the first half after getting the ball in Husky territory with plenty of time left to score. Sorry to bring this up for any Husky fans out there, but I remember this one well having been there.
“It’s a sensitive situation, I understand that,” Carroll said. “We have a very clear way that we go about it, and we’re trying to accomplish a lot of stuff in that situation as well as just finishing the football game.”
And as much as that one fourth-down throw might have looked bad, the Seahawks did just about everything they could to go easy on the Cardinals, who for the better part of three hours were doing everything they could to give opportunities to the Seahawks. Russell Wilson was out of the game early the third quarter, and so was Marshawn Lynch. By the fourth quarter, the Seahawks had so many backups on the field that it felt like a preseason game.
Wilson attempted only one pass in the second half before coming out, and Flynn, who really could benefit from the work, attempted just nine. Does throwing on fourth-and-23 look a little bad? Sure, but is kicking another field goal that much better?
And the way Patrick Peterson was taking care of the football, punting probably would have given the Seahawks a better chance of scoring than did that pass attempt. I kid, I kid. Sort of.
Really, this shouldn’t even be a debate, but since it was discussed repeatedly on SportsCenter and debated on other national sports talk shows, I suppose we have to address it, too. But even if we forget for a moment how silly it is to suggest that a team tried to run up the score when it passed for only 209 yards, it shouldn’t matter if the Seahawks had been doing all they could to score in the late going.
There is real value in letting Flynn throw some late in that game. If Wilson were to suffer an injury in an important late-season game or in the playoffs, Flynn will now be that much more comfortable playing with his new team at game speed.
And with Wilson playing as well as he is, the Seahawks may want to shop Flynn to a quarterback-needy team in the offseason — heck, Flynn might have unknowingly been auditioning in front of his future team — so why shouldn’t the Seahawks be able to showcase a potentially valuable trade chip?
And ultimately, like Whisenhunt said, it’s up to the Cardinals to do something about it if the Seahawks keep scoring. It wasn’t Lynch pounding the ball into the end zone late in the game, it was No. 3 running back Leon Washington running behind backup linemen.
Look, it’s a team’s choice on how it wants to handle these situations and live with the consequences. New England coach Bill Belichick, is often criticized for leaving his stars in the game late in blowouts, and if the Seahawks were to have suffered an injury to a key player, like Sidney Rice, who took a huge hit going over the middle for a catch early in the fourth quarter, Carroll would have to answer for that.
Before throwing on fourth-and-23, the Seahawks handed the ball off on second-and-31, then handed it off again on third-and-28. On fourth down, from no-mans land, they took a shot.
Maybe it was unnecessary, maybe even a little mean. So what? Is that really worse to a prideful group of professionals than watching an opponent decide to take pity?
When Oklahoma State decides to bully Savannah State to the tune of 84-0, that’s just unnecessary. But when an NFL team wins big because the other team treats the football like it’s covered with flesh-eating bacteria, there’s no cause for complaining.
The Seahawks didn’t run up the score on Arizona Sunday, but really, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if they had.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.