Chaz Abad It’s the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl and there are 26 seconds left—you’re one yard away from winning. The best running back in the league stands behind you. It’s second down and you have one timeout. What do you do? Well, you don’t pass.
In what may become one of the most scrutinized plays in National Football League history, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson elected to pass the ball. Head coach Pete Carroll had Wilson line up in the shotgun and challenge a crowded end zone. NBC’s commentating crew could not stop questioning Carroll’s decision.
A run was low-risk play for Seattle. Running back Marshawn Lynch doesn’t lose yards and barely fumbles. He fights to the whistle and consistently moves the pile forward.
All of America thought a run was inevitable and the New England Patriots were in a pass defending formation. They had three corners lined up and five rushers across six blockers. Who knows, maybe the Patriots would have let Lynch score—something they did for New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw in Super Bowl XLVI—preserving time for quarterback Tom Brady to use.
The win probability reached 88 percent for Seattle––three tries to run with the league’s best running back. It would seem like an easy call, but apparently it wasn’t. Maybe it was panic, but seconds later, it was 0 percent win probability.
Though Wilson’s legacy won’t be made or broken because of this, a long offseason will give him time to think what could have been.
In the moment, it definitely seemed like the wrong call. Putting the ball in the hands of a pretty-good-at-best player like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson instead of an all-world running back like Marshawn Lynch is preposterous to most people. But that’s why most people aren’t coaches in the National Football League.
Don’t get me wrong—Lynch is a great player. Regardless of his off-the-field antics, the man can run the football. But when he’s up against the goal line, he’s not the all-pro back that we’re used to seeing. Lynch had five rushing attempts from the one-yard line this season and only scored on one of them. In the past five seasons, Lynch has scored on 45 percent of such plays. That ranks 30th in the National Football League. Those aren’t exactly odds that evoke confidence.
On top of that, interceptions on pass attempts from the one-yard line are rare—really, really rare. Wilson’s pass was the 109th attempt from the one-yard line this season. It was the first to be intercepted. For those who aren’t mathematicians, that means that 99.08 percent of passes from that distance aren’t interceptions. Those are exactly the odds that evoke confidence.
I’m very glad that my desired career path allows me to use hindsight in order to sound smart, but NFL head coaches don’t have that luxury. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll made the best decision he could have based on the information he had. At the end of the day, Carroll made the right call to pass the ball.