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Dear Pete Carroll

At the end of Sunday’s game against the 49ers, the Seahawks had an opportunity to (attempt to) allow the 49ers to score. Following a  Colin Kaepernick gainof 8 yards on 3rd-and-7, the 49ers had the ball, down by 1, at the Seahawks 7-yard line with 2:39 remaining.  The Seahawks were out of timeouts, which meant if San Francisco wanted to, it could drain the clock to under 30 seconds. Keith Goldner at Advanced NFL Stats already covered this issue well: “Once the 49ers had the 1st-and-Goal, with the impending snap coming under the 2:40 mark, the Seahawks should have immediately attempted to allow the 49ers to score.”

I agree with Keith’s analysis: the Seahawks would have been in a better situation having the ball following a kickoff with 2:30 left in the game, trailing by 5-7 points, than to have been in the desperate situation they were in. But what does coach Pete Carroll have to say about whether it would have been wise to allow the 49ers to score a touchdown?

“There’s a lot of gut in that decision…We had the talk, and it’s just not in our mentality to let anybody have anything….I’m going to do a little research this week and see if anyone has ever done that and won,” Carroll said.

I don’t think we need to go beyond Keith’s analysis, which correctly frames the issue. We don’t need to look at historical numbers to know that trailing by 5-7 with the ball on your own 22 with 2:30 left is better than trailing by 2 with the ball on your own 22 with 26 seconds remaining. But since coach Carroll used to coach the Jets, I figured I would do him a solid and provide him with a history lesson.

In week two, the Panthers kicked a field goal with 1:42 left to give Carolina a 6-point lead. EJ Manuel led the Bills on an 80-yard scoring drive to win the game, culminating in a 2-yard pass to Steve Johnson for the game winner.

In week three, the Chargers punted with just over two minutes remaining, and pinned the Titans on their own 6, out of timeouts, and trailing by four points. Jake Locker led the team on a 94-yard drive that took 110 seconds, with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter turning into the game winner.

In week six, the Saints punted to the Patriots with a 4-point lead and 1:20 left in the game. Tom Brady had no timeouts, but drove New England 70 yards in 63 seconds and threw a game-winning touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins to beat New Orleans.

In week eight, a Cowboys field goal with 1:07 left put the team up by 6 against Detroit. Matthew Stafford took over with 62 seconds remaining and no timeouts at his own 20 yard line, but drove the team down the field and took off on a fake spike/quarterback sneak for the game-winner.

In week twelve, Alex Smith threw a touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe (I know, I’m shocked, too) with 1:28 left in the game, giving Kansas City a four-point lead over the Chargers. Philip Rivers took over at the San Diego 22 with two timeouts left but just 1:17 on the clock; he threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Seyi Ajirotutu with 31 seconds remaining, giving the Chargers the win.

I’m not even going to get into what happened at the end of the Ravens/Vikings or the Patriots/Browns games from week fourteen. The situations listed above are just the late touchdown drives with a team trailing by 4-to-6 points. Increase the deficit to 7, and you include this drive (2:40 remaining at the Bills 14) by Thaddeus Lewis against the Bengals, when his touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin came with 1:14 remaining. You could also include the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green Hail Mary against the Ravens, or the 74-yard touchdown drive led by Josh McCown that began with 2:17 left against the Lions, which ended with an 11-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall (Chicago trailed by 8, and missed the two-point conversion).

But maybe coach Carroll is really focused more precisely his situation. That limits the sample size, of course, but there are some examples.

  • In 2009, the Steelers trailed by 3 with 2:42 remaining. Ben Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give Pittsburgh a 4-point lead. Bruce Gradkowski took over at his own 12, with 1:48 remaining, and drove the Raiders down the field for the score. Louis Murphy caught the 11-yard game-winner with 15 seconds remaining.
  • Earlier that year, Oakland led Kansas City 6-3 when Matt Cassel threw a 29-yard touchdown to Dwayne Bowe (still shocked) with 2:45 remaining. Trailing by 4 with 2:30 remaining, JaMarcus Russell drove the Raiders 69 yards for the game-winning touchdown, a five-yard run by Darren McFadden with 1:12 left in the game.
  • Did Houston let Miami score in 2008? The Texans were clinging to a 2-point lead against Miami when Ronnie Brown ran six yards to set the Dolphins up for 2nd-and-4 at the Houston six yard line. The Texans called their first timeout after the play, leaving just 1:51 on the clock. Brown rushed up the middle for the score, and Matt Schaub and company got the ball with two timeouts and 1:40 left at the Houston 24-yard line (that’s roughly akin to the situation your Seahawks would have been in, considering the timeouts difference). Schaub executed a 12-play, 76 yard drive for the win, running into the end zone himself for the game-winner.
  • On opening day of the 2008 season, Philip Rivers hit Vincent Jackson for a touchdown to give the Chargers a 5-point lead on the Panthers. Carolina got the ball at their 32, with 2:21 left and one timeout, and Jake Delhomme marched the team on an 11-play, 68 yard drive to win the game (Dante Rosario caught the game-winner. Don’t pretend that you wouldn’t enjoy making Jim Harbaugh play the role of Norv Turner here, Pete.)
  • A couple of weeks before Harbaugh pulled off a 41-point upset against some team from Los Angeles, your Seahawks pulled off a pretty impressive comeback. After a Bengals touchdown with 2:42 remaining gave Cincinnati a four-point lead, Seattle drove down the field in under two minutes to pull off the comeback (Matt Hasselbeck to Nate Burleson for 22 yards was the game-winner).
  • I assume you’re familiar with Super Bowl XLII, right? If Eli Manning can lead an 83-yard drive in two minutes against the Patriots, couldn’t Russell Wilson do it against the 49ers? All you would need to do is tell him “Eli did this, but if you’re not up to the task, I get it.”
  • Did Jeff Fisher allow the Texans to score in 2003? The Titans led 20-17 when Houston had first-and-goal from the five with 1:53 remaining. Domanick Williams scored on the first play, which allowed Steve McNair to drive 75 yards and win the game (courtesy of a 23-yard touchdown to Drew Bennett with 24 seconds left). Okay, Fisher probably didn’t let Houston score, but you’re more aggressive than Fish, right?
  • In 2001, the Cardinals scored a touchdown to take a 7-point lead on Oakland. The Raiders got the ball with 1:10 remaining on their own 22, but Rich Gannon completed passes to Charlie Garner, Jerry Rice, and Tim Brown to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining. Combined ages of Gannon, Garner, Rice, and Brown? 275.
  • Also in 2001: Stacey Mack scored a three-yard touchdown with 90 seconds left to give the Jaguars a 4-point lead on the Ravens. Elvis Grbac responded with a 74-yard touchdown drive to win the game (three-yard touchdown to Shannon Sharpe for the win). I repeat, Elvis Grbac did this.
  • The Bills trailed by 3 with under two minutes left when Travis Henry ran three yards for the go-ahead score. On the ensuing kickoff, the Chargers Ronney Jenkins returned the kick 72 yards, setting up a one-play drive consisting of Doug Flutie running up the middle 13 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Even the San Diego special teams could make a play in this situation, Pete! And Wilson is at least 1.014 times the man that Flutie was.

Pete, this wasn’t a hard decision. Even Brett Favre did this twice in 1999, leading a 7-play, 77-yard drive in 1:44 against the Vikings and then a 6-play, 40-second drive against the Bucs. And I’m pretty sure Wilson is more than 1.014 times the man Favre is.

  • Duff Soviet Union

    I still don’t agree with him, but none of these came after the team in question had actually let the other team score.

    I think his point is that sort of mentality is counterproductive. I still don’t agree with him and absolutely think they should have let the 49ers score, but I’m not sure any of those examples prove him wrong.

  • Eran

    A lot of examples to illustrate one point – A team can score on the last drive. Something even dumb old me knows.

    I even know of teams that tied or won a game with a field goal in 30 sec. (Chicago and Atlanta did that last year against us…)

    To decide what’s the better choice statistically you need to work out what is your chance of success going either way and see if one gives you a much higher chance. Just considering the game against against the 9ers – we scored a TD on 2 of the previous 9 drives of the game without time restrictions so the chance to make it now starts at about 20%…in the last 2 games against the 9ers this year we blocked 1 of 5 field goal kicks – 20%. Sounds like it’s not such a clear cut case anymore doesn’t it?

    In my mind – before you tell your D to let go and let them score it better be the SB or something like that. We can reach our regular season objectives without dropping our pants desperately on D in the hope we can pull a miracle and win. We are not that desperate.