FOXBOROUGH — The group “Go West” had a wistful pop song called “King of Wishful Thinking.” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is the King of Overthinking against the Patriots. He proved that again last night with his brain stuck buffering in crunch time while he tried to match wits with Bill Belichick. Pumped and Jacked Pete made all the wrong moves once again against the Patriots. It didn’t matter this time.
Carroll has instilled his team with so much resolve, resilience, and relentlessness that they overcame his questionable late-game strategy to hand the Patriots a 31-24 loss on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. The sequel to Super Bowl XLIX lived up to the hype. The NFL wishes its prime-time product always came replete with this much cachet, quality football, and entertainment value.
Seattle won a see-saw affair that saw five lead changes in the second half, as the Seahawks handed the Patriots their first loss since Tom Brady returned from his suspension and a sobering reminder that their defense is vulnerable.
The upshot is that both of these teams are Super Bowl-caliber, but only one of these coaches has a doctorate degree in in-game strategy. Maligned for his disastrous decision to throw the ball from the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX, Carroll made some head-scratching decisions Sunday night.
After Russell Wilson threw his third touchdown pass of the game — a steely-eyed 15-yarder on third down to Doug Baldwin — to put the Seahawks up, 31-24, with 4:24 to go, Carroll foolishly elected to go for a 2-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point to go up 8. Seattle had the extra point blockedon its first TD.
Belichick was caught by the NBC cameras asking the same question as the rest of us, “Why is he going for 2?”
“Yeah, we wanted to see if we could put it out of reach and make it a two-score deal,” said Carroll. Of course, the conversion failed, which meant the Patriots only had to march down the field and score a touchdown and kick the extra point to tie, instead of having to cross the goal line against Carroll’s vaunted defense twice — once for the TD and again for a 2-point conversion.
It all worked out in Carroll’s favor when on fourth and goal from the 1, the Patriots elected to throw a fade to Rob Gronkowski. After Gronk and Seattle’s Kam Chancellor tussled for position like it was an offensive rebound, the ball harmlessly hit the turf and Carroll was off the hook.
The former Patriots coach didn’t have to explain away how he botched another game against Belichick and the Patriots. Carroll’s questionable decision-making became a footnote to a great night of football in Foxborough.
Of course, before the Patriots’ final attempt to win the game, Carroll’s Seahawks had 12 men on the field, moving the ball up a yard.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Second-guessing is easy from the comfort of your couch or the press box. Sometimes a coach just can’t catch a break.
That was the case for Old Pete after the Patriots took a 24-22 lead on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 13 minutes left.
Wilson, who shredded the Patriots pass defense like an old pay stub to the tune of 25 of 37 for 348 yards and three scores, hit C.J. Prosise with a rainbow to the Patriots’ 2-yard line. Carroll had been excoriated for not running the ball in the Super Bowl.
Carroll was no doubt experiencing Super Bowl XLIX post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mindful of how he was criticized for throwing the ball on second and goal from the 1 in the Super Bowl, he handed it off twice. Poor Pete made the wrong call again. The only problem is that he doesn’t have Marshawn Lynch, and had a quarterback that was lighting up the Patriots.
Lightweight tailback Prosise was stoned twice, getting stopped just short on his second carry. Carroll challenged Prosise’s second-down carry to no avail. They had to settle for a field goal and a 1-point lead.
But you have to give Carroll credit. He had his team ready to play. The Seahawks didn’t wilt like the Patriots’ usual Foxborough foils.
Seattle had even prepared for the final Patriots’ offensive play of the game.
Chancellor said they had practiced a similar play last week. We’ve heard all about how Belichick had Malcolm Butler prepared for his Pick Heard ’Round the World.
“Interestingly, the last play of the week of practice was a 1-on-1 shot out there with the tight end out there,” said Carroll. “[Kam] happened to win in the same kind of fashion. It was a big moment in practice because Kam is battling because he wants to prove he can do it. Somehow that just works out.”
Seattle might not have had to sweat it out at the end if it had done a better job of cashing in its chances. The Seahawks, who outgained the Patriots, 420 yards to 385, had drives that reached the New England 13, 8, and 5 that didn’t result in touchdowns.
Frankly, the Patriots needed a game like this. The NFL needed a game like this to restore the luster of the product.
From a Patriots standpoint, the argument about whether their defense has been unfairly maligned, despite their points per game allowed, is over.
The game had a Super Bowl XLIX½ feel to it with celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg and politicians such as Governor Charlie Baker socializing on the Patriots’ sideline pregame, some brave souls from Seattle making their presence felt, and the air dripping with anticipation. Even the announcers for this game, the NBC “Sunday Night Football” team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, were the same as they were for Super Bowl XLIX.
The Patriots treated the Seahawks like any other team on the opening drive, easily marching 75 yards for a score. One play after Chancellor grabbed Gronkowski for a pass interference penalty that moved the ball to the 1, LeGarrette Blount plowed in for the score.
The drive that will haunt the Patriots was the one at the end of the half.
Just when it looked like the Seahawks had failed Situational Football 101 again, they found the end zone.
Instead of spiking the ball with no timeouts and 13 seconds left, Wilson took a shotgun snap. He scrambled to his left, killing more valuable time, and . . . fired back to his right to a wide-open Baldwin for an 18-yard score with six seconds left. That sent the Seahawks to the half with a 19-14 lead.
Just the way old Pete drew it up, right?
This time Carroll’s curious decision-making didn’t cost him the game.
Video: Ben Volin’s postgame analysis
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.