Was Belichick right not calling time out? Well, probably…

There are two big controversies about the last few plays of Super Bowl XLIX: why didn’t Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll run the ball from the one yard line and why didn’t New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick call timeout with 66 seconds left in the game with Seattle poised to score from that same one yard line.

Now I’ve seen the stats posted about teams running vs passing at the one yard line and the success rate is about even, but 31 of the 32 teams that ran those different plays didn’t have Marshawn Lynch on their team like the Seahawks do. Not handing off to Lynch there, despite having only one timeout left, is a miscue of epic proportions. Even presuming Lynch doesn’t make the end zone on that second down play Seattle can call its time out, set up a pass play for third down, and then if needed run Lynch on 4th down. That gives Lynch two chances to gain one yard. And it wasn’t like the Patriots were exactly keeping him in check either; Lynch had 24 rushes on the game, was never tackled for a loss, and had two rushes for no gain.

Never mind Lynch’s regular season stats from the one yard line, with just one touchdown on five attempts. This is the Super Bowl, against a defense that had no luck in stopping him all game. He had been running into the teeth of the Patriots defense all night with good success. Unless Carroll knew something the rest of us didn’t it makes no sense to not hand the ball of to Lynch there. While the pass that Carroll called isn’t the worst play call of all time like some suggest it was still an incredibly silly thing to decide to do.

So that leaves the question as to why Belichick didn’t call timeout with 66 seconds left in the game. The so-called experts are all saying that not calling time out there to give quarterback Tom Brady the maximum possible amount of time to get the Patriots into field goal position was a huge mistake and the Patriots just got lucky when Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass intended for Ricardo Lockette just short of the goal line. We can debate all night long if it was luck that Butler intercepted the pass or not, but reading Butler’s comments about knowing that pass was going to happen I’m going to say it wasn’t as lucky as some people think.

Be that as it may, it seems people are overlooking the obvious here. Belichick’s comment right after the game was that he liked the personnel he had on the field and didn’t want the Seahawks to get a chance to think about the play. That leads me to only one conclusion: Belichick wasn’t worried about how much time would be left when Seattle scored, he planned on his defense stopping them. When looking at it from that point of view not calling timeout is the smart thing to do because it keep the clock moving. If Belichick had really been worried about giving Tom Brady time to tie the score he would have just let Seattle score from the five yard line. What’s that you say? You don’t do that in the Super Bowl?

Well, Belichick did do that before, in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants.

He allowed the Giants to score to maximize the time Brady would have to get the Patriots into position to tie the game with a long field goal. On Sunday Belichick did nothing to preserve time on the clock. By not calling timeout he was doing everything he could to keep the clock running. And remember, New England was in their goal line defense with only three defensive backs, all corners, on the field. They were gearing up to stop Lynch, which is why Belichick was happy with his on field personnel. If Belichick’s goal was to win it with his defense making a goal line stand he’s right in not calling the timeout. Now we can debate if that strategy was right nor not.

Although it worked, so I guess there’s not much of a debate.

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3 Comments

  1. The dumbest play of the game was the “encroaching” called on the Seahawks right after. (and when did offsides become encroaching?) Without that penalty and the one immediately after for fighting that Irvin was ejected for (what a super bowl record to set, way to go Irvin) it would have left Seattle a crack to come back and win. With the ball on the 1, if Brady had taken a knee, it would have almost certainly been a safety, which would have stopped the clock, forced a kickoff and given Seattle a chance to run it back for a TD or at least get into field goal range for a win. Once the penalties were applied, it was fait accompli. Brady took a knee and the game was over.

  2. Brady wasn’t going to take a knee, it would essentially have been a QB sneak type play. Since the forward progress of the ball would have been out of the end zone even if he’d been pushed back into the end zone it wouldn’t have been a safety.

    Offside and encroachment are two different penalties. Offside is when the ball is snapped and a defender is beyond the line of scrimmage. Encroachment is when a defender touches an offensive player before the ball is snapped. There’s also a neutral zone infraction that’s a mix of both, but occurs when a defender moves beyond the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped and causes an offensive player to false start. Instead of a false start against the offense, the defense is given the penalty.

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