By Danny O’Neil
RENTON – “Scare Tactics” is a show on the SyFy network, but score tactics was a conversation that followed Seattle’s 19-17 loss to San Francisco on Sunday afternoon.
Specifically, should the Seahawks have allowed the 49ers to score a touchdown on one of the three plays leading up to the game-winning field-goal attempt?
“That’s a serious decision you can make,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday afternoon.
Only 26 seconds remained when the Seahawks took over after the 49ers kicked the go-ahead field goal. (AP)
To summarize the situation: With just over 3 minutes left in the game, San Francisco converted a third-and-7 with a quarterback sweep to the left side. Seattle was out of timeouts, meaning that only the 2-minute warning would stop the clock. That meant the 49ers could run the clock under 30 seconds before attempting the kick, leaving Seattle with minimal time and no timeouts to work with while it tried to conjure up a last-second field-goal attempt.
Had Seattle let the 49ers score a touchdown right after Kaepernick gained the first down, Seattle could have gotten the ball back with more than 2 minutes remaining. Instead, the Seahawks stopped three straight runs before the 49ers kicked a 22-yard field goal.
But let’s get hypothetical and reconstruct the situation had the Seahawks given up a touchdown on the next play after Kaepernick’s first down. In that situation, the Seahawks would have trailed by either five points or seven points, depending on whether the 49ers converted the ensuing two-point try.
The upside is obvious. The Seahawks would have then had the ball back with more than 2 minutes on the clock, which was certainly enticing for Carroll given Russell Wilson’s success in end-of-half drives this season.
“We know that our offense can go down the field in 2 minutes on anybody,” he said. “You give us four plays to get a first down, we really believe we can get that done. Russell’s great at it.”
The downside? Not only are you asking your defense to stand down, but there’s no guarantee the 49ers would take the touchdown. In fact, Frank Gore went down at the end of his 51-yard run so he could stay in bounds, showing an understanding of the clock situation. He didn’t want it to stop. Had the 49ers not taken a gimme touchdown, they could have bled the clock inside of 30 seconds regardless of what Seattle did.
More coverage of the Seahawks’ Week-14 loss to San Francisco at Candlestick Park.
|• Recap | Stats | Photos | Postgame interviews||• O’Neil: What We Learned||• O’Neil: Seahawks get an important reminder||• ‘The Pete Carroll Show’: Wright to have surgery||• Henderson: Late-game lapse dooms Seahawks||• Henderson: Seahawks’ penalties loom large|
Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com consulted advanced stats to determine the difference in win probability. The 49ers had a greater than 90 percent chance of victory when they kicked off with a two-point lead and 26 seconds left. Had the Seahawks gotten the ball back with 2 minutes left, needing a touchdown, the 49ers’ win probably was only more than 80 percent.
It’s a significant difference, but one that doesn’t include the possibility that Seattle could have either forced a fumble or blocked the field-goal attempt in between.
And ultimately, Carroll decided it was better off to let his defense play tough, hope for an improbable turnover and then try to block the kick, knowing he would get the ball back with less than a minute remaining.
“There’s a lot of gut in that decision,” he said Monday morning during “The Pete Carroll Show” on 710 ESPN Seattle. “We had the talk, and it’s just not in our mentality to let anybody have anything.”
• LB K.J. Wright is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the broken bone in his foot on Tuesday. There’s no specific timetable for recovery, but Carroll estimated it would be at least four and probably more like six weeks.
• C Max Unger will be limited in practice this week, according to Carroll, but has not been ruled out to return in time for this weekend’s game.