By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks held a 16-10 lead with just over a minute remaining on Sunday when coach Pete Carroll reached into his back of tricks and decided to take an intentional safety instead of punting to the Panthers.
Here’s a closer look at the decision and the play with the help of Carroll, who discussed it when he joined “Brock and Salk” on Monday.
Jon Ryan had to make a leaping catch on a high snap before running out of the end zone for an intentional safety. (AP)
The situation: Once the Seahawks took over at their own 1-yard line following a goal-line stand, special teams coach Brian Schneider approached Carroll with the idea of taking the safety on fourth down if Seattle’s offense was still backed up deep in its own territory.
“We started weighing it and looking at it. We wanted to see how far we’d knock it out and all of that kind of stuff. We have a couple different ways to take a safety, but it was clearly in our mind throughout the whole sequence,” Carroll said.
The decision: The Seahawks picked up one first down but still faced a fourth-and-7 from their own 18 before calling a timeout. Carroll, while considering the risk of the Panthers blocking the punt, figured Ryan would be standing at the 7- or 8-yard line, too close to the end zone for comfort. A blocked punt, if recovered by Carolina, could be easily returned for a game-winning touchdown. Even if Seattle were to recover it, Carolina would take over just yards from the end zone.
Another factor: the Seahawks, not knowing whether Carolina would come after Ryan, would need to hold their blocks to prevent pressure, potentially giving the Panthers more time to set up their return. The alternative, an intentional safety and a free kick, was more appealing.
“I thought, ‘Well, shoot – we can stand at the 20 with our guys going full go, full speed chasing the football and we might put the ball back at the other 25 or something.’ It wasn’t even a difficult decision at all,” Carroll said.
The execution: The play called for Ryan to run out of the back of the end zone. A high snap wasn’t part of the plan. Ryan had to make a leaping catch on what Carroll jokingly called “a fastball” from long snapper Clint Gresham. Had the snap sailed over Ryan’s hands and out of the end zone, Carolina still would have been awarded a safety. But by catching it and running out of the end zone himself – before a defender got to him – Ryan was able to milk a few more seconds off the clock.
“He promised me he would not get hit,” Carroll said of Ryan. “I didn’t want to take a chance of him getting the ball knocked out of his hands. We did it just right.”
The Seahawks still had to cover the free kick, which they did. Ryan booted a punt from Seattle’s 20 to Carolina’s 14, and Captain Munnerlyn returned it 17 yards to the 31. The game ended two plays later when Bruce Irvin sacked Cam Newton and forced a fumble that Alan Branch recovered.