O’Neil: Just because the result was bad doesn’t mean Seahawks’ final timeout was wrong call
The Seahawks made a clock-management mistake in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.
It has nothing to do with the timeout that so many people in Seattle were screaming about, though.
Because once the game got inside 2 minutes, Pete Carroll used his final timeouts correctly even if the result had lots of people discarding reason and logic because they were disappointed by the outcome. And actually, that’s a big part of the problem because the best way to accurately examine a team’s clock management is not to look at the final result – which in this case was a successful quarterback sneak for the Rams’ Jared Goff – but rather to look at the sequence of choices both teams faced.
So before we get to the actual mistake, let’s explain why so many people are so very wrong in thinking Seattle made a mistake that prevented Seattle from having one final possession.
• With 1:52 left, the Rams faced third-and-1 from their own 42. Todd Gurley is stopped short of the first down, tackled with about 1:45 left on the clock. The clock continued to run.
• Carroll ran onto the field, signaling to use Seattle’s final timeout. The clock stopped at 1:39.
• With the clock stopped, the officials called for a measurement. Rams are confirmed to be short of the first down, ball is set and Rams offense headed toward the sidelines as punter Johnny Hekker came onto the field.
• Since the game was stopped for a measurement, the Seahawks were asked if they still want to use that timeout or if they want it back, in which case the clock would begin ticking. The Rams would be able to wait out the remainder of the 40-second play clock before snapping the ball, meaning the Seahawks would field the punt with less than 70 seconds on the game clock.
So that’s the decision Carroll faced: Use the third timeout and save more than 30 seconds of game time or hold the timeout, let the game clock start ticking and see what the Rams do.
Carroll chose to use the timeout, and you know what? He absolutely should have because that’s how you manage the clock, and anyone who argues otherwise is failing to consider two things:
• 1) You’re assuming the Rams would have still punted in large part because Hekker had come onto the field. But remember, the Rams would have had more than 30 seconds of the play clock to change their mind in that regard, and there’s no NFL rule stating that once a punter sets foot on the field he must kick the ball on the ensuing play. The offense is allowed to come back on the field.
• 2) The second, more important problem is that you’re resulting. This is a term used largely in poker analysis and it refers to the tendency of taking the outcome of a hand and working backward to find something that could have been done differently to avoid the ultimate outcome.
In this case, resulting starts with Goff’s successful sneak, which was a disastrous outcome for Seattle. Then you work backward to find what could have been done differently to avoid the situation. Well, obviously it’s the timeout. If Seattle hadn’t used the timeout, then the Rams might not have gone for it.
And maybe that’s true. Maybe the Rams would have punted it. Or maybe they would’ve waited 10 or 15 seconds then hustled the offense back onto the field for a quarterback sneak. Maybe they would have snapped. Or maybe Seattle would have then burned the timeout only having lost even more time. Or maybe the Rams would have taken a delay of game penalty before bringing the punt team back out.
But before we open the door to an alternate universe to try and reverse-engineer a better ending for Seattle, let’s go back to the simple choice that Carroll faced with the clock stopped at 1:39, the Rams facing fourth-and-1 at their own 42. Do you stop the clock with the final timeout or do you let it run, and allow the Rams to ween another 30 seconds off it?
You stop the clock. Every. Single. Time. It’s the right decision even though it didn’t have the desired result.
As for the actual mistake that Seattle would have made. Well, that would have cost the Seahawks all of 10 seconds had they actually gotten the ball back.
Carroll should have used the second of his three timeouts after Gurley’s first-down run with just over 2:30 left in the game. If the Seahawks had stopped the Rams on second down, you could argue that he should’ve used his third and final timeout though that’s less clear-cut because using a third timeout there would have made a pass more palatable for the Rams on third down. Why? Because with the 2-minute warning looming, the Rams wouldn’t have been able to bleed the game clock for the full length of the 40-second play clock thereby reducing the incentive to run the ball there.
That’s a matter that you can debate, though. But once the game was inside of 2 minutes, the Seahawks used their final timeouts at the correct time no matter how much some people want to point to the result and insist it was wrong.