Super Bowl XLIX Reaction: Defending The Slant
Yes, the slant was not the best play to call in that situation.
No, it's not a complete boneheaded call that cost the Seahawks the game. It's a play call that can be defended despite being sub-optimal for three simple reasons.
Reason No. 1: At some point, the Seahawks were going to have to pass.
With 20 seconds left and only one timeout, Seattle would only have two plays to pound the ball in with Marshawn Lynch. Officials cannot spot the ball fast enough to no-huddle a third run in 20 seconds. On second down, there will be three chances to score, and that lack of time required a pass.
Reason No. 2: The play called was a fast and relatively safe play.
There's two disastrous results that can occur from a pass with little time left: a sack that burns a timeout or additional precious seconds, or an interception.
A slant is a quick hitting route that eliminates the chances of a sack and leaves no time for the defense to react, and almost always ends with a catch or a dropped ball, making it a safe pass to call.
It also fits the personnel the Seahawks have- a slant does not require a true star wide receiver when assisted by a pick, and their one big body (Chris Matthews) to throw a jump ball or fade to was inexperienced and being shut down by a corner with similar size.
A proper throw away from the defender by Russell Wilson (or throwing the ball away), a correct pick by Jermaine Kearse, or Ricardo Lockette breaking in front of the defender makes that play a game winner, or at least a footnote just before Lynch scores the winner the way all the fans and analysts claim he would have.
Reason No. 3: The game should have already been over.
As a Cowboys fan, I do not believe the Dez Bryant no-catch lost the game. The Packers sealed the deal after that play by keeping the ball and milking the clock.
The Seahawks had two chances to do exactly that. The game should not have come down to that pass because the game should have been over.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Seattle got the ball back up 24-14 and handed off to Lynch twice... for three yards. Wilson was then sacked on third and seven, allowing New England to take the ball back and reduce the lead.
Now it's 24-21, 7:55 left and Seattle again has the ball. A pair of incomplete passes sandwich a five yard run, and yes, there I can understand an issue with the playcalling, but it was still an opportunity to close the game wasted by the players.
If the Seahawks had a stronger group of receivers and better balance on offense, one of those drives would have closed the game out. The Patriots would not have been free to play aggressive run defense, and Lynch could have gained a few extra yards on the first drive, or the big first down pass on the second drive puts the Seahawks in position to milk the clock.
The Patriots made plays when it mattered. That's the bottom line.
They shut down the Seattle offense for most of the fourth quarter and stopped Lynch when they had to, creating their own luck.
That's how teams become champions.