The screaming will die down next year, or maybe the year after that, regarding the final minute of the final game of the NFL’s regular season in its 100th year. When it does, keep in mind that a few inches twice denied, a foul uncalled and a decision messed up, forced upon the Seahawks a 2,400-mile road trip instead of a home playoff game and helped create this fact:
From a first-and-10 at the San Francisco 49ers’ 12-yard line in the final minute, the Seahawks, one of the best teams in NFL history regarding fourth-quarter comebacks, had the ball for eight plays. They gained 11.9 yards. They lost the game. At home.
A crippled team was on the verge of fairy-tale success, with RB Marshawn Lynch back in service and ready to drop the final hammer, yet they didn’t get it done. From the one-yard line.
If the general circumstances of this 26-21 loss (box) ring a vague bell . . . welcome to the regional football nightmare, Part Deux.
As Lynch put it — yes, he even tolerated a few post-game questions — about his return that included 34 yards in 12 carries and a touchdown, “It felt good, man.
“But at the end of the day, I play to win.”
So do the Seahawks. They have done a lot of it, over a spectacular decade.
But when coach Pete Carroll can’t organize player substitutions to avoid a delay of game penalty, when Lynch can’t get in the game, when QB Russell Wilson completes two of seven passes, and when they have to rely on officials scared to death to make the right call, they deserved to lose this game.
After losing two in a row and three in the past four, they deserve the trek to Philadelphia Sunday (1:40 p.m., NBC) to meet a 9-7 Eagles team they beat 17-9 on Nov. 24, but who must be excited to catch a team wounded physically and shocked emotionally.
#Seahawks run the ball on the 1 with Beast Mode. It worked.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 30, 2019
Carroll owned up to his principal role in the failure, from second and goal inside the 49ers’ 1-yard line with 22 seconds left, to sub in the proper personnel, perhaps including Lynch, before the play clock expired.
“That’s me all the way,” he said. “There’s nobody else to turn to . . . it just didn’t work out right. I should have got that done better.”
The confusion developed after rookie WR John Ursua, replacing injured Jaron Brown, made his first catch of the season near the goal line that was good for a first down, but was denied a touchdown by inches. The Seahawks scrambled to line up for Wilson to spike the ball on a first-and-goal to stop the clock, in order to swap out the no-backs personnel for the heavy unit.
But the Seahawks seemed to treat the stoppage like a timeout, which it wasn’t. Lynch started on to the field, then stopped and came off. Then flags flew. Delay of game, five yards lost.
“We just didn’t quite get communicated with the backs,” Carroll said. “We were late getting in there. We burned the time. We just didn’t function cleanly.
“With 22 seconds left, I’m thinking we’re going to get in the end zone, anyway.”
On second down, Wilson nearly had his pass to WR Tyler Lockett intercepted. On third down, TE Jacob Hollister was targeted but tied up by LB Fred Warner, the pass knocked away, yet no flags appeared for what seemed obvious defensive pass interference. Because no coaching challenges are allowed in the final two minutes, any challenge must come from the video-review crew in New York.
To a pool reporter, officiating chief Al Riveron explained later that upon real-time review, “Nothing happens that rises to the level of a foul while the ball is in the air before it gets to either player.” (See sidebar for fuller explanation).
That explanation is piffle.
The contact hindered Hollister sufficiently to draw the foul. But Riveron’s crew knew the entire football nation was riveted on the moment, and lacked the guts to make the call.
Another officiating mess-up had a big role in an important game. Happy anniversary, NFL.
Yet the Seahawks STILL had a final chance.
Coming back from a horrible first half down 13-0, the Seahawks rallied on both sides the ball for a shot to get their first and only lead on their final offensive play, despite missing their top three running backs, top three tight ends, their best O-lineman and two receivers.
This time, Wilson zipped a quick pass to Hollister. He strained at the goal line, each side convinced as he went down that they had succeeded.
“I thought I did have it, honestly,” Hollister said. “It’s fourth down, so we’ve got to try to get it in. I just didn’t get it done.”
Upon review, he came up about as short as the 49ers’ field goal attempt that was wide in Santa Clara, costing the 49ers the first meeting Nov. 11. That’s how close these teams were in 2019. But one is the NFC’s top seed with a bye and one is a fifth seed trying to hustle with a limp.
“We certainly put ourselves in position to win a championship right there,” Carroll said. “It was, like, a perfect win.
“To me, it was a perfect way to win a championship, and unfortunately it just came up short by a couple inches.”
The wondering about this game is destined for perpetuity. For example, as splendid as rookie RB Travis Homer was in his first start (62 yards in 10 carries, five receptions for 30 yards) why didn’t Lynch play at all on the final drive, which started with 2:37 left?
“That really wasn’t his stuff, for this (game) plan,” Carroll said. “He wasn’t ready for all of that. Four days (of practice).”
Maybe so. But all the Seahawks needed was one good outcome among eight plays from the 12-yard line.
Yet . . .
The Seahawks remain undead. Zombie-like, they stagger into Philly. Who knows?
A win Sunday advances them to the second round.
Maybe to Santa Clara against the 49ers.
You know it has to happen. Zombies never stop. Although they can be flagged for delays.