A herd of gridiron goats
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 05, 2006
The Seahawks did all the big things right and all the little things wrong.
That's why Super Bowl XL will always be remembered in Seattle as the proverbial big one that got away.
Seattle ran the ball well (5.5 yards per carry), passed well (273 yards), stifled Pittsburgh's passing game (Ben Roethlisberger posted a 22.2 passer rating, worst by a winning QB in Super Bowl history) and won the turnover battle (2 to 1).
But the Seahawks managed the clock poorly, their receivers dropped several passes, they failed to execute on special teams, they failed to execute in the red zone, they were called for key penalties and they fell for a trick play that everyone in America knew was coming sooner or later.
Super Bowl XL taught us a valuable lesson: Cold, Hard Football Facts are infallible. But humans are not. And that's what makes sports so compelling, especially over-the-top events like the Super Bowl. Someone's going to emerge a hero and someone's going to emerge a goat.
In the case of the colossal dud that was Super Bowl XL, a whole herd of gridiron goats are wandering around North America this morning, from NFL headquarters in Manhattan to Seahawks camp in Seattle.
Before Super Bowl XL, the Cold, Hard Football Facts said: "We're giving the nod to the team that appears better-equipped to run the ball, to stop the run, to pass the ball effectively and to commit fewer turnovers ... and that team is Seattle."
Super Bowl XL unfolded just the way we had anticipated – almost word for word.
- Seattle's Shaun Alexander was the game's leading ballcarrier (95 yards).
- Matt Hasselbeck outplayed Roethlisberger by a pretty substantial margin (273 yards for Hasselbeck; 123 yards for Roethlisberger).
- Seattle, as we noted, won the turnover battle (Hasselbeck was intercepted once, Roethlisberger twice).
But Seattle lost Super Bowl XL, 21-10.
There's a reason why: Stats, data, analysis and Cold, Hard Football Facts don't play football. Flawed humans play football. Flawed humans like:
Seattle's defenders – Early in the fourth quarter of a 14-10 game, the entire Seattle defense bit on a fake end-around by wideout Antwaan Randle El that ended up a 43-yard TD pass to Hines Ward. Everyone knew the play was coming sooner or later. Everyone knew that Randle El, a former college quarterback, was likely to be involved. ABC color commentator John Madden even talked about Pittsburgh's impending trick play throughout the game, at one point saying that the Steelers would not attempt a stunt deep in their own territory but would wait until "they were closer to midfield." Pittsburgh finally pulled the trigger on a 1st-and-10 at Seattle's 43 – a perfectly predictable spot and situation to attempt such a play. Everyone knew it was coming – except the Seattle defense.
The Seahawks defense also came out sleeping in the second half. Perhaps they were forced to watch the Rolling Stones halftime show during an intermission so long that Ford had closed three factories by the time it was over. Who knows? But we do know this. The Seattle defense completely stifled the Pittsburgh ground game all night long – except for one single game-changing play. On the second snap of the third quarter, Pittsburgh's Willie Parker ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run on an off-tackle play that put Seattle in a 14-3 hole 22 seconds into the second half. It was the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. The Steelers picked up just 106 yards on 32 carries the rest of the night (3.3 YPC).
The officiating crew – A pitiful year for NFL officiating – certainly the worst in recent history – came to an embarrassing conclusion in front of more than 100 million Americans when the game's top officiating crew made no fewer than four controversial calls in Super Bowl XL that all went against Seattle.
It went from bad ...
Roethlisberger ran for a 1-yard TD on 3rd-and-goal to give Pittsburgh a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. Reviews showed that the ball – at best – barely nicked the goal line and that the call could have gone either way, perhaps forcing the Steelers to kick a field goal. But on a day when every call went Pittsburgh's way, this one did, too.
... to worse ...
Seattle was poised to take a 17-14 fourth-quarter lead when a very questionable holding penalty against tackle Sean Locklear negated an 18-yard completion that would have given the Seahawks a first down at the Pittsburgh 1.
... to worse ...
Three plays after the Locklear penalty, Hasselbeck threw his lone interception of the day to Pittsburgh's Ivan Taylor. The quarterback then dove at Taylor's legs as he raced upfield with a blocker in front of him. Hasselbeck MADE THE TACKLE, but took out the blocker along with Taylor. Because of the rules against blocking below the waist on a change of possession, Hasselbeck was whistled for a 15-yard penalty that moved the ball out to the Pittsburgh 44.
Randle El connected with Ward for that touchdown four plays later.
... to worst ...
A ticky-tack offensive pass interference call against Darrell Jackson negated a TD pass that would have given Seattle a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
Seattle's kickers – Before the game, someone in our Football Forum said we overlooked special teams in our pregame analysis. That person deserves an extra slab of bacon in their salad for lunch today. It was something we should have addressed. But like everything else in Super Bowl XL, it would have been difficult to foresee so many little things going wrong for Seattle.
It's not being discussed much amid all the talk about officiating and other missed opportunities, but Seattle's kickers – punter Tom Rouen and placekicker Josh Brown – failed no fewer than six times to execute on potential game-changing plays.
Brown missed a 54-yard field goal attempt with just 7 seconds to play in the first half. A successful kick would have sent Seattle into the locker room trailing just 7-6.
He also missed a 50-yard effort on Seattle's next possession, its first drive of the second half. Seattle would have trailed by just one score (14-9) had Brown connected on these two – albeit very long – field goals. Instead, Seattle trailed by two scores (14-3) early in the third quarter.
Remember how the Seahawks scrambled to get at least one score on their final drive of the game? That drive would have been a mad-dash fight to the end of a memorable Super Bowl had Brown gone 3-for-3 rather than 1-for-3.
Rouen's contributions to defeat may have been worse. The overzealous 13-year veteran had four perfect opportunities to pin Pittsburgh deep. Four times he failed to do so.
First quarter: With the ball on Seattle's 47, the Seahawks have a chance to pin Pittsburgh deep. Rouen's punt goes into the end zone – touchback and a net gain of 33 yards.
First quarter: With the ball on Seattle's 49, the Seahawks have a chance to pin Pittsburgh deep. Rouen's punt goes into the end zone – touchback and a net gain of 31 yards.
Second quarter: With the ball on Pittsburgh's 47, the Seahawks have a chance to pin Pittsburgh deep. Rouen's punt goes into the end zone – touchback and a net gain of 27 yards.
Fourth quarter: With the ball on Seattle's 48, the Seahawks have a chance to pin Pittsburgh deep as the game enters its crucial final 7 minutes. Rouen's punt goes into the end zone – touchback and a net gain of 32 yards.
Jerome Bettis is the good-guy veteran who has earned tons of goodwill over the years. These qualities made it easy for neutral fans to root for Pittsburgh as Bettis played his final game in his hometown and walked off into the sunset with the only championship of his career.
But Joey Porter did his best to piss away all of this goodwill. He mouthed off all week – as usual – and again failed to show up in a big game. The official NFL gamebook for Super Bowl XL credits Porter with just three combined tackles. Thirteen defenders, including eight for Pittsburgh, recorded more tackles.
Bettis won over a lot of fans because of his humility on his way to becoming the fifth leading rusher in NFL history and a certified future first-ballot Hall of Famer. It would be nice if Porter – who will never come close to entering the Hall of Fame – would adopt some of Bettis's habits, on and off the field.
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