If the Patriots lost, this decision would have gone down as one of the worst in Bill Belichick's history as a head coach. Since they won, no one really cares.
The Seahawks had the ball on the Patriots goal line with a minute left in the game, in a 2nd and goal situation. The smart money would be on Seattle rushing the ball again and scoring a touchdown; Marshawn Lynch didn't have a negative run all day, and the Patriots were one of the worst in stopping short yardage plays during the regular season.
In anticipation of the Seahawks having three chances to slam the ball home, Belichick was expected to use his two time outs and to stop the clock, to allow Tom Brady and the Patriots offense one last chance to score.
Except that never happened. In between that 1st and 2nd down play, the Seahawks used up 40 seconds of the game clock. The game clinching interception took place with 26 seconds left on the clock. If the Patriots didn't get a stop, they would have lost the game.
Belichick expressed after the game that he would have called a time out had the Seahawks rushed the ball. Let's try and reason with this decision.
Starting with the Seahawks offense, apart from their playcalling, they mostly benefit from the Patriots not calling a time out. Seattle had one time out of their own, which meant that they could definitely run three more plays after draining the clock. What the Seahawks could have done, and what Belichick was likely expecting them to do, is rush the ball on 2nd with 30-40 seconds on the clock, run it again, and then called a time out (if needed) to set up the 4th down.
This sequence allows Seattle to play to their strength, drain the clock, and not give the Patriots a chance to respond. That said, the Seahawks odds of winning decreased from 64% to 54% as the time drained from the clock.
The Patriots had two time outs. Belichick was planning on the Seahawks running the ball and was going to call time outs after the 2nd and 3rd down plays. While it's clear that the head coach believed in his players, he put their entire season on the line with this sequence.
When planning for the end game, Belichick should have realized that calling a time out after 1st and 2nd downs would've made the most sense as that would provide the offense the maximum amount of time on the clock. Taking the time outs earlier puts the Patriots ahead of the clock, in case the Seahawks scored on 2nd or 3rd down. This offers a higher chance of time for the offense than waiting to call a time out on 2nd and 3rd down, after the Seahawks burned down the whole play clock.
Still, the Patriots won the day and this play won't be remembered. It's just a curious moment that gave me a heart attack, that Belichick will be sure to address during the off-season.
I posed the following question over Twitter.
What was going through your mind when Belichick let the Seahawks bleed the clock at the goal line?— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) February 2, 2015
Here are some of the best responses:
@PP_Rich_Hill yelling call a time out bill call a time out bill— tony (@tonygoodrich84) February 2, 2015
@PP_Rich_Hill there isn't enough beer in my house to drown this....— Dan Bayley (@DanBayley) February 2, 2015
@PP_Rich_Hill I may have cussed loudly even though my five year old was right there.— Matthew Hughes (@MattHughesNH) February 2, 2015
@PP_Rich_Hill was literally screaming "why aren’t they calling a timeout?!?"— Ryan Hudson (@ry_hudson) February 2, 2015
@PP_Rich_Hill It's over, we are done, another season to end like th... OH MY GOD, WHAT JUST HAPPENED?— Cauê Carneiro (@CGK21) February 2, 2015
@PP_Rich_Hill I am horse from yelling at the TV FOR GOD's SAKE CALL A TIME OUT! Give Tom a chance.— Bob Orr (@rorr04) February 2, 2015
@PP_Rich_Hill pure panic. What a roller coaster ride— Swirley0813 (@swirley0813) February 2, 2015
.@PP_Rich_Hill I thought the broadcast was wrong, thinking, "why does NBC still have the clock running? Must be a TV mistake..."— Clarence Lam (@Tomatoshortcut) February 2, 2015
@PP_Rich_Hill He got lucky. Plain and simple.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) February 2, 2015