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Originally published February 2, 2015 at 9:48 AM | Page modified February 3, 2015 at 5:33 PM

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Seahawks Morning After: Pete Carroll’s most daunting task is to absorb this blow, keep team together

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll now faces his toughest challenge: Forget this loss and help his team move forward. After his inexplicable play-call in Super Bowl, that will test all his famous skills as motivator and morale-builder.


Seattle Times columnist

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PHOENIX — It doesn’t feel any different in the morning, and it won’t feel any different 20 years from now. I will never regard the end of Super Bowl XLIX with anything less than a feeling of stupefied shock.

I can imagine every Seahawks fan woke up with a boulder in the pit of their stomach and anguish in their heart. It’s only a game, as one emailer reminded me. True, but that doesn’t stop people from investing every fiber of their emotion in it.

I can only imagine the feelings Pete Carroll woke up with. I doubt if he read any of the myriad articles labeling him as the Super Bowl goat of all time, the author of one of the worst calls in sports history.

He didn’t have to. He lived it. Carroll watched what would have been his greatest triumph disintegrate into unmitigated disaster. And his role in it, via the still inexplicable decision to eschew a Marshawn Lynch run from the 1-yard line, was as subtle as Katy Perry’s halftime show. Which is to say, as plain as the giant articulated tiger on the field.

And now, Carroll has the toughest job of his coaching career ahead of him. It’s one that will make this season’s challenges — overcoming the pitfalls of trying to repeat, righting the ship at midseason after the turmoil of Percy Harvin’s departure — seem like Pop Warner stuff.

Carroll must keep the Hawks together and keep them moving forward, after as devastating a psychological blow as any team has ever absorbed in a moment of such paramount importance.

You could see that fact beginning to sink in as Carroll and Russell Wilson encountered each other after the interception, looks of stunned disbelief etched on both faces.

“We just looked at each other trying to realize the gravity of what we just witnessed,’’ Carroll said.

This will be a critical repair job by Carroll that will test all his famous skills of motivation and morale-building. Losses like this have the potential to take on an afterlife. Though most players refrained from criticizing the play call at the end, some second-guessing leaked out. I’d suspect the majority wondered the same thing as the rest of the world: Why in the world didn’t he give the ball to Beast Mode?

To his credit, Carroll took full ownership of the defeat, and of the decision to bypass Lynch. Though offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called the particular play, a slant to Ricardo Lockette, and Wilson threw it into the hands of New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, who jumped the route, Carroll said over and over the buck stopped with him.

“I made it. I made the decision,’’ he said. “I said, ‘Throw the ball.’ ”

This defeat is not all on Carroll’s call, of course. The Seahawks’ vaunted defense gave up four long touchdown drives, and blew what appeared to be an insurmountable 10-point lead. Wilson’s pass was not the pinpoint strike that might have spared all the heartache. A critical drop by Jermaine Kearse at the end of the third quarter derailed what might have been a game-clinching scoring drive.

On top of all that, the Seahawks didn’t exactly comport themselves with poise at times. Doug Baldwin’s touchdown display of defecating the football was crass and vulgar. After that Baldwin score, which made it 24-14 Seahawks, Richard Sherman signaled “two-four” into a television camera, apparently mocking Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, beaten on the play.

But it was a little early for gloating, as they found out. And the brawl at the end, no matter who instigated it, made the Seahawks look like a team that had completely lost its cool.

Still, the overriding memory of this game will be one play, as Carroll himself noted in the opening statement of his postgame remarks: “Let me just tell you what happened because, as you know, the game comes right down and all the things that happened before are meaningless to you now.”

Carroll has been in this position before of having to explain himself at the end of a championship game. In the 2006 BCS title game at the Rose Bowl, Carroll’s USC team was leading with 2 minutes,13 seconds left, when they were stopped on a crucial fourth-and-two play. LenDale White got the carry while Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush remained on the sideline. That decision also reverberated with disapproval — from USC fans after Texas drove down for a winning touchdown that prevented the Trojans from winning a third consecutive national title.

The Trojans had good years after that but didn’t win another title before Carroll departed — ahead of an NCAA investigation — to the Seahawks, where he reinvented himself as a hugely successful NFL coach.

The brilliant job Carroll has done in building the Seahawks to championship caliber should not be diminished. One loss does not overshadow that. But that one loss provided an ignominy that will be hard to live down, and hard to let go.

Carroll’s daunting task is to make sure they do.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.



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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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