Fourth-and-7? Let It Fly!

How a gutsy coaching change-of-mind, a deceptive double snap count and three quick-thinking receivers in tune with their quarterback put the Seahawks over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·
Rod Mar for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB
Rod Mar for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

SEATTLE — Patch Zebra Detroit.

That was the simple play-call in the huddle as the Seahawks faced 4th-and-7 at the San Francisco 35-yard line, trailing the 49ers 17-13 with 13:52 left to play in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

It morphed into much more after a flurry of activity—an aborted field goal attempt, a double snap count, penalty flags, route adjustments (especially one widened route), a missing safety, a pinpoint throw and a contested catch in the end zone—but the bottom line is this: The 35-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to unheralded receiver Jermaine Kearse gave the Seahawks their first and only lead, and it put Seattle in the Super Bowl.

“It was one of the biggest plays, if not the biggest play, of the game,” Wilson said.

Try the season.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Following a 16-yard intentional grounding penalty and a 15-yard pass to tight end Zach Miller on third down, there was a bit of confusion on the Seahawks’ side of the field. Kicker Steven Hauschka was running along the sideline, unsure if he was going to be sent in to attempt a 53-yard field goal. Finally, coach Pete Carroll gave him the green light, but Hauschka never lined up for the kick. Timeout Seahawks.

“We really sent the field goal team out there to do it, and as we talked it over, it was beyond what Hauschka had down in pregame and we said, ‘Okay, let’s not force that issue in hopes of him kicking a good ball right there,’ ” Carroll said.

During the timeout, Wilson begged Carroll to go for it if they weren’t going to kick the field.

“I thought it was a great call; just give us a chance,” Wilson said. “It’s potentially the last game of the year. It’s one of those things that sometimes you’ve got to go for something. You’ve got to believe in your guys and believe that you can get it.”

Considering how poorly the Seahawks had thrown the ball to that point, it was a leap of faith. Wilson was 12 of 19 for 167 yards and had been sacked four times before that fourth-down play. Take out the 51-yard broken-play pass to Doug Baldwin, and Seattle was averaging a paltry 5.3 yards per pass attempt.

In the huddle, Wilson called “Patch Zebra Detroit,” but alerted the receivers to a possible free play because of the double snap count Wilson was going to use.

The big question: Where was Whitner? The deep safety is supposed to help on the most immediate vertical threat.

“We practice that stuff all the time,” Wilson said. “It’s something that you have to use, especially playing against a very, very good defense and a great defensive line. Just to make sure that the defense has slowed down a little bit so those ends aren’t getting a good jump on the center. I think that’s a huge thing.”

The Seahawks lined up all three receivers in “trips” to the right, with Golden Tate the widest as the No. 1 receiver, Kearse in the middle as the No. 2, and Doug Baldwin on the inside as No. 3. The tight end stayed in to block on a maximum protection call, and running back Marshawn Lynch was the only receiver on the left side of the formation as an emergency outlet.

Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio countered with man coverage underneath one deep safety, Donte Whitner. Trumaine Brock had Tate on the outside, Rogers matched with Kearse in the middle and rookie safety Eric Reid had Baldwin on the inside. The 49ers would rush just four.

Wilson’s double count drew standout 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who was lined up over the guard, offside. Flags were thrown, which changed the routes by the Seahawks’ receivers to verticals, specifically Baldwin and Tate. Kearse stayed on his prescribed vertical route, but with a slight twist. “I had a wide departure,” Kearse said.

Instead of going straight down the field, Kearse angled toward the sideline to give himself more room. Rogers turned his shoulders to face the sideline in order to play inside leverage on Kearse and force the play to the sideline. But Kearse had other ideas, and zipped back inside Rogers. That forced the cornerback to do a speed turn and flip his head around to the inside and run, which Rogers said is the normal technique. But that movement caused Rogers to slow for an instant and allowed Kearse to get a step on him.

“They run so many routes out of their formations; they’ll go out and run a quick out on you,” Rogers said. “In nickel spot, you have to look for everything. Once I saw him turn back in, I just turned around.”

Rod Mar for Sports Illustrated
Rod Mar for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

The big question: Where was Whitner? The deep safety is supposed to help on the most immediate vertical threat. Lynch was the only eligible receiver on the other side, and there was no one threatening the middle of the field. There were just the three Seahawks streaking into the end zone, including Baldwin, who had badly burned Reid and was also open.

Yet Whitner wasn’t in the play.

“We had a safety back there in coverage,” Fangio said. “[Whitner] should have … he was on one of them, should have been.” But Whitner was shallow and so far inside that he couldn’t have made a play on Baldwin, either.

With no safety around to help over the top, the cornerbacks were on their own. Wilson’s line-drive throw traveled 45 yards in the air, but Rogers had recovered and was in excellent position by the time the ball arrived. Rogers, with his chest in Kearse’s back, reached out his left arm and just missed the ball a split-second before it landed in Kearse’s arms.

“They threw the ball at me,” Rogers said. “Even though we had middle field safety help, I’ve got to make the play on the ball. You never know what [the safety] sees. I don’t know if No. 3 went across and took him out on the play and opened up that hole. I still have to make the play. Regardless of whether the throw was good, inside or outside, it’s my play to make.

“The [ball] location was outside of him, gave him a chance to make the play and he made the play. Can’t do nothing about that. Some plays are just made like that. Can’t do nothing but try and fight.”

On this night, the Seahawks got the best of the fight.

Pete Carroll seemed happy. (Pouya Dianat for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Pete Carroll seemed happy. (Pouya Dianat for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

mmqb-end-slug-square

36 comments
akaslon
akaslon

Also how is this the "overlooked play of the game" maybe you should write you columns under Mr. F Obvious. Ray Charles saw that.

akaslon
akaslon

Actually the blown call on the punt before this drive might have changed the game entirely. I say might cause we will never know, but I thought the refs were pretty bad, and no I am not a SF fan.

AceMc122
AceMc122

That's why Carlos won't be on the team next year. Thanks for everything you've done, really Carlos had solid moments, but he can't even play nickel anymore. Draft someone in the 2nd or 3rd and go from there.

JohnDillane
JohnDillane

Mediocre player in Russell Wilson and a great athletic player like Tebow sits. The NFL is simply a reflection of our sick society. When they let the players use steroids and pot it will officially go to pot. It's well on it's way.

JohnDillane
JohnDillane

Please explain how one player can be completely outplayed by another in every statistic except passing percentage. And yet is FAR more effective when he passes. The STATS show it !  MORE touchdowns A FAR better per yard average, and far better rushing yardage. Wilson scrabbled around like crazy and created a great play for a long pass. BIG WHOOP ! Tebow did that on almost every game in his short career. Denver was NUMBER ONE in dropped passes. If you watched the Kansas game Tebow completed TWO passes out of nine. One for the winning touchdown.One pass was a clear underthrow, the other SIX HIT the receivers RIGHT in the hands. Denvers GREAT defense was ranked 24th. Wilson has maybe of the best defenses to ever play in the NFL. Amazing and Tebow sits.  

JohnDillane
JohnDillane

The whole nonsense with Tim Tebow is mind numbing.

Russell Wilson is a average athletic quarterback who can extend plays with his legs.

He has been praised because he can run around and create offbeat plays out of nothing.

Tebow was a master at doing the same thing. FAR better in every statistic.

Wilson has played with the very BEST defense the last two years.

Tebow played with the TWENTY FOURTH ranked defense in 2011.

Below are a comparison of his stats with Tebow’s for two playoff games. Division and Conference Championships.

Tebow had more touchdowns, far more yards passing, more rushing yards, fewer fumbles, and a much higher average of yards per pass. Therefore he was BY FAR more effective than Wilson.

But Wilson is lauded as a great young player and Tebow sits. Amazing !

Wilson

Pass 25-43

Yards 318

TD 1

Int 0

Fumb 4

Fmb lst 1

Rush 8- 16 yards

Pass Yards per pass 7.9

Tim Tebow

Pass 19-47

Yards 452

TD 2

Int 0

Fumb 1

Fmb lst 1

Rush 15-63

Pass Yards per pass 9.2

BubbaJoBubba1
BubbaJoBubba1

It was a great game that will be overshadowed by that idiot Sherman..............best place for a football might be in his mouth.........it's certainly big enough to hold one. 


Should be a great Super Bowl............maybe Sherman will go down early.............

James22
James22

Whitner was easily the goat of this game for SF, although the personal foul called on him early was a garbage call. Sure, many are blaming Kaepernick, and his first pick was indeed brutal, but he did a lot of good things too. Whitner never did.

Merv
Merv

@akaslon.......... What about the 49er Coach hitting lane with his elbow on the sidelines during a Seattle punt?  That gets called and the 49er Coach gets ejected and Seattle gets a first down.  Maybe it also changes the game.  Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

XeronTafford
XeronTafford

@psychsports I never click on this guy's links because I think he should be paying PK for all the free ad space this comments section provides him--I assuming he's selling a book, or himself, or some sort of tripe.  At least he's not ranting about Sherman, or at least I haven't seen it.


I don't pretend to be a football expert, and I have watched all of Russell Wilson's games in the NFL, and what he does, that lots of other NFL QBs don't do, is win games.  Watching Stafford lose games for the Lions is ridiculous, because he thinks he is superman and can always make the throw.  Wilson is loathe to turn over the ball, so he will take the sack or try and throw it away whenever he sees problems.  He sees a lot because our receiver corps is willing but not elite, mostly three guys with exactly the same skill set, waiting for Percy Harvin to come of the injured list.


Manning has the stats, but Wilson is the kind of guy who always wins.  Howie Long on Fox said his kids played against Wilson in high school, and Wilson's team always won.  It's not something you can measure, it doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but he's got something that always seems to put him on the winning side (figuratively, not literally).  Don't be surprised if Seattle wins by not committing any turnovers, controlling the ball with their running game (keeping Manning off the field), and Russell Wilson running the show.  He may not have the stats for MVP of the game, but nobody on the Seahawks doubts his importance.

Seahawks12
Seahawks12

@JohnDillane Mediocre player Russell Wilson....WOW. I am amazed. For just being mediocre he made it to the Super bowl. I don't call that anything less than what it is. Great !!!!

are.aych
are.aych

@JohnDillane What...... are you talking about?  What the hell are you......  talking about?  Tebow.  Tebow?  Tebow?!?  I know you're just trolling, but it totally worked. You got me riled up.  

RaySeva
RaySeva

@JohnDillane I am longtime friends with one of the Account Executives at KOA radio (the radio home of the Broncos). As a result, I've had "backstage passes" to Broncos games/events for the past eight years...and have gotten to know some of the staff and players.


Here's what I've seen--and what nobody in the organization will tell you:

Tebow is NOT that smart a guy. Terrifically athletic--but NOT a sharp guy. Elway privately wanted to cut Tebow before the 2012 season--but did not want to embarrass McDaniel. Tebow could not grasp the playbook--specifically, the check-downs/variations of the passing game. I was at a practice once--and witnessed B-Marshall and Knowshown screaming at him after one play because Tebow did not check-down off the play. I heard both of them muttering stuff like "he just doesn't GET IT."  A few minutes later, Elway was yelling at him for not recognizing a Defense--and taking off on a run. I personally heard Elway yelling "JesusChrist! Get him OUTTA here." So Tebow was pulled from practice--and NOBODY stood next to him/console him/offered to teach him, etc.

After practice, I saw a bunch of Media around him...I remember a couple of O-linemen getting irritated because they had to fight their way through the media throng to leave the practice facility. Tebow--in mid-sentence--said to the two O-linemen, "sorry guys, but they want me to talk"--and the two linemen just walked right by him w/o even looking at him. They looked PISSED.


I've been to a few practices this year (and last  year)...and the guys just follow Manning around like pups following their mamma dog. The difference is like night and day.


Fedorg4s
Fedorg4s

@JohnDillane Wilson mediocre? 52 passing TDs tied with Peyton for 2nd all time in 2 seasons. Most regular season wins in 2 seasons, 100+ QB rating in first 2 seasons (first ever to do that), 3 playoff wins in 2 seasons. He's doing this in a conservative offense not built around him to rack up stats, also he's missing his star receiver Harvin and Rice practically all year.. Last few games his stats have slipped up a bit, but he's been playing some of the better defenses lately and the play calling like I said is being conservative aimed at winning with running and D not his arm, which he has showed many times before he can do that if needed. 

DarrynFrost
DarrynFrost

@JohnDillane Holy crap. Tim Tebows career passer rating is 75.3, and his completion percentage is a paltry 47.9%. If you think that is any way a valid comparison to RW, you might need to take a statistics class.

Rick57
Rick57

@JohnDillane You know what's an even bigger shame? The NFL has 32 moronic GM's who would all take Wilson over Tebow while a true visionary such as yourself sits alone in your mother's basement playing electric football. Amazing.

SkeleTony
SkeleTony

@JohnDillane 

For starters, why are you selecting stats from just two games (and which games are these?! Be honest kiddo.) and leaving so much information out of this? The reason Tim Tebow is not playing QB in the NFL is simply tyhat he is not a good QB. He cannot throw to save his life. He made about two good throws every game and for a streak of 7 games in a row these were during the last few minutes of play. Denver's defense was not ranked 24th. You are taking a shady quote from Skip Bayless (IIRC they had the 24th ranked SCORING defense at one point or some such) and then taking that even further out of context.

He just could not play QB. Do you hear ANY of his former receivers coming to his defense EVER?! Any coaches or linemen?

badbeatya
badbeatya

@JohnDillaneUh,as befits a 1st round pick, Tebow was given multiple chances to win a starting QB gig & HE failed to do so.  Now this does not speak of his character or his drive or athletic prowess or his college success.  This just illustrates that the NFL is on a different level than college ball.

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

@James22 


Kaepernick fumbled the ball TWICE and threw two interceptions… 


(the fumble he lost was AWFUL, you don't leave the ball hanging out there like that when you know the rush is coming - he said he saw the rush coming…. and the first interception was AWFUL, Kaepernick said he saw the guy sitting there, wow is that a terrible throw)


AND


the only TD's the Kaepernick led them to came after a terrible holding call against Sherman on 3rd down, and after Kaepernick fumbled right outside the red zone and they luckily got it….


the 49ers could've easily gone that whole game without scoring a touchdown without that call or the recovered fumble, because their quarterback is a running back…



face it, Kaepernick's exciting but he doesn't know how to play the most important position in sports 



there is no other goat for the 49ers, Kaepernick lost that game...

RobertSmith
RobertSmith

@XeronTafford @psychsports He didn't "always win" at NC State (17-9 overall and 9-7 in conference).  He won at Wisconsin with a superior team and he wins at Seattle with a superior team.  I like Wilson the best of the young QBs, but he and Kap easily have the two best teams around them. 

kcsh18
kcsh18

@XeronTafford @psychsports Umm, he turned the ball over two times in that game with his sloppy mechanics.  He committed at least 2 Intentional Groundings.  He doesn't "always win" he lost last year in the playoffs against an inferior team, he lost the Rose Bowl for Wisconsin against an inferior team.   He is at worst a game manager and at best a beneficiary of a solid running game and great defense.  His first playoff game against the Saints this year, his performance was underwhelming.  I think it is a little early to label him a winner.  Put him on the Browns, would they be in the playoffs?

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@XeronTafford @psychsports Yep he just wins. He makes nearly every tackle, defends well against the run, is great at hitting guys over the middle, and is an all around special teams weapon.  He's definitely the reason his team has the #1 defense in the league. Wagner, Thomas, Chancellor, and Irvin should be thankful to have such a leader as Wilson on D.

kcsh18
kcsh18

@Seahawks12 @JohnDillane Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Joe Flacco, Jeff Hostetler were all great too then, in fact, they are greater because they won a Super Bowl.  Jim Zorn, Dan Fouts sucked because they never made it to the Super Bowl?

Jim C1
Jim C1

@Rick57 @JohnDillane Electric football is harder than you think. Those little guys have a mind of their own sometimes and it takes a great football mind to realy coordinate them

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@humdrumdrumhumming @James22 doesn't know how to play the position?  Are you stoned? 


So on that last drive of the game and in his previous 5 playoff games, Harbaugh was trusting his offense with a guy who didn't know how to play? Am I understanding you right smartguy?

I guess you know more than all the talent evaluators in the business and all the GMs! 

Merv
Merv

@WCoastPro  Great comment.  At least someone gets how great he is.

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@badbeatya @WCoastPro I say hopefully not. Neither are rivalries! Those guys are never on the field together and have no impact on each other's performances. I doubt Kap spent a minute studying tape of Wilson and vice versa. Crabtree-Sherman might be the rivalry or Okung-Smith or Lynch-Bowman. But I'm not buying the qb rivalry in a team sport. 

It's all hyped-up and dumbed down garbage for the NFL fanbase.   

badbeatya
badbeatya

@WCoastPro. Lol.  Hey, I do agree with you.  Colin Kaepernick is an excellent QB and may one day be considered elite and he certainly knows how to play the position.  I also feel the same way about Russel Wilson.  Kaepernick just underestimates the LOB for some reason.  Hopefully 10 or so years from now, we'll all be looking at the Wilson-Kaepernick rivalry the way we look at the Brady-Manning rivalry.

badbeatya
badbeatya

@WCoastPro  Let's see, vs Seattle, Kaepernick seems to have a problem doing the most important thing a QB MUST do:  protect the ball at all times, while making high percentage throws based on good decisions.  Hmmm, but against all other teams, he excels.  Therefore it must be Seattle's superior Defensive play causing Kaepernic's failures.

OH, I see now!  You are saying that Seattle has an awesome defensive unit that is capable of making even a highly skilled Colin Kaepernick look silly.  Gotcha!

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