The Rams stayed undefeated and extended their lead in the NFC West with a close-run 33-31 road win over the Seahawks, and it all ultimately came down to a matter of inches and seconds. Facing fourth down and about the length of a football with 1:39 left, the Rams sent their punt unit out onto the field. Seattle coach Pete Carroll called a timeout. Given the opportunity to reconsider, Rams coach Sean McVay sent his offense out, and a successful QB sneak by Jared Goff sealed the game. Maybe Carroll regrets that timeout and maybe he doesn’t, but as Jared Goff said, “we had a lot of time to decide.”
Carroll had told officials at the end of the previous play that he wanted the timeout, before the chains were brought out to measure the spot. The measurement stopped the clock and gave Carroll a chance to think about it, and when fourth-and-inches was confirmed and the Rams’ punt team jogged onto the field, officials asked Carroll if he still wanted his timeout. He did.
“The clock would have been running and we would have used the timeout, but because of the stoppage [for the chains], we get the timeout back, so we had another timeout. What would have happened there is they were going to wind the clock and I think there was 33 seconds on the [play] clock at 1:39. It would have taken us down to a minute, so it was worth using the timeout to save that 33 seconds right there.”
I think Carroll’s right here on the bigger issue. If he had done nothing and let the Rams punt, Seattle would have gotten the ball back with about a minute left and who knows how many yards to go, with one timeout, to get the ball into field goal range.
Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. Once Carroll used the timeout, Rams players lobbied McVay to go for it. McVay was torn.
“[McVay] was kind of going back and forth,” Goff said. “I was off, I thought we were punting. I went back on the field just to talk to the official about something, and as I’m turning around, the offense was running back on, and I go, ‘All right, I guess we’re going for it.’ So I go to Sean and he called a QB Sneak.”
McVay said afterward that “if you’ve got to get six inches to win a football game, what better opportunity is there going to be?” He’s right that going for it was statistically the smart call, though not by so much that it was self-evidently obvious. But I think that it’s telling that, given time to reconsider his decision, McVay switched to the more aggressive call. That’s the opposite of how things have been done in the NFL for ages, and the shift in philosophy is especially noticeable this year. But even a young coach like McVay is susceptible to cautious instincts, as his initial decision to punt showed. For the unexpected time to reconsider, he can thank Carroll.