Did the Hawks really need that onside kick?

Chris Matthews comes down with the onside kick amid several Packers (Seahawks.com)Now that we all know the Seahawks’ onside kick was legal — like there should have been any question — let’s answer this question: Should the Seahawks have done it?

Seattle came up with several long-odds plays to beat the Packers in the NFC title game, but did the Seahawks actually make it too hard on themselves at the end?

Did they really need an onside kick, two-point conversion and overtime? Wouldn’t they have had at least the same chance of winning if they had kicked the ball deep after Russell Wilson’s touchdown run?

Down 19-7, Wilson scored from the 1-yard line with 2:09 left, completing a seven-play, 69-yard drive in 1:43. It was key to score before the two-minute warning because the Hawks would have that stoppage and their last timeout left.

The question was: Should they onside the kick or just play it straight and kick deep?

“It was all about timing and how much time was left, and we were looking at it when we scored,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “We talked it all the way through, and we felt really good about going for the onside kick. We felt like going for it and taking a shot at it.”

The chance of recovering an onside kick is generally considered to be about 20 percent, but it was a gamble the Hawks seemingly had to take at the time. Or did they?

What if they had not recovered? Would the Packers have been more aggressive about trying to get into field goal range from the 50?

Assuming they just ran it again, field position likely would have shifted by 30 yards, meaning the Hawks would have been pinned inside the 10 — needing to go 90 yards in about 55 seconds, with no timeouts.

“Even if you take that shot and don’t get it, you still have to stop them, just a field position shift,” Carroll said. “We’re figuring we’re going stop them no matter what. If you stop them at midfield or maybe at the 25 on the other end, that chance you weigh on whether or not you get the kick.”

They were fortunate to get the ball when Green Bay’s Brandon Bostick bobbled it and it fell into the hands of Seattle’s Chris Matthews.

Wilson then drove the Hawks 50 yards in three plays — Marshawn Lynch scored on a 24-yard run. But there still was 1:25 left for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who had all three timeouts.

Some — including Carroll — wondered whether Lynch should have sat down at the 1-yard line to let more time run off the clock. But can a team afford to play games like that?

“I think he did exactly the right thing,” said Carroll, who added, “it flashed through my mind as he broke the line of scrimmage (for him to stop short). That’s one of those chances when you can think of it. . . . (But) he’s got to score and try to win the game to get ahead. The right thing to do is try to score. If you have a chance to win the game, you have a chance to win the game.”

Lynch’s TD put the Hawks up 20-19, and they needed a two-point conversion to make sure they didn’t lose on a field goal, as they did in Atlanta two years ago.

The play — a sprint option — got blown up quickly by the Packers. Two defenders bore down on Wilson as he sprinted right and ran backward.

His fall-away Hail Mary to Willson clear across the field was vaguely reminiscent of the 2012 Fail Mary to Golden Tate that beat the Packers on the final play.

If the Seahawks had not gotten the two-pointer, they likely would have lost the game, because Rodgers drove the Packers 48 yards in 1:11 for the tying field goal.

The Hawks won the overtime coin toss and drove for the winning touchdown immediately.

But did it really need to get to that point? What if the Seahawks had kicked deep instead of onside after Wilson’s touchdown?

“We were prepared to kick the ball deep,” Carroll told 710 ESPN, “knowing that we might get better field position when we stopped them (than if they didn’t recover the onside kick).

“I’m always of the thought that if you kick the onside kick you have a chance to get the ball, and you have to stop them anyway (whether you kick deep or fail to get the onside kick). Now the field’s longer (when you stop them after failing to get the onside kick). But if there’s some time, there’s always enough time. … There’s always enough time to get down the field if you do it right.”

It’s true, and we won’t argue that the onside call was wrong — it seemed right at the time — but consider what likely would have happened if they had kicked deep …

It likely would have been another touchback, with the Packers starting at their 20 with 2:09 left. Assuming the Packers stayed conservative and ran Eddie Lacy, the Hawks likely would have forced a three-and-out — as they had on the Packers’ previous two possessions, when Green Bay netted two yards on five runs.

If the Hawks used their final timeout after the first play, there would have been around 2:02 left. After second down, the clock would have stopped for the two-minute warning, with about 1:55 left. The third-down run would have run the clock down to close to a minute.

If the Packers had gained two yards on those three plays and Tom Masthay had hit his net average on the punt — 35 yards — the Hawks would have set up shop at their 44 with about 55 seconds left and no timeouts.

That’s only six yards farther back than they ended up with the ball on the onside kick. Considering their drive after the onside kick went 50 yards in 44 seconds, it’s not a stretch to project the Hawks driving 56 yards in 50 seconds instead.

In that case, there would have been no more than five seconds left in regulation — no time for the Packers to get into field goal range. Even if the Hawks had missed the two-point conversion, they would have won 20-19 — with no OT.

The onside kick, two-point conversion and overtime made for great drama, but there’s a pretty good chance the Hawks could have avoided all of that and still won.

In the end, the Hawks were destined to win no matter which way they went.


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