When we came up with the idea of Take Twos-day it was with games like Sunday's in Seattle in mind. There were dozens of potential turning points that could have been the focus of our arm-chair analysis, and some of them received plenty of postgame attention.
There was the offensive play-calling on the final drive, poor clock management at the end of the half, two intentional grounding penalties, the decision to go with base defense on the final drive and countless others. But there was one play we felt was critical in setting up the Seahawks final drive that didn't receive as much attention and we decided to focus on that.
Leading 23-17 with 2:48 to go, the Patriots were forced to punt. But with the ball at the New England 43, it seemed a sure bet that Seattle would have to travel the length of the field in order to pull off the upset. Turned out the Seahawks needed to go only about half of it.
The fateful punt did not go well in any way. Zoltan Mesko, who is normally quite adept at pinning teams close to their end zone, failed to get off a solid punt. Not only did it travel just 39 yards, landing in Leon Washington's arms at the Seattle 18, but it also was a low line drive that put a lot of pressure on the return unit.
Two factors then came into play, and neither was good for the Patriots. First, special teams captain Matthew Slater was injured while making a terrific stop on the previous punt just minutes earlier and was unavailable for the final kick. Second, New England lost containment on the left sideline and Washington, one of the best in the business, took advantage.
After securing the punt Washington easily found some open space to the left before heading toward the sideline. He turned the corner and shot toward Patriots territory before Shane Vereen came over to knock him out of bounds, but not before Washington picked up 25 yards and made it all the way to the Seattle 43.
With 2:38 left and the Seahawks still in possession of a timeout (plus the two-minute warning), Seattle's offense had the luxury of operating under close to normal circumstances due to the big return. Instead of having to go with the hurry-up and using the sidelines to preserve time, Washington's return meant rookie Russell Wilson could take his time needing only 57 yards to win it.
This fact cannot be understated, and it even drew the attention of CBS color man Dan Fouts. Fouts was surprised the Seahawks were huddling up rather than rushing in an attempt to grab the lead. But ultimately time wasn't a factor because the excellent field position meant Seattle simply had to score and wasn't in danger of running out of time.
Sure enough, Wilson broke the huddle and fired a 46-yard touchdown pass to put his team ahead with 1:18 still remaining. Wilson's throw to Sidney Rice was perfect, the coverage of the safeties certainly was not, but Washington's big return allowed it all to happen.