In Sunday's Super Bowl, Pete Carroll made the worst offensive call of the season, if not in NFL Championship history, when he decided to pass on second and goal from inside his opponent's one-yard line while trailing by four. But it's far from the first bonehead call he's made in his career with a big game on the line.
At USC, there was the infamous decision to go for it on fourth and two late in the 2006 BCS National Championship game. Trojan running back Lendale White fell short of the first down marker, which led to Vince Young guiding Texas to the game-winning touchdown on a short field. USC lost 41-38, and the Trojans were never the same during the remainder of Carroll's regime.
Earlier in his career, as head coach of the Patriots in 1997, he was leading 21-13 over the visiting Steelers late in a pivotal Week 16 showdown in a game that had major playoff implications. Ahead 14-0 early, it appeared that New England had held off a furious Pittsburgh comeback attempt by converting a critical third down pass from Drew Bledsoe to Troy Brown with 3:33 left. The conversion forced Pittsburgh to burn the remainder of its timeouts, as the Patriots gained three yards on two runs on the ensuing two plays.
Facing a third and seven with 2:10 left, the home crowd and the national TV audience expected a third-down run to burn clock. But Carroll had something else in mind, and it backfired. Big time.
Instead of handing the ball off, Bledsoe looked to his left for Dave Meggett, who had scored earlier in the game on a long touchdown catch. But Steelers defensive linemen Kevin Henry sniffed the play out, picking off Bledsoe's pass and rumbled down the far sideline. Bledsoe caught up with him and hung on for dear life. Henry lateraled the ball to fellow linemen Orpheus Roye, who finished the play by crossing the goal line for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown.
The officials called the play back for an illegal forward lateral. But the Steelers had the ball and the momentum. Kordell Stewart converted a fourth and seven to Yancy Thigpen, and then found Mark Breuner in the end zone two plays later. Stewart tied the game by finding Thigpen in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion, sending the game to overtime.
Pittsburgh won the toss, and didn't waste any time putting the Patriots out of their Carroll-induced misery. A 41-yard catch-and-run by receiver Coutrney Hawkins set up Norm Johnson's 31-yard field goal to give the Steelers a stunning 24-21 win that had immediate ramifications. They locked up the No.2 seed in the AFC playoffs, while the Patriots had to settle for the No.3 seed and a home Wild Card game. New England beat the Dolphins in the Wild Card, but fell to the Steelers in the Divisional Round in Pittsburgh, 7-6.
In some ways, the loss was the beginning of the end for Carroll in New England. NBC's post game crew said as much following the game, saying many of the same things the media said of Carroll's controversial play call in at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. Including the playoffs, the Patriots were just 19-18 over the next two years under Carroll, who was relieved of his duties by owner Robert Kraft following an 8-8 campaign in 1999. Kraft hired Bill Belichick as the Patriots next head coach, and the rest, as they say, is history.