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GLENDALE, Arizona (Reuters) - Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Caroll won plenty of praise for his brave decision making in the NFC Championship win that took his team to the Super Bowl but was facing the heat after Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots.
Just as they did against the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago, the Seahawks had come back from a slow start, finding their rhythm on offense and it looked as if a second straight Super Bowl win was on the cards.
Despite being the second-best throughout the first two quarters, Seattle went in level 14-14 at half-time, thanks again to Carroll's positive approach.
With six seconds remaining in the half, many teams might have settled for a field goal but the Seahawks used the opportunity to the full - with Russell Wilson finding Chris Matthews with an 11-yard touchdown pass.
But few will remember that call after the strange decision at the end of the game which practically gifted the win to the Patriots.
Trailing by four and on second down, a yard from goal, the most obvious decision would have been to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch, who having put up 102 yards on 24 carries, was averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
Instead Carroll went for a pass play and quarterback Russell Wilson's attempt to reach Ricardo Lockette with a low zipped pass turned into disaster as undrafted rookie corner Malcolm Butler showed brilliant anticipation and agility to make the interception.
It was game over and to most observers and the millions watching on television, it was an inexplicable decision from Carroll.
"There's really nobody to blame but me, and I told them that clearly," said Carroll.
"And I don't want them to think anything other than that. They busted their tails and did everything they needed to do to put us in position, and unfortunately it didn’t work out," he said.
Carroll's explanation was that with New England's goal-line defense on the field and his wide-receiver set, it made no sense to run the ball on that play -- especially with the option of running on third or fourth down.
Arguments over that logic and the decision that it prompted will no doubt rage for weeks but it would be unfair if that crucial call became all that was remembered of what was a great game.
New England quarterback Tom Brady won the MVP despite throwing two interceptions largely because of his four touchdown passes and 37 of 50 passing for 328 yards, but also because of the way he managed the Patriots offense.
The Patriots have a relatively small receiver corps and their value, especially in the slot, was amply evident throughout.
Julian Edelman was a livewire throughout, as he put up 109 yards on nine receptions with Shane Vereen adding 64 yards receiving and Danny Amdendola contributing another 48 yards.
The last offensive drive from the Patriots, which concluded with a three-yard Brady touchdown pass to Edelman was New England at their very best.
All nine passes were completed as Brady took the team 64 yards in four minutes 50 seconds and the quarterback chose four different receivers on his march down the field.
While Seattle, with Wilson's mobility and awareness vital, showed plenty of offensive potency themselves they were rarely able to match the smoothness of Brady's offense.
"Our offensive line did a great job. Tom did a great job. Our receivers made a lot of tough catches and tough yards. That's what you’ve got to do against a team like Seattle. They don't give anything easy," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
While Carroll fronted up to his decision-making he also noted the quality of the opponent his team had been beaten by.
"They had two great drives and they controlled the ball going down the field. Really we didn’t make any major mistakes, they just really played well enough to get the ball down the field. Tom did a great job to engineer the win. That’s it, they’re a great football team. They played like they were capable of playing."
(The story corrects lead to NFC insted of AFC)
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty