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Monday, December 17, 2012
Seeking precedent for Seahawks' fake punt

By Mike Sando

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has apologized for the fake punt his team executed against Buffalo while holding a 47-17 lead Sunday.

The regrets he expressed do not match up with Fox screenshots showing Carroll congratulating players for succeeding in their trickery.

It is possible Carroll enjoyed the results of the play in the short term while feeling bad about what it represented. Of course, smiles and congratulations generally aren't the hallmarks of remorse.

For perspective, I combed through the play finder at Pro Football Reference for examples of similar fourth-down plays from teams holding large leads in fourth quarters.

The search covered all fourth-down plays in the final 13 minutes of regulation while the team on offense led by at least 28 points. In some cases, teams were simply handing off the ball to run down the clock after driving too deep to execute a meaningful punt.

Sorting these fourth-down plays by most yardage gained produced interesting results.

Seattle's 29-yard gain against the Bills ranked first.

New England's 21-yard gain during a 52-7 rout of the Washington Redskins in 2007 ranked second. That play, run with 7:16 remaining and the Patriots ahead 45-0, was widely cited as running up the score.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick completed a 19-yard pass to Josh Morgan while holding a 41-3 lead with 4:46 remaining. Morgan suffered a broken leg on the play. Coach Jim Harbaugh said he was trying to get meaningful reps for Kaepernick.

Carroll offered a similar explanation last week for the deep pass Seattle tried on fourth-and-23 while holding a 51-0 lead over Arizona.

This season, the 49ers' Alex Smith scrambled for 17 yards on a fourth-and-2 play from the Buffalo 28 while the 49ers led 31-3 with 10:50 remaining.

The play Seattle ran against the Bills on Sunday was different because it came on a fake punt, not on a conventional play. I cannot recall seeing another example of a team running or passing from a punt formation while leading by four touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Carroll said his players called the fake as a matter of course based on what they saw from the Bills' defensive alignment. He said he should have told them to punt the ball regardless.

These are good dilemmas to have. Building 30-point leads can be tough in the NFL.

Note: I realize a certain segment of Seahawks fans thinks any reference to this play wrongly takes away attention from a fantastic overall effort during a 50-17 victory. If you're among them, you're in luck. We've put together multiple items on other aspects of the team and game.