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Super Bowl XL clock management mistakes

Posted by John Reed on

Because I am the author of the book Football Clock Management, a number of people have contacted me to ask my opinion of the Super Bowl XL mistakes. Here you go. (The official NFL play-by-play is on the Internet here.)

End of First half

At the end of the first half, Seattle missed a 54-yard field goal. If they had managed the clock better, would they possibly have gotten closer for the attempt?

It was 4th & 6 at the time. :07 was left at the time. That may have affected Seattle’s play calling. Could they have had more time for that end-of-half drive if they had managed the clock better earlier in the half?

Should have been in slow-down

Yes. When they got the ball at 14:44 left in the second quarter, Seattle was ahead 3-0. Accordingly, they should have been in a slow-down which means they should have taken about :45 per play. During that drive, they took 2:22 to run 7 plays—a 20-seconds-per-play pace—much too fast. However, it later turned out to be fortunate that they screwed that possession up clockwise because they lost the lead.

In their next possession, still leading 3-0, they took 1:42 to run 4 plays or 25 seconds per play—a who-cares-about-the-clock pace.

Actually, the final fourth-down play of each unsuccessful drive only uses about 8 seconds, not 45, so they were not quite as bad as this suggests, but they were still not in a sufficient slow-down.

Switch to hurry up

By their next possession, they had lost the lead to Pittsburgh 7-3. At that point, they should have gone to a hurry-up to save time for the final drive of the first half.

When that final drive arrived on their next possession, here’s what they did with the clock.

19-yard pass that took 18 seconds—not bad

4-yard pass that took 15 seconds—Seattle used their second timeout here, but apparently called it awfully slowly; the play should have only used about 5 seconds if they had called the timeout promptly

10-yard pass that took 19 seconds—a little slow for a hurry-up

pass complete but caught out of bounds that took 6 seconds—can’t do better clockwise. Pittsburgh called a timeout here. That’s smart clock management. They should not be stopping the clock because they are ahead. But after the previous play, the clock was already stopped by the incompletion.

4-yard run that took 35 seconds—My God! What was Seattle saving their third timeout for if not this situation!? Pittsburgh finally called its second timeout when the clock got down to :13. Dumb move by Pittsburgh unless Seattle was about to snap the ball anyway. I cannot tell from the NFL official play-by-play.

with 3rd & 6, Seattle completed another pass that was caught out of bounds stopping the clock at :07—no clock-management mistake other than not completing the pass in bounds

with :07 left and 4th & 6 at the Steeler’s 36, Seattle missed the field goal

With :02 left, Pittsburgh took a knee, which was correct clock management

So in the first half, Seattle’s clock management was poor, but better clock management would not necessarily have made any difference.

Second half

Most people think Seattle screwed up the clock management in the second half. Let’s see.

They were behind so they should have been in a hurry-up until they were about to take the lead. Were they?

Are you kidding? They seemed to be doing the opposite of what they should have been doing. That is, when they were in a situation that called for a hurry-up, they were in a near maximum slow-down. Apparently, Seattle learned Super Bowl clock management from the Eagles.

First possession

Their first possession of the second half came after Pittsburgh had raised their lead to 14-3. Seattle ran eight plays. The final play was a missed field goal that took five seconds. That leaves the other seven plays that took 2:46 or 24 seconds per play. And two of the plays were incomplete passes! Some hurry-up! In a hurry-up, there should be no more than 12 seconds coming off the game clock between plays that do not stop the clock. And zero seconds come off the game clock between plays when a pass is incomplete. So Seattle wasted around 1:40 during this possession through incorrect clock management.

Second possession

In their second possession of the second half, Seattle only ran two plays prior to the touchdown. Those two plays took 47 seconds. That, again, is lousy when you consider that they are supposed to be in a hurry-up. Plus, one was incomplete. In other words, when they were supposed to be in a maximum hurry-up, they were in a maximum slow-down. On the third play, they scored a touchdown which takes as long as it takes and stops the game clock when it’s over so there is no clock management involved. But they were still trailing 14-10 so they still needed to be in a hurry-up.

Third possession

During this possession, they ran one third-down play that did not stop the clock and they allowed 38 seconds to run off the clock for that play which should have taken no more than about seven seconds for the 13-yard pass completion and another 12 to line up and punt. The other three plays of this possession did not reflect any clock-management opportunities because they were incomplete passes. So they appear to have wasted about 19 seconds with bad clock management during this possession.

Fourth possession

This was a 97-yard drive that got called back from the Pittsburgh one-yard line for a Seattle holding penalty. The drive also ended in an interception.

The drive was rather successful from a yard-gaining standpoint. But what about the clock? There were eleven plays that did not stop the clock. They should have taken about 12 seconds per play tops or 11 x 12 = 132 seconds or 2:12, but they actually took 6:10.

Tell me again how decabillionaire Paul Allen, owner of the Seahawks, is leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of a Super Bowl victory. You might try spending a couple thou on clock management, Paul. But then what do I know? I never won a Super Bowl as coach of the Packers like Mike Holmgren. Actually, I do know that if he keeps managing the clock like this he is not likely to win another.

Pittsburgh then scored again on a reverse pass by Antwon Randle El making the score 21-10 Pittsburgh. Again, Seattle needed to be in a maximum hurry-up.

Fifth possession

On this possession, Seattle ran five plays that did not stop the clock and one that stopped it temporarily (a fumble to Pittsburgh that was reversed on appeal thereby starting a 25-second play clock and restarting the game clock). They should be in a hurry-up, remember. In a hurry-up, those five plays should take 5 x 12 = 60 seconds. In fact, they took 2:04 or 25 seconds per play—more slow-down than hurry-up. Plus, two of their plays took 37 and 38 seconds.

What were they doing? Huddling? You don’t huddle when you’re down 11 in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl!

Using timeouts on defense

Seattle used all three of their timeouts while on defense during Pittsburgh’s final possession between 6:15 and 1:51 in the fourth quarter. That was smart clock management on Seattle’s part. Using timeouts on defense when the opponent is in a slow-down saves about :40 per timeout. Saving them until Seattle is on offense would have only saved about :12 per timeout because that’s all the time it would take them to hurry up and run a play if the clock were not stopped.

Final possession

Seattle got the ball at 1:51. They are down 11. That means they need to get a field goal and a two-point-conversion touchdown to tie the game. That, in turn means they need to hurry up and score either a field goal or a touchdown, then onside kick, recover, and score the remaining needed points. In other words, they should be in a wild-ass hurry-up. Actually, they should have been in that the whole second half.

Were they?

Not really.

Their final drive plays that did not stop the clock took respectively :23, :23, :12.

On 1st & 10, Hasselbeck spiked the ball to stop the clock with :35 left.


You only spike the ball when you do not enough time left to use the down in question. Did Seattle have enough time to run four plays? Sure. A play takes about six seconds. 4 x :06 = :24 not :35. So they just wasted a down for no reason. Panic attack.

They ran one more play that did not stop the clock—a three-yard, in-bounds completion that left them with 4th & 7 at the Pittsburgh 23—then it took them :19 more to get their act together to throw their final incomplete pass. The ball went over on downs at :03 and Pittsburgh took a knee.


Seattle lacked the appropriate sense of urgency when they were behind throughout the game. It may not have made the difference, but they sure could have used all that time they left on the table lollygagging along. They also did a dumb, premature spike to stop the clock. Seconds are valuable, but so are downs.

I have often said that clock management at all levels stinks. This was the freaking Super Bowl for God’s sakes! Are there still any who think I exaggerate?

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