Carroll, whose Seahawks had just hung 50 points on their opponent for the second week in a row, faced his post-game press conference in the awkward position of having done his job too well.
The week before, Carroll took heat for throwing downfield on the already-defeated Arizona Cardinals, widening a 45-point margin of victory to 58. Carroll apologized, though he was just trying to get his 26 million dollar backup quarterback Matt Flynn some action.
This week, already up on the Buffalo Bills by 30 points in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks faced 4th-and-4 from the Bills 43-yard line. Carroll's team dialed up a clever fake punt that went for a 29-yard gain:
It was something I could have called off, and I didn't. It's unfortunate that it comes across like there's something wrong there. That's my fault, totally, for not stopping it from happening ... in the sense that it looked bad.
Did it look bad? Yes. Was it the epitome of class? No. Should Carroll feel bad?
Unlike Carroll's days at USC, where he regularly matched a roster full of future Pro Bowlers up against rosters full of future high school gym teachers, he's coaching in the NFL. His players are all professionals, paid very well to do their job to the best of their ability. His coaching staff and assistants are all professionals, too. Carroll's job is to help his staff get the most out of his players.
If they don't do their jobs, they get fired.
If Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider told Carroll he found a way to exploit the Bills' punt-return coverage for a sure first down, it's Carroll's job to pat him on the back and dial it up—not tell Schneider it would look bad.
If Seahawks punt protector Chris Maragos spent practice time this week with long snapper Clint Gresham and tailback Michael Robinson perfecting their execution, it's their job to make that practice pay off—not hear the play call and say "Gee Coach, that would look bad. Let's just punt."
Unlike Carroll's days at USC, the team on the other side of the field isn't a bunch of undergrads playing for room, board, tuition and a jersey they'll hang in their closest and tell their grandkids about. The Buffalo Bills are professionals, too—they're just not as good at their job.
If there's any doubt Carroll and his staff are doing the right thing by never taking their foot off the pedal, the football-watching world should learn a lesson from what happened just hours after Carroll expressed his regrets:
On Sunday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers built up a shocking 31-3 lead on the New England Patriots. The 49ers shifted into neutral and tried to coast it home; the Patriots went on a furious 28-point tear, tying the game.
Fortunately for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, they immediately regained the lead and secured the win. But the lesson is clear: In the NFL, almost no lead is safe.
Of course, sportsmanship is important, and of course every fan wants their team to win "the right way." But every fan wants their team to win—and every coach wants to win, too.
Pete Carroll's on his third season as Seahawks head coach, and his team has gone 7-9 two years in a row. The victory over the Bills clinched Carroll's first winning season; that's a huge win for the Seahawks (and Carroll's career).
Perhaps Carroll feels bad for embarrassing the Cardinals and Bills. But he doesn't feel nearly as bad as if he'd had to take the podium and explain how punting from inside enemy territory was the "classy" decision, even though it led to a historic collapse and loss.