DETROIT—It might not have been his intention, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll planted a seed in Michael Dickson’s head following his team’s Week 6 win in London.
As the team made its way through Heathrow Airport, Carroll casually mentioned to his punter that if the opportunity to pull the ball down and run should present itself, he ought to try it sometime.
“I think he was joking, but he said, ‘When are you ever just going to run one,’” Dickson said following Sunday’s win in Detroit. “I said, ‘Whenever you tell me too.’ He was like, ‘If there’s a gap, just run it.’
Even if Carroll was serious that Dickson should go ahead and run it sometime, surely he wasn’t envisioning the scenario in which Dickson found himself late in Sunday’s game at Ford Field. With the Seahawks leading by two touchdowns late in the game and facing fourth-and-8 from their own 3-yard line, Carroll and special teams coordinator Brian Schneider decided that it made more sense to have Dickson bleed a little clock, then step out of the end zone for a safety than to punt from the back of the end zone. The thinking being that the extra time off the clock, as well as the difference in field position, was more valuable than giving up two points in a 14-point game.
But as Dickson rolled to his right, fully intending on stepping out of bounds when Lions players caught up to him, he looked up field and realized there was a ton of open space in front of him, and in a split second, perhaps with that conversation with Carroll in the back of his mind, Dickson tucked the ball and ran, picking up 9 yards for a first down before taking a big hit. That first down allowed the Seahawks to run all but the final six seconds off the clock before Detroit got the ball back, clinching a 28-14 victory.
“I was meant to drain the clock a little bit,” Dickson said. “We were going to take a safety. I was going to run around to the right, and before contact, step out and take the safety. But I looked up and there was a pretty big gap, and I felt like I could definitely get the first down. I knew I was going to get hit after, but I saw the first down and just tucked it and ran. As soon as I started, I was like, ‘there’s no backing out now, just go for it.’”
As Dickson notes, once he left the end zone, he was committed. Had Dickson come up short of the first down, he would have been giving the Lions a very short field with about two minutes left on the clock, allowing them to potentially make it a one-score game with enough time remaining in the game to make things interesting. The risk involved is probably why when Dickson told Schneider during practice this week about his conversation with Carroll, the special teams coordinator told him not to do it, and that Carroll was probably just joking with him when he brought it up.
“That was in the back of my mind when I ran it,” Dickson said.
Carroll confirmed that when he suggested to Dickson that he should perhaps try running the ball, he wasn’t envisioning his punter doing so from his own end zone late in a game.
“I did not have that scenario in mind,” Carroll said. “Maybe I was a little out of whack back there out in England when this happened.”
But even if it wasn’t how Carroll—or anyone else—would have imagined that play transpiring, he was excited to see his punter take a chance and make a big play.
“That’s going to be my favorite play for a while,” Carroll said.
When first asked about the play, Carroll jokingly referred to is as “the Aussie sweep” and deadpanned that “we’ve been drawing that one up for months waiting for the chance.”
But in reality, it was just a case of an athlete making a big play, albeit an unconventional one.
“That was us taking a safety, and that was a really terrific competitor, seeing the moment and seizing it,” Carroll said. “I thought Mike was smiling as he turned the corner and he knew he could make the first down. He knew he was going to have to take a hit and he was thinking about taking care of the football. It was an incredibly beautiful play. Sometimes you have to improvise and really good players seem to do it at the right time. I thought that was a fantastic illustration of what’s to come.
“I thought it was awesome. I can’t love a play more than that. It was like he went against all tradition, all thinking and everything. But he saw a situation and he took advantage of it. And I think that’s what great players do and they surprise you sometimes. That was truly a surprise. That was a great moment and I was really fired up for him.”
Dickson’s teammates were as surprised as fans watching on TV or at Ford Field, because they knew the plan was for their punter to take a safety.
“Oh man, immediately I thought of Coach Schneider, like, ‘Oh crap, what’s he going to say?’” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “Then when (Dickson) crossed the first-down marker, it was like, ‘All right, good, now we win the game.’ It was exciting for sure. Interesting.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson said the play, “was a little scary there for a second, but then to see him accelerate, the Aussie, he got a first down. That was pretty cool.”
Dickson knew he was taking a pretty big risk, but in the end, his reasoning was pretty simple.
“It was open,” Dickson said. “So I just decided to take it.”
Game action photos from the Seattle Seahawks' 28-14 win in Detroit in Week 8 of the 2018 NFL season.