Pearls of Faux: The Rashomon Effect

In 1950, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa released what was perhaps his most psychologically complex film, Rashomon.  The film — a departure from those that would later catapult him to international fame, like Seven Samurai, or The Hidden Fortress (from which George Lucas would shamelessly plunder in making his own little space odyssey) — explores the relationship between subjectivity and truth, and the degree to which self-interest defines one’s own reality.  The film’s plot follows an act of terrible violence and the wildly different ways in which different witnesses recount that event; it is responsible for the term “Rashomon Effect,” which is used to describe situations in which eyewitness depictions can differ from, or even contradict, one another, because of the intrinsic unreliability of witnesses.

The Rashomon effect better helps us understand how, as a subjective, and ultimately self-interested, person, I could blame myself.  Because last week, I wrote about how Pete Carroll fundamentally must love chaos.  And I sincerely believe that, somehow, Pete Carroll is trolling me. There are, to be sure, other explanations, but none of them satisfy.

Someone, somewhere, once offered sage advice: when feeling overwhelmed, make a list, and then take comfort in the slow, calm meditation of crossing things off of it, eliminating them, a joy in incremental destruction.  Let’s do so now:

Sunday’s game pitting the Seattle Seahawks against the Dallas Cowboys began with a three-and-out, a testament to the infuriating failures with which we’re so myopically familiar, now: 1) a tipped pass, the clearest sign that Russell Wilson’s height is Problematic; 2) a sack (needs no further comment); and 3) a play that, by design, had a very low chance of clearing the sticks.  Yet, in a stunning reversal, this was the first Seahawks’ opening drive three-and-out of 2020; indeed, the last time the Seahawks didn’t display that hateful antipathy for the first three plays of a new season was 2016, when Russell Wilson completed back-to-back passes to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, those halcyon days before Ndamukong Suh obliterated Wilson’s ankle.  Pete Carroll summoned the Gods of Chaos, and they Answered.

On their first defensive drive of the day, the Seahawks relied on stalwart players like Alton Robinson and Ugo Amadi, critical and talented professionals who … um … wait, hold on … uh, well looks like they couldn’t crack the starting lineup.  Huh.  (Carroll smirks, a chuckle so low beneath his breath that the mania fueling it cannot be heard.)

The Seahawks retaliated at the end of their next possession by calling the great play where Lockett teleports himself ten yards downfield, a touchdown on a pass so easy that Wilson’s CPOE rating probably decreased by around 10%.  (It’s also worth iterating that we have been so spoiled by No-E that a game in which he drops a few passes becomes a source of criticism, ignoring his accumulation of 100 yards and 18 points.)

To make things interesting, the Arbiters then deemed that Cowboys’ returner Tony Pollard should mishandle the kickoff, which led to Ezekiel Elliott doing his best Christine Michael impression, which was clearly a mistake because CMike did nothing wrong, unlike Zeke, whose run ended in a safety, awakening in our hearts that faint hope of Scoragami.  (Incidentally, Ryan Neal, a name whose importance would arise later in this game, was the player who first reached Pollard.)

After Elliott redeemed himself with a diving touchdown run, Greg Zuerlein cast his defiance against the CLink uprights, screaming with all the fury of Theoden, his leg and a football replacing the arms of spears of the Rohirrim, desperate to bring them down.

Then, with 13 seconds left in the first quarter, Cowboys’ rookie CB Trevon Diggs rudely interrupted DK Metcalf’s glorious sauntering into the endzone after Wilson unloaded a perfect bomb, resplendent in all of its nearly 70 air yards, by punching that ball out of Metcalf’s arms as if he had a personal grudge against it, as if he were Inigo Montoya and that ball had killed his father.

If you’re keeping score at this point, it’s Seahawks 9, Cowboys 9, and agents of chaos with at least six score-changing plays.

After a fierce punting contest for three drives, Sky-Box Schotty finally called the plays where the Cowboys hold the Seahawks receivers on every down.  Moving down the field in a progression of yellow streamers, Wilson successfully failed to complete passes six times, sacked once, intercepted once, on three penalties, and one catch in which DK Metcalf managed to somehow suplex Diggs into teammate Xavier Woods with nothing more than his left shoulder.  (On one of those plays, Jourdan Lewis grabbed Tyler Lockett’s hand with all the ardor of a Jane Austen protagonist, desperate for a suitable marriage; Lockett sells the penalty with all the flair of Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy.)

A Cowboys scoring drive culminated in Tre Flowers tipping the extra point, a play that would have been spectacular if not being like the seventh least bizarre play of the half.

After Pete Carroll forgot his courage, declining to Go For It on 4th and 4 at the Dallas 47, Shaquill Griffin saved him with his first interception of the season, reading that route as if to demonstrate that, yes, he does actually know how to do that, it’s just that he often doesn’t feel like it, and Wilson tossed his second, 1-yard touchdown pass to Lockett.  How did Wilson, et al. arrive at the 1 yard line you ask?  Well, it isn’t clear.  Prima facie, Wilson threw a 16 yard pass to Olsen.  But Olsen stepped out of bounds.  But he was pushed out of bounds.  The push was illegal contact.  But he was out of bounds.  But would he have been out of bounds if not for the illegal contact?  It was one of those great moments of football where you realize that, for all of the game’s 19 rules, 92 pages of prefaces, field markings, diagrams, tables of contents, summaries, tables, indices, Sections, Articles, and, my personal favorite, the Official Signals*, sometimes no one really knows what’s happening.  Chaos has moved up in the rankings.

* The Crowd Noise, Dead Ball, or Neutral Zone Established signal kinda looks uncomfortably like a fascist salute; the Illegal Use of Hands, Arms, or Body depiction looks like someone signing Diana Ross & the Supreme’s seminal classic Stop in the Name of Love; Pass Bobbled Inbounds and Caught Out of Bounds like the opening stance for a practitioner of drunken kung fu; and Illegal Motion at Snap is nothing more than a picture of someone petting an unusually tall, but invisible, dog.  Plus there are at least two signals that resemble someone striking himself in the face, in varying ways.

All of that, just to get through 30 minutes of football.  If you’re reading this, Pete Carroll, please accept my apologies.  I have learned the error of my ways, and will do better.

But here a delightfully incomprehensible British idiom rears its British head: what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts. When the Seahawks demonstrated their ability to amass 14 unanswered points in 67 seconds on either end of halftime, the Cowboys offense awakened, the sleeping giant of Dallas no more, with 16 unanswered points of their own for the other almost 25 minutes of the second half.  (This is where the Cowboys remembered that they had good receivers [including Malik Turner? how?!?], and that 60% of the Seahawks’ starting secondary was injured, and so tossed the ball their way a bit; a wise strategy from wunderkind Kellen Moore.  Ken Norton, Jr. anticipated this, and increased the frequency of blitzes, making sure to have fewer players in coverage, one of the only acts in this game that concluded predictably.)  The best of these plays, and by best I mean worst of course, was the one that Dak sailed into the waiting chest of a clearly surprised and nearly supine Tre Flowers (Flowers actually made a good play on this route), who bobbled the ball in such a way that it bounced off of the outstretched arm of Cowboys receiver Cedrick Wilson, into the arms of intended recipient Michael Gallup, not a completed pass so much as an assist, redolent of great second-basemen-and-shortstop pairings famous for clever double-plays.  (Incidentally, Shaquem Griffin has a sick spin move.)

The thing about answers, though, is that it’s hard to have the last one.  There’s a reason football games are finite contests; for all that good coaches use sidelines as a twelfth defender, great coaches use time as a final defender.  After Russell Wilson lobbed the penultimate ball he would touch on that given Sunday 29 yards, a fantastical arc that completed its zenith beyond every Cowboy defender on the field, DK Metcalf secured it with a paternal fierceness, a promise born of untold and countless generations of instinct to absolutely wreck whoever threatened it with harm.  Like parents everywhere, he had made a mistake, and grown.

We all know, in our heart of hearts, who held with their faith in Pete Carroll, in the resilience that he is supposed to instill in his players, who may yield yards by the dozens, by the hundreds, when it matters little, but surrender no extra inch when it matters the most, and who didn’t. (Not me, for sure.)

But maybe Pete Carroll, agent of chaos himself, lover of the absurd, maker of a secret compact with the devils who love to torture Seahawks Twitter, maybe what he wants has changed.  In back-to-back games now, we’ve seen a Seahawks team win first by fielding an incredible amount of points, and then finally with one last defensive stop, a teleological strategy that places all of its eggs in a last basket, the Ultimate Basket.  Maybe this is Carroll’s new defense, his Book of Revelations, an eschatology that submits itself to time, confident for the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, that more time will simple mean more points, onwards and onwards until the last whistle blows, that siren call of the game’s own mortality, a call obscured by the screamings and genuflections of victory, an end where, in all likelihood, his team has more points than the other, that simple, really.

Perhaps Carroll has now seen what it looks like when an opposing team reduces Russell Wilson to mortal proportions, a pathetic touchdown to incompletion ratio of just under 31%, plummeting his ratio through all three games to a worthless 58.3%, just barely ahead of Aaron Rodgers’ 25%, Mahomes’ 23%.  Perhaps Carroll has grown, too.