For three quarters, the Seahawks were shockingly competent. In the fourth, they played a familiarly flimsy defense that couldn't find a way to get the Patriots offense on the sideline.
The Seahawks have been a lot of things this season.
The defense has been a disappointment, and the offense has disappeared for quarters at a time. They’ve been obliterated by injuries and blown out by opponents.
But Seattle hadn’t been a tease this year. At least not until Sunday when a team that has spent most of this season trying to play catch-up found a new and novel way to lose: the come-from-ahead defeat.
For three quarters, the Seahawks were shockingly competent. In the fourth, they played a familiarly flimsy defense that couldn’t find a way to get the Patriots offense on the sideline. The Patriots erased an eight-point deficit by scoring on back-to-back possessions. The Seahawks didn’t force New England to punt once in the final 22 minutes and they made Matt Cassel look like Tom Brady in the clutch.
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Three times Seattle’s defense was one play away from forcing the Patriots to punt on their drive to the game-winning touchdown. Three times, Cassel passed for a first down.
“We had opportunities today and that was frustrating on that last drive,” free safety Brian Russell said.
Actually, the opportunities began even before that final drive.
The Patriots faced third-and-seven at the Seattle 46 in the first minute of the fourth quarter and Randy Moss caught a 33-yard pass behind Josh Wilson for the first down that set up a field goal.
Moss spent most of Sunday covered by a blanket named Marcus Trufant. On this play, Moss was matched up against Josh Wilson, and the resulting 33-yard completion was the Patriots’ longest play of the game. Four plays later, New England kicked a field goal that cut Seattle’s lead to five points.
The Patriots converted three third downs on their touchdown drive, the longest coming on a 13-yard pass to Wes Welker on third-and-10. The only third down New England didn’t convert on the drive came at the end, when Sammy Morris’ goal-line run was stuffed by Lofa Tatupu. The Patriots went for it on fourth down and scored.
The Seahawks’ third-down defense has decided more than just the outcome of Sunday’s game.
“Statistically, that’s been a big part of our season, quite honestly,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “I think our ranking in the league might be dead last.”
Well, not quite. Eight teams were worse entering Sunday’s game, but the fact that Seattle gave up a first down on 42.9 percent of the opponent’s third-down plays after 12 games is alarming.
“It’s something that has to be looked at and fixed,” Holmgren said. “We’re not going to fix it in three games, but in the future it’s something that has to be fixed.”
Seattle pushed New England to a third down seven times in the fourth quarter. The Patriots converted four of them.
Of the three that didn’t result in a first down, only one stop meant anything. The Patriots scored a touchdown on fourth down on one and took a knee on the final snap of the game on another.
Of course, Seattle hasn’t had much practice playing with a lead. Sunday was only the third time this season the Seahawks held the lead entering the final quarter, so holding on to a victory is something they haven’t had much experience with.
“We just have to find a way to finish off games,” Russell said. “It’s getting repetitive. We’ve had this conversation before, but I just feel like I need to improve as a free safety and if everybody else is doing that around from me, we’ll take that little step forward.”
Any signs of progress Sunday were hidden by the fourth-quarter failures as a team that has played from behind so much this season couldn’t find a way to stay in front.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org