RENTON — For a few tantalizing seconds Monday night in Washington, the Seahawks appeared to have pulled off a play that just maybe could have turned their season around.
But in keeping with a year in which little has gone to plan, celebration soon turned to devastation as Gavin Heslop’s recovery of Jason Myers’ onside kick following a TD that cut Washington’s lead to 17-15 was negated due to a penalty for an illegal formation.
It was the tiniest of infractions that killed the play — Nick Bellore, the special-teams captain, lining up just inside the right hash mark.
NFL rules require that two players on each side of the kicker must be lined up between the numbers and the hash marks. Two more must be lined up between the sideline and the numbers.
When Bellore lined up to the right of Myers, but just inside the hash mark, it meant the Seahawks had just one player between the hash mark and the numbers, resulting in an illegal formation.
And it meant that instead of the Seahawks pulling off one of the rarest plays in football, they had to try it again.
“I’m just sick about it,” special-teams coach Larry Izzo said Thursday. “We all are. … It’s just a misalignment. It’s something that we work on all the time and we just didn’t execute. We got a great kick from Jason. Heslop made a great play and just unfortunately misaligned.”
More distressing? The penalty didn’t really factor into the play. Bellore was on the right side and the kick went to the left.
The Seahawks still would have had long odds to win the game. The ball would have been at the Seahawks’ 45 with apparently 13 seconds left (the time listed on the play-by-play) and no timeouts.
Still, any chance at a play or two to get into position for a possible Myers field goal is better than none.
Had the play counted, it would have been the Seahawks’ first onside recovery in more than 12 years in a regular-season game. Jordan Babineaux got the last one on a kick from Olindo Mare in a game at Indianapolis on Oct. 4, 2009.
Of course, the Seahawks had one of the more famous recoveries in NFL history in the interim, which doesn’t count in regular-season stats — Chris Matthews’ recovery that was a key to the miracle comeback against the Packers in the 2015 NFC title game.
Onside kicks have always been a low-percentage play. But they became even more so when the NFL changed kickoff rules in 2019 aimed at cutting down on injuries.
Teams must have five players on each side of the kicker. That makes illegal what teams often did in the past to try to recover onside kicks of overloading on one side.
The result? Just three of 71 onside kicks were recovered in 2020 and just four of 34 so far this year, according to The Football Database.
Izzo shook his head that not only did the Seahawks appear to have a recovery but almost pulled it off again on the retry.
“We almost executed two in a row, which would have been something,” Izzo said.
If there was any explanation for why the penalty happened, Izzo noted that the onside kick team is different than the usual kickoff team, and that some players who may be on both may also have different roles. Heslop, for instance, was playing just his second game of the season after being elevated off the practice squad. Josh Johnson, who lined up to the right of Bellore, was playing in his first NFL game. Also, the ball was shaded to the left side making it tempting for the players on the right to inch that way a little bit.
Izzo also said it was hard to see the misalignment as the play was developing — but Seattle had no timeouts to stop the play even if it had been noticed.
“That is a unique play where we do some different things with guys in terms of moving them where they are not normally aligned, the spacing is a little different, and so we just lost a little bit of the details with that play,” Izzo said.
And that, Izzo said, is the lesson to be learned.
“It’s just another example of just the attention to detail that we’ve always got to have every week,” said Izzo.
But Izzo, who played in the NFL for 14 years and won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and became the Seahawks’ permanent special-teams coordinator this year, said he’s learned a lesson, as well.
“In defense of our guys, we rep it every week and it’s never been an issue,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job. I’m going to take it on me to make sure we are all on the same page prior to that play, so take it out of the players’ hands. Take it out of their minds. I’ve got to do a better job of making it easier for our guys. And that’s what I told them.”
Lewis sits out, Penny and Homer practice
The Seahawks had a light injury report Thursday with just one player sitting out — starting left guard Damien Lewis — and only four others listed as limited.
Lewis, who missed the WFT game with an elbow injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday with Carroll saying signs were positive he could return this week, but was out on Thursday with a designation of elbow/NIR-medical (NIR meaning not-injury-related).
Listed as limited were three other offensive linemen — Kyle Fuller, who started in place of Lewis against WFT with an ankle injury; and right guard Gabe Jackson (knee) and right tackle Brandon Shell (shoulder). Also limited was RB Alex Collins (abdomen).
But everyone else on the 53-man roster was a full participant, including running backs Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer, who each sat out the WFT game.
The injuries to each helped compel Seattle to sign Adrian Peterson to the practice squad. But if they can play, the Seahawks may have some interesting decisions to make on who to have active at running back for Sunday’s game against the 49ers.