An exhausted defense finally faded for the Seahawks, and the offense couldn’t do enough to pick up the slack as the Saints held off Seattle 25-20 in New Orleans.

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NEW ORLEANS — Maybe victory was closer for the Seahawks at the end Sunday than it should have been, given how so much of the day went.

The Seahawks were outrushed 123-74 by a team known mostly for its passing attack. They gave up nine third-down conversions in 15 attempts. And they scored just one offensive touchdown — and now have just one in the last nine quarters.

On the surface, what was ultimately a 25-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints might have seemed to indicate more cracks in the foundation for a team still considered a Super Bowl favorite.

Coach Pete Carroll, though, noted some of the current hardships — playing without the likes of Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and Thomas Rawls, and with Russell Wilson still not 100 percent — and said his expectations for this season haven’t wavered.

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“If we keep hanging in, we are going to really get good here and we are going to play some really good football, too,” Carroll said.

Sunday, though, was one when a few too many of the team’s warts again showed through.

OFFENSE

While some of the final stats look OK — 359 yards, the second-best of the season, and a season-high 6.6 yards per play — they have to be considered in the context of the opponent. The Saints came into the game 29th in the NFL in total defense (403.8 yards per game) and last in points allowed (32.5).

Seattle also move the ball only in fits and starts, and was at its best at the end of each half. Asked why, Wilson said the team maybe had more of a sense of “urgency” during the two-minute drives and once it fell behind.

The running game was hugely sporadic, with the Seahawks held to three yards on three carries in the first half, then getting 41 on the first five plays of the second half, and then just 30 on nine attempts the rest of the game.

Still, a 4.4 yards per carry average was the best of the season, possibly indicating that as Wilson’s mobility improves — his 11 yards on three carries was the best since before he hurt his knee against the 49ers — so will the rushing attack. C.J. Prosise also had some nice moments with 23 yards rushing and leading all receivers with 80 yards on four receptions, 43 on the double-pass from Tanner McEvoy that led to Seattle’s only offensive touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

Wilson had his least efficient passing day of the season, 22 of 34 for 253 yards and a critical second-quarter interception that got the Saints back in the game quickly.

Jimmy Graham had a less productive homecoming than he surely hoped, with just three catches on five targets for 34 yards. Doug Baldwin was also oddly quiet until the final series, when he had two catches for 31 yards, finishing with four for 51.

Christine Michael had 40 yards on 10 carries but also a killer penalty for a false start at the 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter.

One positive for the offensive line was the play of rookie left tackle George Fant, making his first start at any level since junior high. He had two early penalties but seemed to acquit himself well enough the rest of the way.

GRADE: C-minus.

DEFENSE

The defense had a tough task heading in, trying to rebound from the 90 snaps of last Sunday night.

But for much of the game, the defense appeared ready to win the game by itself with Cliff Avril forcing a fumble that was returned by Earl Thomas for an early touchdown (Avril also had a sack and a deflected pass, and has 5.5 sacks in the past three games.)

And the Seahawks had two more gutsy goal-line stands, holding the Saints to field goals on drives to the 4 and 1. Bobby Wagner and Ahtyba Rubin were among standouts on those stands.

But the defense seemed to fade a little late, allowing a third 100-yard rusher this season (Tim Hightower, 102 on 26 carries), something that didn’t happen once last year. The absences of Bennett and Chancellor were surely felt, though replacements Frank Clark (six tackles, one sack) and Kelcie McCray (10 tackles) again played well.

And then there were all those penalties — Seattle had five on defense with four resulting in first downs. And Seattle again had trouble getting off the field on third down — the Saints were 9 of 15 after Arizona was 10 of 21.

GRADE: B.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Tyler Lockett appeared a little more spry than in past weeks and had a 37-yard kickoff return in the first half that was his longest of the season.

Jon Ryan couldn’t handle a snap on a potential 56-yard field goal to end the first half and was forced to throw the ball away. The Seahawks again covered well.

GRADE: B.