The Seahawks put up a season low in offensive yards after appearing to turn the corner the previous two games. Seattle’s defense, meantime, kept the team in it after the first two possessions.
TAMPA, Fla. — The good news for the Seahawks Sunday?
Everyone else in the NFC West lost, meaning Seattle’s three-game lead on the rest of the division was safe no matter what happened against Tampa Bay.
The bad news?
Pretty much everything else as the Seahawks turned in a performance that, instead of reinforcing the team’s lead in the NFC West, made getting the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs a much harder proposition.
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Seattle fell to 7-3-1, two-and-a-half games behind surging Dallas and now only a half-game ahead of NFC North and South leaders Detroit and Atlanta. (At least the tie will make it easy to sort out tiebreakers this year.)
This was a game that mostly revived Jim Mora’s famous “playoffs?” line, with this edition of the Seahawks hardly seeming ready for a long postseason run.
Every bad thing that happened to Seattle Sunday began up front with a line that was as young as any the team has ever assembled.
The Seahawks started three rookies on the offensive line, with Joey Hunt getting the nod at center in place of Justin Britt (out with a sprained ankle) to go along with the already-starting George Fant at left tackle and Germain Ifedi at right guard.
Seattle then shook up things further, replacing Garry Gilliam with Bradley Sowell following the first series.
Everybody, though, appeared to struggle, with the Seahawks allowing a season-high six sacks and Carroll diplomatically saying when asked if the protection was the main reason Seattle managed just 118 passing yards, “that surely factored in.”
The receivers, though, were hardly blameless. Carroll said Paul Richardson needed “to continue coming in on the route” on a Russell Wilson pass that was picked off late in the first half to kill a possible scoring drive. And tight end Jimmy Graham fumbled away a chance at a field goal when upended late in the fourth quarter.
The running game was also no great shakes. Thomas Rawls had 38 yards on 12 carries and while Carroll said he ran hard “he missed a couple of big opportunities when he had big space and kind of lost his footing a bit.”
Wilson’s running was the lone bright spot — he had 80 yards rushing, more than the 79 for the season he had coming into the game. But the bad news is that many came out of necessity. “Russell was running all over the place back there,” Carroll said.
Wilson also just seemed a bit off with a few throws on a day when he had a 38.8 passer rating, his lowest other than a 38.7 early in the 2012 season at San Francisco.
And everything contributed to Seattle going 1 for 11 on third down, missing on the first 10, as the Seahawks managed just a lone field goal after having scored 88 points the previous three weeks.
After giving up long touchdown drives on the Bucs’ first two possessions, the defense settled down and not only held Tampa Bay scoreless the rest of the game but essentially was to credit for all the points Seattle got as well as keeping hope alive with the two late forced turnovers — the Bucs didn’t score on their last nine drives.
But Seattle’s defensive players were hardly soothed by that afterward, focusing on the rugged beginning.
“That’s not like us to go out and give up 14 points back-to-back like that,” said end Cliff Avril.
While Seattle played without Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and DeShawn Shead, the overall results indicated their replacements — notably Steven Terrell, getting his first career start in place of Thomas — held up OK.
Mostly, the Seahawks found a way to keep Tampa Bay’s stellar receiver — Mike Evans — in check after the first quarter. He had four catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter but had just four for 42 the rest of the way. Richard Sherman was beaten for the second touchdown, but Evans’ first three catches all appeared to come against a zone defense.
Standouts included Bobby Wagner (10 tackles and now at 118 for the season), K.J. Wright (a big play to stop a Tampa Bay drive at the end of the first half and allow the clock to run out), Kam Chancellor (a late interception), Frank Clark (who drew a hold that led to a safety) and Cliff Avril (two of the team’s three quarterback hits).
If there was a failing, it was a consistent inability to get to Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston, whose mobility and pocket awareness were stellar.
Jon Ryan’s 48-yard punt that pinned the Bucs at the 4 early in the second quarter proved critical. Clark’s safety came two plays later to make it 14-2 and the Seahawks then drove for a field goal on the possession following the kick to make it 14-5.
But otherwise, the special teams had a mundane day. Tyler Lockett decided to return a punt from inside the 10 and was immediately tackled at the 7 in the fourth quarter, one of three straight Seattle second-half drives that began inside the Tampa Bay 9. Seattle’s average drive start was its own 21 compared to Tampa Bay’s 33.