They wouldn’t be Pete Carroll-era Seahawks — teams that have long thrived on the slow start and the fast finish — if they made things easy on themselves.
And so it is that in a year when Seattle turned the tables a little by getting off to one of the best starts in team history, these Seahawks suddenly have, as Carroll put it after the 23-16 defeat Sunday against the Rams, “a lot of work to do.’’
Indeed they do, having blown a chance over the past month to run away with the NFC West, and now left in a dogfight with seven games remaining.
In four weeks, the Seahawks have gone from being the last undefeated team in the NFC at franchise-best 5-0, to a team that is now 6-3 and officially tied for first in the NFC West, but that if the playoffs began today would be clinging to the seventh seed in the conference due to tiebreakers — and lucky that the NFL this year expanded the playoffs to add that extra playoff team.
Seattle fell into that predicament by dropping its third game in four weeks, this one to the Rams in Los Angeles. This time, though, doing it in something of a total team effort.
While the defense allowed a season-low in points, it also allowed the Rams to score on four of their first six drives, each of 70 yards or longer, to take a 23-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
But this time, when the defense stiffened late to force three consecutive punts, the offense couldn’t respond, held to just three field goals on its final nine drives of the game.
That was due in large part to what was, all things considered, the worst game of Russell Wilson’s season as he threw two interceptions — the first a rather inexplicable one in the end zone when Seattle had a chance to tie the game in the second quarter — and for the first time all year, not a single touchdown pass (in fact, he’d thrown at least two in every other game). He also had a fumble and now has 10 turnovers in the past four games, all occurring in Seattle’s defeats.
“We have to not give stuff up,’’ Carroll said.
It was Carroll, though, who some felt might have given up on his offense when he called for the punt team to come in with Seattle facing fourth-and-inches at its own 42 on the first possession of the third quarter, the Seahawks trailing just 17-13.
The punt came after Carroll challenged the spot on a Wilson run on third down, and after the Seahawks tried to draw the Rams offside and then took a delay-of-game penalty.
In a normal season, such a decision would be far less controversial.
But in a year when the Seahawks are on pace to allow the most yards in NFL history, it put a sense of dread into the team’s fan base, which could have predicted what would happen next — the Rams driving 88 yards for a touchdown to take a 23-13 lead. Seattle never got closer than one possession until a field goal with less than a minute left.
Carroll said later he felt making the Rams go the long field was the smarter way to go, that failing to convert the fourth down would have been like a turnover.
But with Seattle coming into the game leading the NFL in scoring, that raised the question of what held better odds — the Seahawks getting a foot or so on offense, or the defense stopping the Rams.
“It wasn’t worth giving them the football as well as they had done in the first half there,’’ Carroll said. “I didn’t mind getting them the ball inside the 10-yard line. And we’ll go play defense back there. … There’s too many opportunities to give them that advantage. What if they took the ball and went down and scored right there? Then the game feels like it’s lopsided and you’re way behind it.’’
Wilson said he thought “it can go either way. … But at the same time, we’re on the other side of the field. So I don’t think it was a bad decision.’’
What was bad, Wilson said, was his decision to throw a pass to tight end Will Dissly in the end zone on a second-and-five from the Rams 22 late in the second quarter after Jamal Adams had forced a fumble by Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff.
Wilson took off running and appeared to have enough space to maybe even score before he pulled up and threw across the field to Dissly. Rams cornerback Darious Williams instead picked the ball off and the Seahawks didn’t get inside the Los Angeles 40 again until a final, futile series.
“I should have ran it,’’ said Wilson who also threw an interception to Williams trying to hit Greg Olsen on a third-and-nine play in the fourth quarter and lost a fumble when he tried to retrieve a low snap from fill-in center Kyle Fuller, which came on third-and-eight.
Those two plays could be excused somewhat as Wilson trying to salvage bad situations though Wilson was hard on himself later, saying, “I think I’ve just got to get better. I’m not going to make it overly complicated. It’s not on anybody but me and I put it on my shoulders and we’ll get it fixed.’’
On this day, the misplays stood out even more because the Seahawks couldn’t move it like they usually do, with DK Metcalf held to two catches for 28 yards on four targets while usually guarded by All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and the running game again without the injured Chris Carson.
“Disappointed in this game and that we didn’t improve in some areas from last week,’’ said Carroll, referring to the 44-34 defeat at Buffalo when Wilson lost four turnovers and the defense also got swamped early as the Seahawks dug a big hole they could never fully escape.
Making a bad day worse, just as the Seattle game was going final, Arizona beat Buffalo on a miraculous DeAndre Hopkins touchdown catch in the final seconds, meaning the Cardinals will come to Seattle on Thursday with a chance to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC West, and send the Seahawks into sole possession of third.
Or, in the more optimistic view, Seattle gets the victory, moves right back into first, and begins to restore order, knowing it then plays only one team in its final six games that has a winning record.
Carroll, though, said the Seahawks first have to take care of some of their own business.
“We’ve got to get our act together,’’ Carroll said. “We’ve just got to get better.’’