PITTSBURGH — The first impression of the Seahawks in the post-Russell Wilson era looked pretty much like so many games during the Wilson era itself — a ghastly beginning followed by a breathtaking finish.
On Saturday night, after falling behind early by 14 points only to then tie the game, Seattle came up just short, a 32-25 defeat against the Steelers in which Pittsburgh scored the winning touchdown with three seconds left in what was the preseason opener for both teams.
“I love the way the game came back to us and we ran it all the way to the finish,’’ Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
What he didn’t like was some shoddy tackling that helped lead to an early 14-0 deficit, which was due in part to a defense that played without six listed starters, including all four in the secondary, notably the safety duo of Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs.
“The glaring part of the game was the tackling was poor,’’ Carroll said. “We didn’t wrap guys up and we didn’t finish things off the way that we need to.’’
But Carroll liked much of what he saw, including what were overall solid performances by quarterbacks Geno Smith and Drew Lock, who in what is the biggest story of Seattle’s preseason remain in a tight competition to succeed Wilson — and whose play likely didn’t make the final decision any easier.
Smith played the entire first half and led a late drive in the second quarter to get Seattle back in the game. Lock then played the entire second half and led two touchdown drives to get the Seahawks into a 25-25 tie early in the fourth quarter.
But given a chance to play the hero in his first game in a Seahawks uniform with the ball at the Steelers’ 47 after a Boye Mafe sack of Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett on fourth down, Lock fumbled on the next play when hit by Pittsburgh’s Mark Robinson, who came in untouched over the right side. The Steelers recovered at the 43 and then needed just five plays to score the winning touchdown on a Pickett 24-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns.
Lock took full blame for the play, saying he needed to make a change at the line of scrimmage to either get Robinson blocked or make sure he got rid of the ball more quickly.
“I could have handled that better,’’ Lock said, “Could have flipped the pro (protection), could have played a hot (read receiver). As a quarterback, you’re always able to fix those things and I’ll always take it on the chest and I could have been better there.’’
But until then, Lock — who again worked solely behind the No. 2 offensive line — turned in his second consecutive game that was statistically better than that of Smith, the other coming last Saturday in Seattle’s mock game at Lumen Field.
Lock, who played the entire second half, was 11 of 15 passing for 102 yards with two touchdowns and a 131.1 passer rating while Smith, who played the entire first half behind the No. 1 offensive line, was 10 of 15 for 101 yards and no touchdowns and an 85.7 passer rating.
But as Carroll noted, Smith had two passes dropped and another that could have been a completion if tight end Noah Fant had gotten two feet in bounds when it appeared he had the room to do so.
“Both quarterbacks were efficient, really,’’ Carroll said. “Geno could have (started out) 10 for 10. He had two drops and Noah’s got to stay in bounds on the ball on the sidelines and he hits them all. We moved the ball around pretty good with Drew also. So can’t wait to get after the film and all that.”
The drops helped lead to a slow start for the offense with Smith at the helm — his first four drives resulted in three punts and a field goal.
But Smith then expertly conducted a two-minute drive when Seattle got the ball back at its own 39 with 1:48 left in the half. Smith was 3 for 5 passing on the march for 36 yards, including a 21-yard completion to Cade Johnson to the 7, and also had two runs for 9 yards — each on third downs — including a 2-yard run for a TD when he took off after seeing intended receiver Colby Parkinson covered.
“That’s a beautiful job,’’ Carroll said. “Just the way you want to do it.’’
Lock then hit Bo Melton on a short pass that turned into a 39-yard gain on his first play in the third quarter, a pass that sparked a nine-play, 73-yard drive that ended with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Dareke Young on third-and-goal.
After a punt, Lock then led another scoring drive, a five-play, 55-yard march that ended in a 17-yard TD pass to running back DeeJay Dallas. On the play, Lock checked the ball down to Dallas after seeing that the Steelers had some downfield receivers covered, the kind of play the Seahawks have been looking for Lock to make.
“He read his way to that,’’ Carroll said. “That was really good. He had to come back to him.’’
The one blemish was Lock’s fumble with Carroll agreeing that it was a play Lock should have avoided.
“We could have handled that better,’’ Carroll said. “I want to get clarification on exactly what the call was up front. It looks like it was a hot off the edge and he needed to see it and he didn’t see it.’’
Still, in general it appeared a night that likely leaves Smith atop the quarterback derby, but with Lock still right on his heels.
“Both QBs did a good job,’’ said offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. “Geno, that two-minute drive coming in and then Drew being out the first half and coming out and competing. Both guys did a good job staying in and learning from each scenario that was happening.’’
Smith lamented some plays that got away early on but said, “I felt great out there. I felt like my decision-making was on point with seeing things well. They had a few good blitzes and things of that nature but I was able to get the ball out of my hands when I needed to.’’
Asked where he thinks things stand, Lock said, “You know, my brain hasn’t gotten to that yet. I’m still fresh out of the shower and still buzzing about this game in my head and I don’t think I’ll let it get there until officially I’ve been told what the answer is.’’
That’s not likely to come until after the last of Seattle’s three preseason games — the Seahawks play Thursday at Lumen Field against Chicago and then on Aug. 26 at Dallas.
“As it turned out, for both guys that was a good outing because they had a lot of pressure on them to have to get things done,’’ Carroll said. “We’re coming from behind and drives to go ahead and all that kind of stuff. I’m anxious to see how it looks when we break it down. But those were the kind of options we were looking forward to see how the guys were doing.’’