The excruciating overtime loss to the Bengals was the fifth time in seven games the Seahawks let a fourth-quarter lead disappear.
CINCINNATI — They are looking like impostors. The time-worn script that has served the Seahawks so well suddenly is spewing out convoluted, forlorn endings. The team we’ve known and loved too often seems foreign and profoundly frustrating.
Who are these guys, and what happened to the Seattle team that always figured out a way to win? What happened to the unit that prided itself, above all else, on its ability to close, to snap its jaws around a lead and drag it to the finish line, no matter the obstacles in its way?
“We feel exactly like ourselves,’’ cornerback Richard Sherman countered.
Maybe internally. But externally, the Seahawks have lost their vaunted capacity to will their way to victory — the quality that most defined them. Their double-barreled formula for the highest success — a quarterback who invariably forged a path through any and all forms of adversity, and a defense that always bailed them out — was not operational Sunday. Not when it mattered most.
SEAHAWKS AT BENGALS »
The Seahawks’ excruciating 27-24 defeat against the Bengals in overtime was a particularly painful variation on an increasingly troubling theme. For the fifth time in seven games — including the Super Bowl and NFC title game last season — the Seahawks let a fourth-quarter lead disappear. And in all but the NFC title game, they wound up losing.
“We just have to get our mojo back,’’ defensive end Cliff Avril said.
And that’s the most maddening part, the macabre twist that had Pete Carroll using the same word — “baffling” — multiple times in his postgame news conference: For much of the game, the Seahawks’ mojo had returned with a vengeance.
All week, some players said, the Seahawks had a sense they were ready to bust out. Coming off victories against overmatched teams, their practices were crisp, the mood focused.
Then, for three quarters, they put together the game that everyone had been awaiting. Facing an unbeaten Bengals team, they established the running game, with rookie Thomas Rawls doing an able imitation of Marshawn Lynch, who didn’t make the trip.
An offensive line that had been sieve-like suddenly was giving quarterback Russell Wilson ample protection, and he was riddling the Bengals secondary. The Seahawks’ defense was familiarly opportunistic, grabbing its first interception of the season and forcing a fumble that turned into an instant score.
“We had that feeling like we were electric tonight — all the way up through the third quarter,’’ Wilson said.
The Seahawks’ lead built to 24-7, silencing a Cincinnati crowd that had been raucous. It looked every bit like they were on their way to a galvanizing, season-resetting victory. Until it didn’t.
“It’s extremely frustrating, knowing how talented we are, knowing how good we are, knowing how poised we can be in those moments, and not to finish,’’ wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “Not to pull it out. Not to be successful in the moments we train so hard to be.”
Safety Earl Thomas made the inscrutable observation that, “It was a weird energy today. It wasn’t the same type of energy that we’re used to. I don’t know what was behind it, but it was different.”
The Seahawks’ energy was palpable after Bobby Wagner’s 23-yard fumble return gave them a 17-point lead with 6:41 to play in the third quarter. But that’s when their mojo turned malicious.
Cincinnati’s pass rush on Wilson intensified, and he didn’t handle it with aplomb. Wilson seemed at times to react to pressure that hadn’t yet materialized, and the offense floundered.
The defense, meanwhile, allowed Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton to carve it up for two touchdowns, and two more drives that led to field goals. One was hastily kicked as regulation time ran out, the other caroming off the left goal post and through for a Bengals victory that left the Seahawks thoroughly befuddled.
“It’s very tough, especially when you leave the game and you’re kind of scratching your head like, ‘What just happened?’ ” Thomas said. “We have to step on their throat when we have them down.”
“I think everyone here is kind of at a loss for words,’’ tight end Luke Willson added. “Because that’s a game 99 times out of 100 we walk away with.”
But that’s now three times out of five this season they haven’t, which makes you wonder if this is the new normal for the Seahawks. Certainly, the onus is on the Seahawks to show they can transform their season, as they did last year after a sluggish 3-3 start.
“We’re not dead and gone,’’ Carroll insisted. “We don’t feel like that at all. We just need to fix things, and I think we can.”
But this was a lost opportunity for the Seahawks, and a huge one at that, though Sherman didn’t see it that way.
“It’s just as big as the rest of them,’’ he said with a shrug. “They’re all the same size.”
Perhaps so, but the challenge facing the Seahawks is growing larger and more challenging. They had a golden opportunity to show that they are as mentally strong as past Seahawks teams in their ability to forestall potential problems, and withstand actual ones. But they let it, like their lead, fritter away.
“There were a lot of good things today, but it doesn’t feel right to leave like this,’’ Carroll said.
The Seahawks need to regain their knack for closing. They need to become the Seattle Seahawks again. Or risk that Seahawk name losing the luster and aura it once carried.
|Know when to hold ’em?|
|Including last season’s Super Bowl, the Seahawks have lost a fourth-quarter lead in four of their last six games, with last week’s game against the Lions nearly becoming the fifth.|
|Game||Fourth-quarter lead||How it ended||Comment|
|Super Bowl XLIX||24-14, start of period||28-24, Patriots||Painful ending familiar, but memory of Brady carving up defense not much better.|
|Week 1 vs. Rams||31-24, 4:39 left||34-31, Rams (OT)||Blown coverage in final minute led to fateful overtime.|
|Week 2 vs. Packers||17-16, start of period||27-17, Packers||Rodgers completed all his passes in the quarter.|
|Week 3 vs. Bears||20-0, start of period||26-0, Seahawks||This one was never in doubt.|
|Week 4 vs. Lions||13-3, start of period||13-10, Seahawks||Thank goodness for Chancellor, but would it have been different if Wright penalty is called?|
|Week 5 vs. Bengals||24-7, start of period||27-24, Bengals (OT)||A potentially season-defining win turns into a perplexing loss.|