But Carroll and Seahawks players said they don’t question their resolve and ability to turn around the season.

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CINCINNATI — It was a game that left Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and his players with nothing but questions.

How could a 17-point lead built on the shoulders of three of the Seahawks’ best quarters all season slip away so suddenly, resulting in a 27-24 overtime defeat against the Bengals?

How could a team that for the past three seasons has had one of the more fearsome defenses in NFL history be so vulnerable at the most critical times? Sunday was the third game this season that the Seahawks let a fourth-quarter lead turn into a defeat.

And how could a team expecting to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl find itself at 2-3?

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Carroll said the blame “starts with me,’’ but added he wasn’t sure what went wrong.

“I’m baffled a little bit,’’ he said of a game that ranked as the largest blown lead by the Seahawks in his six years as coach, and first time since a 2004 loss to St.Louis that Seattle had let a 17-point lead get away.

But Carroll and Seahawks players said they don’t question their resolve and ability to turn around the season.

Many noted the Seahawks were 3-3 last season before winning nine of the last 10 to finish with the No. 1 NFC playoff seed. Carroll said he thinks the team this season is “closer’’ to where it needs to be than it was last season when it was 3-3.

“Look, we’re not anywhere like we are dead and gone,’’ Carroll said. “We don’t feel like that at all. We’ve just got some things we have to get fixed up, and I think we can.

“These guys are forthright, and they are strong individuals, and they will hang together, and they will work to get it done. The baffling part is that we played so well for three quarters.’’

There is no doubt about that.

After letting Cincinnati, which entered the week ranked second in the NFL in total yards per game, drive 86 yards for a touchdown on its first drive, the Seahawks played like the team that allowed the fewest points in the NFL the past three seasons.

A key was having cornerback Richard Sherman follow Bengals star receiver A.J. Green instead of staying solely on the left side. Green had some early success against Seahawks cornerback Cary Williams.

The next seven Bengals possessions resulted in either punts (five) or turnovers, including a fumble forced by Michael Bennett that Bobby Wagner returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.

“We played three quarters of great football,’’ safety Earl Thomas said.

The offense, playing without starting running back Marshawn Lynch because of a hamstring injury, found a running game. Rookie Thomas Rawls gained 169 yards on 23 carries, including a 69-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Rawls’ run and Wagner’s return came in a span of 1:57 of the third quarter, after which the Seahawks led 24-7.

Then everything shifted.

The Seahawks’ offense got just three more first downs the rest of the game, gaining just 53 yards on its final 25 plays. Carroll said the team did nothing different schematically.

“We felt very good about the line of scrimmage, running the football today,’’ he said. “So we didn’t leave that. We didn’t curl up and not try to throw the football, either. We kept doing what we were doing. But we didn’t convert and make third downs.’’

The defense turned just as quickly.

After allowing just 216 yards through the first three quarters, the Seahawks gave up 203 in the final quarter and overtime. A 35-yard punt return by Adam Jones set up a Bengals’ touchdown to make it 24-14.

After a Seahawks punt, the Bengals moved 71 yards in 11 plays. Quarterback Andy Dalton was 6 of 6 for 60 yards as Cincinnati deviated from its earlier plan of looking deep, instead settling for short- to medium-range plays. Mohamed Sanu had four catches on the drive for 38 yards.

“They had a great game plan in the fourth,’’ Sherman said. “They started to check it down, and Sanu made some great catches.’’

After a Seahawks three-and-out, the Bengals got the ball back with 2:17 left at their 18 and used a 27-yard gain on a pass-interference penalty against Williams and a 25-yard pass to tight end Tyler Eifert to move into range for a field goal, with Mike Nugent hitting a 31-yarder as time expired.

Seattle got the ball twice in overtime but couldn’t move it, and the Bengals then marched the 33 yards needed to get into position for a 42-yard kick by Nugent that clanked off the left goal post and through, sending the Bengals to their first 5-0 start since 1988.

“It’s very, very tough,’’ Thomas said. “Especially when you lead a game, you kind of scratch your head like, ‘What just happened?’ ”

Wagner had a similar answer when asked why the defense has been unable to close out games. The Seahawks led 31-24 at St. Louis in the fourth quarter before losing 34-31 and 17-16 at Green Bay before falling 27-17.

“I really can’t put my finger on it,’’ Wagner said. “I don’t know what’s going on. But I know we have the players to change that, we have the playmakers to get off the field. So I think we will do that.’’

No offense
After building a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter, the Seahawks couldn’t muster much on offense for the rest of the game. How their final six offensive possessions went:
Time of game Plays Net yards First downs Result
5:23 left in third 5 11 1 Punt
0:15 left in third 3 6 0 Punt
12:18 left in fourth 5 18 1 Punt
3:38 left in fourth 3 6 0 Punt
15:00 left in overtime 6 18 1 Punt
9:03 left in overtime 4 Minus-6 0 Punt