After suffering a rib injury in the third quarter, it appeared that Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was having trouble filling his lungs with air. The Seahawks could relate. They spent the whole game unable to breathe.
Yes, that 30-20 loss to Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs Saturday was a 60-minute choke job. It was four quarters of futility — two halves of haplessness.
Facing a quarterback with a broken thumb on his throwing hand and a defense sans its best player for much of the second half, Seattle gave this away like game-show prize money. In an otherwise pristine season, this will go down as a permanent stain.
“I have no place in my brain for this outcome. We were planning on winning and moving on and getting going and playing really good football and doing the stuff we needed to do to win,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Really frustrating to be done. The suddenness of this, there’s nothing like it. And you just have to deal with it.”
The place to start for this screeching halt to the season is the man under center. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had put up modest numbers in the second half of the season and needed to up his game against the NFL’s top defense. He didn’t.
In perhaps his most disappointing playoff game to date, Wilson finished 11 of 27 passing for 174 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. At one point in the fourth quarter, with his team down 30-13, he was 9 of 23 with 134 yards and one TD. His late-game touchdown pass to DK Metcalf that cut the deficit to 10 was essentially irrelevant, as just 2:34 remained.
For all the MVP hype that surrounded him in the early part of the season, Wilson disappointed in the final weeks and disappeared in the final game. True, he was going against a defensive juggernaut in the Rams — who held opponents to 190.7 passing yards per game this season — but greatness is supposed to overcome heralded opponents.
But that didn’t happen Saturday. Not even with the first-team All-Pro Donald out for the better part of the second half. After throwing a pick-six in the first half and enduring five sacks, Wilson walked off the field a first-round loser for the second time in the past three years.
“I hate this feeling obviously,” said Wilson, whose team converted just two of its 14 third-down opportunities. “For us, we just didn’t play our best game. … It was a tough matchup for us today, and we didn’t play great today. I think that was the unfortunate part about it, and the real unfortunate part is that that’s it. That’s the end of the season.”
It wasn’t just the offense that underperformed, though. The defense gave up 23 points to a team whose quarterback situation was as flimsy as floss. After usual backup John Wolford left the game because of a neck injury on the Rams’ second possession, Jared Goff entered the game 12 days after undergoing thumb surgery. He finished just 9 of 19 passing but managed 155 yards and a touchdown pass.
The most glaring missed defensive opportunity for the Seahawks came in the second quarter, when Goff connected with Cooper Kupp on a 44-yard pass. It appeared as though Seattle safety Jamal Adams was in position to intercept the pass, or at least knock it down. But Cupp “Houdini-ed” his way to the catch, which set up a Rams field goal.
“I’m not a person that’s gonna make excuses,” said Adams, who was playing with a torn labrum and two broken fingers. “It was a hell of a grab. Stuff like that happens. Obviously the ball didn’t roll our way on that one.”
The Rams’ real offensive damage, however, came via the run, where Cam Akers racked up 131 yards on 28 carries. The Seahawks finished the regular season fifth in rushing defense, having allowed just 95.6 yards per game, but gave up 164 against the Rams.
The blunders between the lines Saturday also came by way of mistakes between the ears. Down by 10 with 9:33 to go, the Seahawks were set to go for it on fourth-and-one from their 34-yard line, but false-started in a rush to beat the play clock.
Carroll could have used one of his three timeouts to avoid such an outcome but declined, leading to a Seattle punt. The Seahawks stopped the Rams on their next drive, but D.J. Reed fumbled on his punt return, gave the ball back to L.A., then watched the Rams go up by 17 four plays later.
And that was a microcosm of Saturday’s loss — the Seahawks, quite simply, coughed it up.