Damned if you do, Rams if you don’t.
The Seattle Seahawks came into Sunday ready to erase the memory of Super Bowl XLIX and finish things the right way this time. They have a new defensive coordinator, a new tight end and, unfortunately, a new strong safety. Their plan wasn’t perfect – what with Kam Chancellor’s holdout, a reshuffled offensive line that features guys who used to play defensive line and Russell Wilson’s obsession with Nanobubbles – but this was still the most talented team in the NFL, and their opponent was the lowly St. Louis Rams.
A Week 1 victory seemed like a sure thing. Las Vegas thought so. Shoot, Wilson did, too. Seattle was favored by 4.5 points on the road, against a division rival, and their QB was tweeting out 1-0 before the opening kickoff. Even without Chancellor, the Seahawks were healthy on defense and restocked on offense, with the additions of Jimmy Graham, Fred Jackson and Tyler Lockett.
Everything seemed to be going to plan at first, with Lockett taking his first career punt return 57 yards for a touchdown. Including the preseason, he has now had a return touchdown in three of his five games. Then things slowly started to unravel; the Seahawks’ offense was disjointed and unable to get into any sort of a rhythm, and the Rams led 24-13 headed into the fourth.
It’s clear that the defense also had their struggles, with St. Louis seeing something they haven’t in about 15 years: Wide-open receivers. The party would continue like it was 1999 for most of the day, as the Rams put up 352 yards on offense, the most they’ve had against Seattle since the year before Pete Carroll arrived. Whether or not they want to admit it, Chancellor’s absence unquestionably contributed to that, but it was clear that there was something very “off” about the Seahawks’ defense and their fractured Legion of Boom.
However, Carroll also showed why he’s a master of adjustments and Wilson, the lord of comebacks. Seattle ripped off 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including Graham’s first touchdown as a Seahawk, Lynch actually got the ball at the two-yard line for a two-point conversion and the newest member of the Legion, Cary Williams, stripped Rams quarterback Nick Foles of the ball and returned it for the go-ahead score.
At that point, with 4:39 left, the game should have been over. It was the Rams offense versus the vaunted Seahawks defense. Only this is clearly not the Seattle team any of us had become accustomed to watching. Certainly not the one that fell a yard shy of two straight Super Bowl victories.
Never was that clearer than when Dion Bailey, Chancellor’s replacement at strong safety and doing his best to cover tight end Lance Kendricks lined up wide left, slipped on that famous turf and allowed Foles the easiest touchdown pass he’s likely to get all season. Tie game. Overtime.
Steven Hauschka’s kickoff to start the extra session was a microcosm of the whole game. He was told to pooch it, only he did the same thing as Bailey and lost his footing on the turf. The ball traveled only about 12 yards before it was recovered by St. Louis. Everyone watching figured that Carroll was getting cute again, but really, it was just a failure to execute.
And that’s what Seattle did all game long. They failed to execute and weren’t nearly as good as advertised. It would be hard to erase the memory of the Super Bowl now, but they would get one more chance.
After the Rams kicked a field goal on the first drive to take the lead, the Seahawks would need to at least match that to stay alive. They gained 19 yards on the first play of the drive, then eight on the second. Seattle had a first-and-10 at their own 49, but two passes to Doug Baldwin gained just seven yards. Wilson scrambled to pick up two more yards, leaving them in a position they were familiar with but really didn’t want to be.
The Seahawks had a fourth-and-one that they absolutely had to convert if they wanted to have any chance of winning the game.
Who knows if it was running through their heads at the time, but it’s hard to imagine that Carroll, Wilson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell weren’t having Super Bowl flashbacks. Week 1 was supposed to be a chance to start over, but instead it was like a Groundhog Day nightmare – you need one yard and you’ve got one of the best running backs of the 21st century! What are you going to do?!?
Fourth-and-one. Wilson in shotgun. Lynch flanking him to his right. The ball is snapped and Wilson does the one thing that everyone in the world expected him to do in the Super Bowl: He hands it off to Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks lost 34-31. Sure, this is probably just a hiccup; Seattle has lost to the Rams in St. Louis in two of the previous three seasons, and still made the playoffs both times. They got off to a poor start in both 2012 and 2014, and they won playoff games in each of those years. Of course, they still have a lot they need to work on before they head to Green Bay next week to take on the Packers. They’ll need to watch the film, figure out what they did wrong and change it.
After all, look how far sticking to the script got them in Week 1.