Carolina’s final TD pass to TE Greg Olsen captured the disarray in the Seahawks’ defense, which again blew a fourth-quarter lead, and must recover in four days at San Francisco.
Greg Olsen could not have been more alone had he been a gay, immigrant gun control advocate at the Republican national convention. Somehow, Carolina’s No. 1 receiver (seven catches, 131 yards) inexplicably found himself wide open, amid the defense formerly known as the NFL’s most formidable, at the game’s biggest moment Sunday.
Which is the short set-up to explain why the Seahawks are 2-4. They are not dead. But patience is required before detecting fog on the mirror under their noses.
They no longer play defense well enough, long enough to be a credible contender, as the 27-23 home defeat — a startling replication of the previous road loss in Cincinnati — established. Where they used to dominate, the fourth quarter, the Seahawks have been outscored 61-27.
Ahead 23-20 with 2:35 left, they let the Panthers go 80 yards in 1:48 — their fourth drive of 80+ yards, all ending in touchdowns. The final 26 yards came on a pass from QB Cam Newton to Olsen, who found Seahawks safeties playing man-to-man coverage, and the cornerbacks playing zone.
It is a fundamental kind of breakdown, of which the Seahawks have had many.
“We have six games we should have won,” said an exasperated Pete Carroll. “To be where we are right now, puts us in a position of tremendous adversity.”
They could as easily be 1-5, too, but for an improbable goal-line fumble created by SS Kam Chancellor that preserved a 13-10 win over Detroit. In order to duplicate that feat Sunday, a defender needed to be close to Olsen, yet another tight end who is making bank exploiting Seattle defenses.
To hear FS Earl Thomas tell it, mayhem reigned, which is the sort of thing that happens to middling teams that keep them from being top-shelf.
“When stuff is going on, we got to make the right call,” he said of the Panthers’ game-winner, a tight-end seam route somewhat similar to what the Bengals used with great success in the 27-24 OT win. “(Defensive coordinator Kris Richard) said he called L.A. (a cover-2 zone). (Richard) Sherman was playing L.A. I was playing cover-3 (man-to-man) and Kam was also.
“We didn’t get the job done. It’s very frustrating. Especially when, you know, we had ‘em.”
That they did, up 24-13 with 3:58 left. But that’s when Carolina, which had faltered at times with both run and pass, finished their third 80-yard trip to paydirt, including a 32-yard stunner from Newton to Olsen.
The defense at least had one decent excuse — MLB Bobby Wagner did not play because of a pectoral strain. In addition, linebacker backups Brock Coyle (knee) and newcomer Nick Moody (ankle) were also out. Missing from the defensive front were Frank Clark (hamstring) and Jordan Hill (quad strain).
But the offense? They made one lineup change, benching struggling newcomer C Drew Nowak for slightly more experienced Patrick Lewis, welcomed the return of RB Marshawn Lynch, and finally had a big day from TE Jimmy Graham (eight catches, 140 yards).
But the offense managed just two touchdowns, and twice settled for field goals after interceptions gave Seattle great field position. When it came time to save the game, the offense contributed its standard part to the 2015 pattern of failure — an inability to drain the clock.
After one first down, Lynch was penalized for holding. QB Russell Wilson threw incomplete, had a completion for no gain, then was sacked for the fourth time, giving him a league-high 26. Punt with 2:35 left.
Newton, reviving after a miserable 4-for-12 first half, didn’t need all the time, especially with the Seattle defense giving ground as if it were France at the time of the Louisiana Purchase.
Olsen had a hard time believing he was so open at the game’s pivot point.
“It doesn’t happen that much at this level — especially not that open against these guys,” he said. “They cover so much ground and there’s usually bodies around you when you catch the ball.
“We’ll take it.”
Why not? Everyone else has.
Since the time of the ascension of Carroll’s Seahawks teams in 2011, they have never been so disorderly on defense and so feckless on offense. Special teams too, have fallen to ordinariness, due in part to injuries as well as the bizarre car accident this week that caused the suspension of special-teams ace Derrick Coleman.
Now they must turn it all around in four days to play the 49ers Thursday, also 2-4 after their 25-20 win over Baltimore Sunday, on a mess of a Levi’s Stadium field that apparently makes the old Candlestick Park hardpan look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
After the game, Carroll spoke in an urgent, upbeat manner, much in the way of a ship’s captain who orders the band to keep playing after nicking an iceberg.
“I couldn’t be more proud of (the players), because they’re talking about believing, and believing in each other,” he said. “Believing in what we’re here to do, and believing in the process. So that’s why I come in here talking to you like I talk. Because I can feel them.
“We’re going to get it cranked up to go Thursday night, and we see if we can get a game going the way we want to.”
It was Carroll at his Baptist-preacher best. Fans who have followed his Seattle narrative have learned that he usually backs his rhetorical flourish with substance.
As Thomas said, with stuff going on, they got to make the right call.
Quickly. On the road. In the slop. At night, against a battered rival aching for revenge.
The ground is coming up fast.