In a 24-17 loss to Chicago, QB Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll made critical errors that helped waste a surprisingly effective performance by an undermanned defense.
Looking at chances for the shorthanded Seahawks against the Bears Monday night, I was reminded of the trenchant mission assessment provided by Dan Aykroyd’s character in a parallel bit of cinematic theater set in Chicago, The Blues Brothers.
“There’s 106 miles to Chicago,” Elwood told John Belushi’s Jake as they sat in a car. “We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
Said Jake: “Hit it!”
The Seahawks hit it.
Only the engine snapped its bolts and fell to the pavement. No rescue. No completed mission from God. No Aretha singing about respect.
The dark glasses never came off the offense until it was too late.
After the the 24-17 loss (box) on a warm evening at Soldier Field, the Seahawks are 0-2 and hardly the darlings of Monday night anymore.
“Very difficult to take, last week and this week,” said coach Pete Carroll. “We ain’t used to this.”
Yet . . . as far back as spring, when the NFL schedule was released, road losses in Denver and Chicago for a team churning its roster and coaching staff seemed understandable to the point of near inevitability.
It’s the way they reached the bottom of the early NFL season that is so surprising: A heavily invested offense is often helpless, while the defense, eviscerated by departure of stars, is punching above its weight.
QB Russell Wilson, still having moments of greatness (a 99-yard scoring drive, as well as a perfect teardrop touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett), nevertheless seems stifled by indecision that makes for more frequent ineffectiveness.
He’s been sacked six times in each game, partly because he’s trying to stay put in the pocket instead of following his instincts to flee. The resulting 12 sacks in the first two games is the most in the NFL since Detroit’s Joey Harrington in 2007.
Part of it was the quality of the opposition. Chicago DE Khalil Mack and Denver DE Von Miller might be the two best rushers in the game. But Wilson also seems to be feel pressure beyond the opponent.
In pursuit of a tying touchdown inside the final seven minutes, he stared down RB Rashaad Penny on the left sideline before throwing a pass intercepted by CB Prince Amukamara, who returned it 49 yards for a back-breaker of a touchdown and a 24-10 lead.
Afterward, Wilson wasn’t owning up to error.
“He made a great play,” was all he said. Added Carroll: “Prince took a shot at it and stole one. That made the difference.”
The pick six was his first since 2012, his rookie year.
Also feeling pressure was Carroll, the architect of the remodel that would restore order and silence criticism from some of his former players. Carroll took responsibility for some poor playcalling that pulled away from the promised restoration of the run game.
Over a stretch of the second and third quarters, the Seahawks called pass plays 14 times in a row despite the fact that the running game showed up better than in the opener in Denver. The Seahawks were trailing just 10-3 when Carroll apparently panicked and overrode his playcaller, new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“My fault — I tried too hard,” he said. “We wanted to do better than we did. In the third quarter,I got us to take a couple of shots and look at a couple of things and it got (Schottenheimer) out of rhythm a little bit . . . I shouldn’t have done that.”
After a smart, two-minute drill that necessarily was all by air to produce at halftime a 56-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, the Seahawks went three-and-out on the first two possessions of the third quarter.
In the next possession, down 17-3, Carroll calmed down, calling five runs to go with five passes that covered 75 yards and concluded with the 19-yard dream throw to Lockett into tight coverage at the back of the end zone.
But even that drive was odd — they did it without starting RB Chris Carson, who had 24 yards on six carries in the first half and never lined up for a scrimmage play again despite no injury. They went to rookie Rashaad Penny four times and once to Mike Davis because Carson was over-used on special teams filling in for injured starters.
“He was a little gassed working on special teams,” Carroll said. “We had several guys out, so he had to double-dip.”
Results on the defensive side were unexpectedly better. The Bears rushed for only 86 yards and second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky had a rating of 56.6 after throwing interceptions on consecutive series to CB Shaquill Griffin. Trubisky threw little but short routes and screens, his longest completion only 17 yards.
In the absence of injured linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, making their first career starts for Seattle were MLB Austin Calitro and WLB Mychal Kendricks. Another newbie was CB Akeem King, subbing for injured Tre Flowers, himself a third-stringer due to earlier injuries to Byron Maxwell and Dontae Johnson.
Wright and Wagner have a good chance to return next week for the home opener against Dallas.
“We’re excited to see some of our guys come back next week; we need them,” Carroll said. “We need to get better. The second half, we got a lot better, but it was too late.”
It’s not too late for the season, but since 2007, teams starting 0-2 have made the playoffs only 11 percent of the time.
Unless the Seahawks find a way to unlock the old Wilson, they may fulfill the cockeyed wisdom long ago expressed by Yogi Berra: Iit gets late early here.