Against a backdrop of tragedy, Seahawks and Rams did the best they could by playing a wonderful game. The Rams did a little better.
One way to look at the events of Sunday afternoon in the Coliseum is that among the beleaguered people of Southern California who were able to seek a three-hour respite from despair, the Seahawks and Rams provided distraction with some splendid entertainment. The Rams won. Good for all concerned.
Another way to look at it was on the level of an ordinary NFL week, where dreams get fulfilled and dashed with metronomic regularity. The Seahawks, for the second week in a row, were in the dashed category. Compared to fire and massacre, it was trivial. They knew it, all observers knew it, but there was solace in the ordinary when so much was incomprehensible.
For Seahawks fans, however, the ordinary was too familiar — against a formidable opponent, trailing late in a game within reach, yet not graspable. The intense 36-31 loss (box), like a 25-17 defeat by the Los Angeles Chargers a week earlier in Seattle, was a gut punch to playoff chances, which had been a reasonable ambition after winning four out of five games.
Now 4-5 with a short week of work ahead of a Thursday night home game against Green Bay (4-4-1), the post-season is a long shot. But coach Pete Carroll would have none of that. Speaking rapidly and animatedly, even for him, his urgent appeal to pride seemed as if he wanted to will away the outcomes to see only the upside.
“Our competitiveness will give us a chance to do something special if we keep hanging, if we keep believing,” he said. “That’s our message. There’s no negatives coming out of this thing. There’s always opportunity to do better.
“Just seeing the truth of who we are. I can’t wait to get this thing going again.”
A good chunk of Carroll’s enthusiasm was deserved. Despite missing via injuries their leading rusher, RB Chris Carson, and top O-line tough guy, RG D.J. Fluker, the Seahawks amassed a remarkable 273 yards rushing, 83 more than they had against the Rams a month earlier when LA barely won in Seattle, 33-31.
That’s some serious truth. It was the most ground yardage by the Seahawks since 2014 against the New York Giants (320). More surprisingly, the leading rusher was rookie RB Rashaad Penny, the nearly invisible first-round draft choice who had 108 yards on 12 carries.
Downright astonishing was the fact that he ran behind someone named Jordan Simmons, Fluker’s replacement, of whom 99.9 percent of the 12s had not heard prior to Sunday.
In his first pro game after being cut Sept. 2 by, ahem, Oakland, where he wandered about for a year on the practice squad after signing as an undrafted free agent out of USC, Simmons started and drew Rams titans Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
That’s like taking your first training-wheels bicycle ride at the Indianapolis 500.
“Unbelievable job by Jordan today,” Carroll said. “He played the whole game (having) never played before. Stepping up there was fantastic. We wanted to make sure we had a big, solid guy (6-foot-4, 339 pounds) who could hold up in there against their big guys. We thought he would be the best fit for this match-up.
“He has all of the right stuff to be a good player, he just hasn’t had the consistency in his background to show a lot. We could see it. Everything he’s done, he’s done really well. He hasn’t had much work with us, either. We gave him shot and he came through.”
Behind the newbies, the Seahawks scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, a seasonal first. Remember a year ago how wretched was the Seashawks’ offense in the early going? Sunday, 10 plays produced 86 yards on the first drive, five plays for 75 yards on the second. On the road, against a good defense that knew what was coming.
Carroll likely could not have been more proud of a seasonal football development.
“Doesn’t matter who (the opposition has) up front there,” he said. “Great to see Rashaad bust out like that. But that doesn’t surprise us. Chris has done it, Mike (Davis, 11 carries, 58 yards) has done it.
“The whole thing has fit together where we can show that consistency.”
Included was 92 yards on nine carries by Wilson, by far his best rushing day. Wilson had a great feel for the Rams’ hyper-aggressive pass rush that did not place a spy on him.
“Incredible game by Russ to keep running and make things happen, keeping us in it,” Carroll said. “They’re wasn’t anybody on the field who didn’t bust their ass today.”
There was, however, a critical breakdown by Wilson and the O-line that produced the game’s decisive play.
With 6:15 left in the game and trailing 29-24, Wilson dropped back for a pass on third-and-3 at the Seattle 32-yard line. DE Dexter Fowler, who earlier helped sustain two Seahawks scoring drives with personal fouls, got around Duane Brown, strip-sacked Wilson and recovered the fumble at the nine-yard line. One play later, WR Brandin Cooks scored on a nine-yard run to put the Rams up 36-24.
The Seahawks subsequently went 90 yards on 12 plays and scored on Wilson’s three-yard pass to Davis with 1:56 left. When the defense forced a three-and-out, thanks in part to deploying three timeouts, the Seahawks got the ball back with 1:24 left.
The master of the fourth-quarter-winning rally was in charge.
But just as in the Chargers game, the master came up short. Seven plays reached the LA 35, where the drive expired when Wilson’s final throw sailed out of bounds over the head of WR Tyler Lockett.
“Everyone was confident and (the Rams) were a little nervous too,” Wilson said. “We’ve won a lot or games in the fourth quarter, a lot of tough moments. When you have late-game success, people believe.
“You’re not going to do it every time, but you believe you’re going to do it more times than not.”
Just not the past two times. Carroll admitted it was hard to take. Asked if he thought the Seahawks were better than 4-5, he said, “I do. I really do. I’ve been feeling that since we got going, about week four. We started figuring out what we’re about.
“I love the way we’re playing.”
Everyone who watched had to conclude the sprawling brawl, speckled with fights, scrums and unpleasant language, was compelling theater. Especially with the backdrop of tragedy.
Wilson wore a jacket to to his presser with the word Malibu on it. The oceanfront enclave had numerous homes damaged or destroyed by fire, including friends of Wilson and his entertainer wife, Ciara.
“There’s a lot going on in th LA area. A tough time,” he said. “You wake up in the morning and never expect that to happen. People losing their homes and all their stuff. That’s tough.
“One way to overcome is with love, with service to each other. Today I was trying to honor (with the jacket) people who lost their homes, or were shot and killed. Tough things going on in the world.”
The Seahawks and Rams did what they could.
“We played a great football game today, they played a great football game today,” he said. “They made one or two plays more than us.”
It was a small thing. A thing well done.