BY Art Thiel 08:00PM 09/08/2019

Thiel: Bengals blink, Seahawks win by an eyelash

Fortunately for the Seahawks, they have Russell Wilson and the Bengals have Andy Dalton. That’s the main reason the locals did not start the season 0-1.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was sacked four times, this one by Bengals DT Carlos Dunlap. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The Seahawks Sunday had the great good fortune to be facing one of the more notorious non-finishers in the NFL. Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton has an uncanny way of starting the race in a Lamborghini and finishing in a Corvair. Which, truth to tell, is the main reason the Seahawks are not 0-1 after losing at home to a 9½-point underdog.

Dalton threw for a career-high 418 yards with no interceptions, creating a 36-24 advantage in minutes of possession, delivered seven balls for 158 yards to former Huskies star John Ross, and was supported by a stellar defense that held the Seahawks at the Clink to 233 yards of offense.

And they lost, 21-20 (box).

Margins obviously don’t get thinner, but had it been almost any other 31-year-old veteran QB entering his ninth NFL season, the Bengals would have found a way to win.

Instead, the Seahawks emerged ahead. It’s hard to say they “won” it in any way other than the scoreboard, which is the only one that counts. For that, they have to thank QB Russell Wilson, the anti-Dalton.

Wilson inadvertently summarized the distinction between the quarterbacks with one of his usual trite sayings, but on this occasion, it was trenchant.

“When the game’s on the line,” he said, “don’t blink.”

Dalton and the Bengals, 4-12 a year ago with a new coaching staff, blinked. Wilson and the Seahawks avoided the loss.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wilson suckered the Bengals defense with play action, rolled out right and drilled WR Tyler Lockett with a 44-yard touchdown pass for a 21-17 lead.  It was the No. 1 receiver’s only reception of the game, and it was enough.

The Bengals’ final three possessions of the game resulted in a field goal and two punts, plus a one-play clock-out.

“In the end, we just didn’t make the play that got us over the top,” Dalton said. “I mean, we drove the ball well, made a bunch of big plays, long drives . . . we handled the noise well, we handled the weather well.”

They just didn’t have the QB.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, played mostly poorly, as coach Pete Carroll was wont to admit, yet won their 11th home opener in a row.

“It wasn’t the game I hoped it would be,” he said. “I was really surprised we had trouble protecting today. We struggled with our (play-action pass) stuff, which has been really strong. We didn’t get our shots. So it made for a hard day.

“The thing that was great was we played from behind (most) of the day, and we never stopped thinking we were going to win.”

Which is the summary rationale for why they made Wilson in the offseason the game’s highest-paid player.

Lost in all the first-game screw-ups was the fact that Wilson, despite heavy harassment that included four sacks, completed 14 of 20 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns with no picks or fumbles.

On a day when the Seahawks’ touted run game was held to 72 yards and the defense gave up several big plays, Wilson carried the afternoon, barely.

The major storyline of the preseason, improvement in the pass rush, turned in an odd way. DE Ziggy Ansah, listed as questionable Friday, was held out, as was rookie DE L.J. Collier. That left headliner DE Jadeveon Clowney, acquired in a blockbuster trade with Houston a week earlier, to be the main pressure guy in his first Seahawks game.

He batted down a pass early, and had a sack as well as a tackle for loss, but was mostly just there. The Seahawks sacked Dalton four times, hit him four times and batted down three passes, but the Bengals’ commitment to the quick-pass game went largely unanswered by the Seattle defense.

Clowney wasn’t too concerned.

“I felt like I was still knocking the rust off,”  he said, “but I had a good time out there getting going.”

The defender who really had a good time was DE Quinton Jefferson, the afterthought guy who started in the preseason as a place-holder for Ansah.

Jefferson was in on six tackles, had two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and two batted passes.

“He had a terrific game today, definitely the best game he’s had for us,” Carroll said. “We needed every bit of it.”

On offense, all eyes were on rookie second-rounder DK Metcalf, who had four catches (Lockett’s TD was the only other reception by a wideout) for 89 yards. Included was a beauty in the third quarter when Wilson scrambled and lofted a change-up floater over the middle that Metcalf ran under for a tough catch in traffic and a 25-yard gain.

“I don’t know how to explain that pass,” Carroll said. “But it was a great grab for him under duress. That’s a really good start.”

Metcalf also had two penalties, both declined — offensive pass interference and a hold, both likely to be written off to rookie foolishness.

Harder to explain was the afternoon’s most obvious large error — the mistimed jump by third-year FS Tedric Thompson on a deep throw to Ross that became a 55-yard touchdown completion in the second quarter.

This is the first season since 2011 that the Seahawks have opened without All-Pro Earl Thomas as centerfielder. With the arrival of Clowney, free safety is the single biggest personnel mystery.

Thompson’s error in judgment deepened the mystery.

“He’s a terrific ball-hawk guy, and he just misjudged it,” Carroll said. “It was too bad. Never should have happened, obviously.”

But it did. A fair amount of things happened Sunday that shouldn’t have happened, which is to be expected in an opener. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they had Andy Dalton to bail them out.

Next week, it’s Ben Rothlisberger in Pittsburgh, after a blowout loss to to New England Sunday night. Mis-timed jumps likely will be treated with unusual cruelty.

 

 


YourThoughts

  • Tian Biao

    run for no gain on first down, wilson scrambling like crazy on second down, 10 yards to go on third down . . . how familiar it all looked. including a narrow victory pulled out in the fourth quarter. why can’t these guys make it easy on us?

    • art thiel

      Carroll was surprised at the breakdowns too. Perhaps Britt was playing hurt, but Wilson was sacked a career-high 51 times a year ago.

  • Husky73

    Kinda rough on Dalton. He’s a good (and winning) NFL quarterback.

    • art thiel

      He’s not terrible, but that’s been the rap on him for some time. I saw nothing otherwise Sunday.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Andy cut up the Hawk defense, operating underneath. 410 yards is too many to give up to a 4-12 franchise in your home opener. The killing play for Cincy was probably the run call when the Bengals were driving, which produced a holding penalty in addition to no gain. I’d say the run had a 1 in 5 chance of working. Meanwhile Dalton was at 68% through the air. Run into a stacked line with the game up for grabs and you deserve what you get. And most of the time it’s a whole lot of nothin’. It’s a passin’ man’s game and the coach took the game out of Dalton’s hands at that point. i’m still thinking the Hawks are looking at 8-8 or 9-7. I don’t see 10-6 with this tricky schedule. Baltimore looks like a problem.

    • art thiel

      Presumably the pressure will improve with all hands available. But give the Bungles credit for the quick pass game that the Seahawks had no counter for.

  • Will Ganschow

    Maybe this is the one we remember as the one that got us to the playoffs. Gotta play Jefferson. Metcalf answering questions?

    • art thiel

      Metcalf did well, particularly on the well-thrown ball he gathered in traffic at nearly full speed for the 25-yard gain. That told me lots about his hands and concentration.

      • Will Ganschow

        He also had a completion on something other than a straight footrace. Does anyone still use the word Moxie? I think Metcalf has it. Jefferson has earned a longer look.

  • coug73

    Lockett’s drop was a stunner for me. Bengals will win more than 4 games. It’s a no brainer the Hawks pass D needs some serious fine tuning. OL under performed and Wilson was put at risk and running game muted. We won and now the team needs to improve this week. The Steelers away will be a big test.

    • art thiel

      Lockett’s drop was one of numerous errors on offense I would call one-offs. In other words, correctable. And keep in mind the Seahawks under Carroll have usually started slowly.

  • Diamond Mask

    So. Yeah. Absolutely shocked we were a winner in this game. Early on the Bengals defense looked like the old Legion of Boom. My fear is that they’re nowhere near that fearsome which makes our offensive line look like softened butter. Carson looks like he could be effective given the right conditions although the fumble was a total bummer. So yeah I’m sincerely unimpressed but still hopeful.

    • art thiel

      Keep in mind that the O-line played together very little in preseason. And the Bengals’ D-line is top-five. Carroll admitting to playcalling “arrogance” was a big deal. Schottenheimer is on alert.

  • 1coolguy

    The Steelers got embarrassed tonight and will want to show that game was an aberration. The Hawks won an ugly, ugly performance, I just hope this isn’t the start of a pattern.
    The Oline was such a disappointment – after their fine year last year, I had nightmares of Cable back on the sideline. RW was stuffed all day and many more of these “performances” by the Oline and he just may be missing d=some games this year. The Oline really needs to step it up!
    I don’t know whether to blame the DB’s or the D-line for making Dalton look like the second coming, but he really had a great game, at the Hawks expense. The 55 r to Ross almost made me throw up – talk about a mistimed jump! If anyone wonders about what Earl brought, every game, that pass would not have been completed, period. So the safeties need to step it up, and the D-line must put more pressure on the QB – In the first half especially, Dalton had much too much time.
    Rothlisberger is licking his chops, I’m sure.

    • art thiel

      No D-line can do much about a quick-pass strategy the Bengals deployed, particularly when there is zero film history of the new head coach in his first game. But the two explosives to Ross were Carroll’s worst nightmare.

  • tor5

    In other words, even when you suck, don’t be dumb. That’s the only way I can explain what happened. The Hawks played pretty poorly at times, but truly dumb mistakes were minimal. Remarkable win.

    • art thiel

      My guess is about half of NFL games are like this, when the better team’s unforced errors keep the contest competitive. The difference in the NFL between first and worst is the smallest among major pro sports.

      • wabubba67

        Have you seen the 2019 Miami Dolphins?

  • Alan Harrison

    I thought about this for a day and concluded a few things: 1) It was hard for the Seahawks to game-plan for a brand-spanking-new, offensive-minded head coach who revealed nothing in the preseason so as not to have tape; 2) the Seahawks win a lot of games that they really shouldn’t have a right to win; 3) both sides benefited and were punished by weirdly questionable calls, so refs and judges weren’t at full speed yet; and 4) the team should probably keep Jordan Roos around (at the expense of Malik Turner?) just to have one more lineman. The Britt injury was rather scary.

    • art thiel

      I’m not sure officiating was disruptive. And the Seahawks kept Joey Hunt mostly as insurance for a Britt injury.

      • Alan Harrison

        Except that he’s hurt and was on the inactive list. What I meant was that they need that one more guy on the active list and if Joey’s not physically ready, Roos is probably more game-ready than Fuller. Either way one more OL guy on the active list would have been nice.

        • art thiel

          Nice, yes, but there’s only 46 active on game day. Can’t all be OLs.

  • ll9956

    Unlike the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies, whose defenses turned to mush in the final minute of their games, resulting in losses, the Hawks’ stiffened and saved the day. I disagree that it was Dalton who lost the game for the Bengals. After all, he passed for 418 yards, a personal record, against a challenged Seahawk pass defense.

    I strongly suspect that Carroll’s comments to the team were slightly less polite than what he said in his press conference and was reported here.

    • art thiel

      Dalton made enough mistakes, including two fumbles, to make the yardage total empty calories. The Seahawks under Carroll have given up 400+ passing yards six times, and won all six. He’s not a bad QB, but has had a long history of small mistakes in high leverage situations. Wilson is nearly his 4Q opposite.