Patching together lineups compromised by injury left the Seahawks with players in unfamiliar spots. That’s how the season devolves into losses in thee of the past four.
A primary hazard for NFL teams forced to glue together a broken starting lineup with newbies is that the glue often doesn’t get a chance to dry.
That appears to have been the problem in back-to-back moments that cost the wounded Seahawks Sunday a chance to host a home playoff game that would have come with a win over San Francisco.
The consolation prize is a playoff trip to Philadelphia, something at least 20 other NFL teams would be thrilled with Monday. The Seahawks aspired to higher.
Two players who a week earlier were highly unlikely participants made final-minute mistakes that allowed the reeling 49ers to escape with a 26-21 win Sunday.
RB Marshawn Lynch’s apparent confusion about subbing into the game was preceded by rookie WR John Ursua’s error that left him a yard short of what likely would have been the game-winning touchdown.
On fourth-and-10 from the Niners’ 12-yard line with about 30 seconds left, QB Russell Wilson scrambled right and found Ursua for his first career reception. But he came out of the end zone to catch the ball at the 1-yard line. First down, not a touchdown.
“It was a terrific route he ran, where you sit down in the end zone, and Russ moved a little bit, so he did,” said coach Pete Carroll on his Monday morning show on ESPN 710 radio. “But you try to stay in the end zone there. That’s the whole idea of the play. Nice reaction, but not quite what we needed at that moment.”
Out of timeouts, the Seahawks hustled to the line of scrimmage, where Wilson spiked the ball to stop the clock at :22. Then came chaos. Carroll wanted to send in two tight ends and a running back that was Lynch. But Lynch hesitated, Wilson got the playcall late and the play clock expired, costing five yards on a delay of game penalty.
Post-game, Carroll took the hit for the mishap, because the responsibility ultimately rests with him. Monday, he elaborated.
“Marshawn delayed a little bit — he was hesitant, but I didn’t see (Travis) Homer at the time,” Carroll said. “But Marshawn was going on, he was supposed to go, and we just needed to get it done. Sometimes what happens when you spike the ball and kill the clock, guys kind of sense like it’s a timeout, and it’s not. It’s just a regular sequence, so there was just a little bit of hesitation.
“By the time he got out there, they called the play. We were late, and that’s it.”
After being gone four years from Seattle, Lynch’s abrupt, emergency return Monday from the couch to the lineup meant he had three practices to absorb the changed plays and language. It wasn’t enough timet to learn everything, including the two-minute offense that was underway. It was why Lynch wasn’t in at all on the drive prior to Ursua’s catch.
Said Carroll: “I can’t tell you that we had enough opportunities to really smooth out the substitutions with the new guys that we were with, and we just missed it by a hair.”
They also missed another chance when, two plays later, Wilson’s goal line pass to TE Jacob Hollister was ruled incomplete and cleanly defended, despite being nearly tackled by LB Fred Warner.
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 30, 2019
After seeing video of the play, Carroll was unequivocal in what he saw.
“Yeah, it was pass interference,” he said. Since coaches by rule are not allowed in the final two minutes to challenge a call for video replay, teams are forced to rely on the officials’ decision in New York to review the play in real time before the ball is snapped for the next play.
Carroll said he has campaigned without success in the off-season to change the rules to allow coaches to challenge calls like the Warner interference in the final two minutes.
“For some reason, they thought (coaches) were going to stall the games, or whatever, and misuse it,” he said. “But last night was a perfect situation to stop the clock and look at that thing again. Give them another chance. In that time frame, they got 25-40 seconds to make their decision, and they didn’t stop the game. They could have looked at that in more depth.
“If I’d had a timeout, I’d call it for just that reason. Hopefully, clear heads prevail. That’s unfortunate. It was a big moment.”
Lost in the late-game lamentations was the fact that the Seahawks offense, despite all its missing players and a 13-0 halftime deficit, scored touchdowns on its first three second-half possessions — 62, 75 and 60 yards — and went 72 yards and 35 inches on its fourth and final drive. This despite starting George Fant at left tackle in place of injured Duane Brown.
“We came up an inch short,” Carroll said. “We played great in the second half on offense. They did a nice job to hold the (49ers pass rushers) to one sack; it’s enormous. George did a really good job.
“But it was the coordination with Russ, the guys up front, and the receivers coming through. We were able to hit some runs on them. We didn’t have the kind of night (125 yards among Lynch, Homer and Wilson) we wanted, but we started to find our spacing in the second half. I think we had a stretch of six for six converting third downs.”
The Seahawks finished eight of 14 on third downs, totaled 348 yards of offense after trailing at one point 223-30, committed no turnovers and had only five penalties.
The recovery was remarkable, and speaks well of their chances in Philadelphia, where they were listed as two-point favorites over the 9-7 Eagles. The NFC East champions, defeated by the Seahawks 19-7 Nov. 24, have their own injury problems, including star TE Zach Ertz, who reportedly has lacerated kidney.
But re-studying the Eagles, grateful as the Seahawks are for the privilege, is not like having a free week to stroll through the playbook with Lynch, and to fit Ursua with a geo-location device.
LB Kendricks, WR Brown out; FS Diggs expected back
Another couple of Seahawks players are down, one for the season. LB Mychal Kendricks will undergo knee surgery to repair an ACL he tore in the third quarter Sunday, and WR Jaron Brown has a knee sprain that will keep him out at least a couple of weeks, according to Carroll Monday afternoon.
The loss for the season of Kendricks, 29, forces into the starting lineup rookie LB Cody Barton, who has a ways to go.
“He did a solid job,” Carroll said of Sunday’s game. “I’m hesitant to say he played great, because he missed a couple opportunities. Give him a whole week of (starter’s repetitions), and he’ll do a nice job.”
Brown’s replacement could be Malik Turner, who sat out Sunday while in the concussion protocol. His recovery would also keep Ursua on the active roster.
Carroll sounded positive that FS Quandre Diggs will be able to return from a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the past two games.
“They’re telling me today he’ll be ready to go,” Carroll said. His absence likely contributed to the explosive plays the 49ers offense dropped on Seattle Sunday against Lano Hill and rookie Marquise Blair.
Carroll reported Lynch came out of his first NFL game in 14 months “very healthy — at least today he is . . . he and Homer give us a good 1-2 punch. Last week at this time, we didn’t know where we were. Marshawn really showed he could hit it.”
LT Duane Brown is progressing in recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery and “would be an extraordinary recovery if he could do it,” he said. “In his mind, he thinks he can make it back.”