A Seahawks victory was there for the taking Sunday. Owning a 10-point lead on a slumping opponent not renowned for its explosiveness, all they needed was for the defense to make a stop at midfield, and for the offense to sustain a clock-killing drive with some first downs.
Coaches often talk about how hard it is to win games in the National Football League, but maintaining a 17-7 advantage over the 3-7 Washington Redskins should have been as easy as holding a cookie in front of Fido and goading him to sit.
But against a Redskins team averaging a mere 16 points a game, the defense gave up 14 points in less than 10 minutes while the offense failed to pick up a single first down.
It takes a village to assemble a fourth-quarter flop like that – linemen, defensive backs, receivers, the quarterback, the coaching staff – and nobody escaped blame.
“There were too many things that happened at the end of the game,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “that shouldn’t have happened.”
The breakdown might have been easier to stomach had the Redskins played flawlessly down the stretch. But they were almost as sloppy as the Seahawks, allowing Seattle to begin a possession at the Redskins’ 40-yard line after a silly attempt at a strategically placed kickoff.
Later, quarterback Rex Grossman almost lost a fumble inside his 20-yard line, a miscue that forced Washington to punt with 2:42 left.
Down 20-17, there was plenty of time for the Seahawks to regain the lead after taking advantage of decent field position at their 33-yard line. Ah, but a flag was thrown during the punt – Brandon Browner was cited for unnecessary roughness – one of five penalties called on the Seahawks during the final nine minutes.
Remember last summer, when lockout-shortened training camps raised concerns about a reduced NFL product in 2011? It took a few months, but the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field finally forced fans to endure a worst-case exhibition of football.
And, yet, all violations against artistry might’ve been forgiven – if not forgotten – had the Seahawks’ defense not allowed Grossman to convert a third-and-19 play into a 50-yard touchdown pass with 6:26 remaining.
Give Grossman credit for a terrific throw to Anthony Armstrong, who beat Browner, the right cornerback, on the play. But good heavens, a pro football defense can’t be burned deep, on a third-and-19, by a receiver who hadn’t made a catch since Oct. 23.
“We were playing in a situation where the call comes in to tell our guys to play off – make sure to stay on top – because they’re going to throw it deep,” Carroll said. “We practice it all the time, but Brandon just kind of lost track of his guy. When the quarterback stepped way up into the pocket, I think Brandon was watching in the backfield and lost connection with the receiver. And when the ball is flying, he’s turned to find him, and all hell broke loose. He’s grabbing and doing anything he can to trying to do anything he can to get out of that situation.”
The pass-interference penalty on Browner was moot, but a chop-block penalty on tackle Breno Giacomini, on the next snap from scrimmage, turned a first-and-10 at the Hawks’ 40 into a first-and-25 at their 20.
If Giacomini’s error of aggression puts him in the coach’s doghouse – Carroll intimated that one way to deal with the mental mistakes would be for some jobs to change hands this week – he had plenty of company.
Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller and Mike Williams dropped some of the better passes thrown by quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who didn’t have all that many good throws to waste. Golden Tate, on the other hand, caught a 15-yard touchdown pass, only to begin the fourth-quarter cavalcade of penalties with an unsportsmanlike-conduct call for falling on the ground after his score.
Tate’s touchdown was the Hawks’ high point of the afternoon, but the wheels started coming off before the extra-point attempt. And while there was still time for a couple of final-minute “Hail Mary” passes – the way flags were dropping, pass interference was as reasonable a comeback scenario as any – Jackson wasn’t able to muster anything resembling a deep ball.
“We’ve got to do a better job of executing,” he said, “especially when it really matters, in the fourth quarter. We didn’t do it. I don’t see how much you can pull from those plays, besides that we can do it right when we’re all on the same page. I’m just very disappointed, and I’m kind of at a loss for words right now. I feel sick.”
Jackson’s teammates deserved to feel no different. All defeats are equal, but surrendering a 10-point lead to the Washington Redskins, in the fourth quarter, at home, is a double-whammy combination punch.