Russell Wilson got sacked six times.
The running game never got going.
The defense, even with All-Pro safety Earl Thomas back four days after his holdout and getting an interception to set up the game’s first touchdown, couldn’t get off the field when it mattered most: to preserve the final chance to win.
The schedule and calendar said it was 2018 and September’s opener Sunday at Denver.
But it sure looked and felt the same as 2017—heck, a lot like Groundhog Day—for the Seahawks in their 27-24 loss to the Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
“For us, some similar things occurred in this game that you heard the themes before: third downs (Seattle was 2 for 12 converting those), we were lousy and it was because we were third and 9 seven times,” coach Pete Carroll said. “And we didn’t run the ball as well as we wanted to and we wound up getting sacked a bunch of times.
“Those are just similar issues and disappointing on the offensive side.”
As for the defense, Thomas said unfamiliarity bred confusion.
“We didn’t communicate right, and they had big plays,” Thomas said about his first game of any kind since Dec. 31.
“There’s been centerpieces in the defense for a long time. But now we’ve got new faces.”
Wilson began his seventh season as Seattle’s quarterback by completing 19 of 33 passes for 298 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions (on a desperate heave to nowhere on the game’s final play), plus those half-dozen sacks. He said he was encouraged by the offense scoring 24 points and 306 yards “when we weren’t at our best.”
Worse, Doug Baldwin, Seattle’s Pro Bowl wide receiver, went out in the first half with an injured right knee and never returned. That’s opposite the left knee that kept Baldwin out all preseason. Carroll said Baldwin has a sprained medial-collateral ligament.
Baldwin said he’s due for more evaluations Monday back at Seahawks headquarters in Renton before he knows how long he will be out. Seattle ended the day with four active wide receivers: Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown and David Moore. Those are the only ones left on the current roster.
“There were mistakes all over the board,” defensive end Frank Clark said after Seattle lost its opener for the third time in four years.
“Especially on defense.”
That’s where the Seahawks started eight new players compared to last season’s opener 12 months ago. Seattle allowed Denver to roll up 297 yards in the first half, the most against the Seahawks in a first half in at least two seasons, and 470 yards in all.
On offense, game-changing All-Pro Von Miller beat struggling-for-years right tackle Germain Ifedi a couple times. On Miller’s third sack, Wilson spun into the All-Pro linebacker while trying to extend a crucial third and 3 late.
“Luckily we were able to get him before he could get it started,” Miller said. “That was in our scheme. We wanted to keep him in the pocket. We wanted to let him beat us with his arm, which he is capable of doing. But we really picked that position, and that strategy wored for us.”
Seattle, which got the worst running-back production in many NFL seasons last year, managed just 64 yards rushing Sunday. Lead rusher Chris Carson got just seven carries in 55 plays, for 51 yards.
That’s why getting three interceptions, including two by Bradley McDougald, a touchdown catch by the 34-year-old Marshall in his Seattle debut and Lockett’s go-ahead TD catch and run early in the fourth quarter weren’t enough to keep the Seahawks from losing.
Seahawks cornerback Shaquill and linebacker Shaquem Griffin became first twins to play as teammates in an NFL regular-season game in 90 years. The last twins teammates in the NFL were Earl and Myrl Goodwin, on offense with the 1928 Pottsville Maroons.
The Griffin family saw history.
“Felt great. Wasn’t the outcome that we wanted...but the experience playing with him was once in a lifetime,” Shaquill Griffin said, with his younger (by one minute) twin at his side in the visiting locker room. “It’s awesome to see him out here.”
“I mean, to have our parents and family come up,” Shaquem said, “is a good feeling, too, to actually have them experience us being together on (an NFL) field. ... To have them right there on the sidelines there, being there for us, it just shows the support system that we have.”
Shaqum Griffin struggled. By the second quarter, Austin Calitro began entering for him at linebacker, on early downs.
Thomas was on what Carroll likes to call a “pitch count” in his first game since December, and after he had just three practices since December, all this past week after he ended his contract holdout. Thomas was out for the start of only two drives in the game, one in each half, missing 10 of Seattle’s 74 plays on defense. Second-year man Tedric Thompson replaced him each time.
Denver scored tying and go-ahead touchdowns on each of those two drives Thomas was out to start.
Carroll said Thomas played more than he wanted him two, but that game situations dictated that. Such as in the fourth quarter with the Seahawks’ having just taken a 24-20 lead of Wilson’s 51-yard touchdown pass to Lockett.
Thomas re-entered the game after the Broncos drove without him in there to the Seahawks’ 36. Denver debuting quarterback Case Keenum rolled right and threw to Demaryius Thomas on the right sideline in the end zone. Thomas’ toes of his right cleat appeared to be on the boundary line, and that’s why field officials originally signaled incomplete pass. After they consulted, the officials changed that ruling to a touchdown.
Replay review was inconclusive, allowing the call on the field to stand of a touchdown. If the original call had been incomplete, Seattle would have stayed ahead upon review. Instead, the Seahawks trailed 27-24.
Miller got his third sack, and Denver’s sixth, on a third and 3 with 3 minutes left, when Wilson turned and scrambled right into the 2015 Super Bowl MVP linebacker. Seattle’s remarkable rookie Michael Dickson, who had a 69-yard punt out of bounds earlier, punted to put Denver at its own 19.
Then the Broncos brought in big, fast, rookie running back Royce Freeman from Oregon as a rested hammer; he sat most of the third quarter for this closer role. His romps got Denver to the Seahawks’ 39, and made Seattle use all its time outs.
That effectively ended the game.
Seattle took its first lead two plays into the fourth quarter.
New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had been rolling out Wilson away from Denver’s swarming outside pass rush all day and then throwing that same direction. Then on the second play of the fourth period Schottenheimer had Wilson roll right again, but this time throw left across the field and against the grain. Lockett was open from Denver to Seattle for the 51-yard touchdown, and the Seahawks led 24-20.
The defense with eight new starters that weren’t there for the 2017 opener 12 months ago allowed Denver to roll up 297 yards in the first half, which ended with Seattle behind only 17-10 because of two poorly thrown interception by Keenum. One was right to Thomas.
In the first quarter of his first game in nine months, Thomas had baited Keenum from the middle of the field making it appear Demaryius Thomas was open down the hash marks before Thomas zipped over for an interception.
On the next play, Wilson threw 15 yards down the left side for a touchdown to rookie tight end Will Dissly.
The former University of Washington defensive lineman set a Seahawks record by a player in his first game with 105 yards receiving—in the first half.
But then Seattle held the Broncos to 31 yards in the third quarter. That’s when the Seahawks tied the game, on Wilson’s scramble and 20-yard touchdown pass on an improvisational route by Marshall.
Denver answered that score by its former wide receiver by intercepting Russell Wilson at the Seattl 35-yard line late in the third quarter. Wilson’s poor pass on third down was not high enough on a fade route outside by the 6-5 Marshall.
Denver converted that into a 53-yard field goal by Brandon McManus for a 20-17 lead.
The half ended with Seattle leading in turnovers created 2-0, yet trailing in the game 17-10. That’s Indicative of how poorly the Seahawks played. Rotating eight defensive lineman as early as the opening series, they generated no pass rush on Keenum. That was even on few times they blitzed linebacker Bobby Wagner and others.
The Broncos smartly targeted Seattle’s two rookies starting their first NFL games.
Griffin tightly covered tight end Matt LaCosse to force an incomplete pass and Denver punt to end the game’s opening drive. But then later in the first quarter the Broncos isolated Griffin and rookie Tre Flowers, starting at right cornerback, by crossing two receivers in front of the Seahawks’ kids. Both followed the inside receiver. No one covered running back Phillip Lindsay in the left flat near the sideline. Lindsay was all alone for a 29-yard catch and run to tie the game at 7.
The Seahawks’ 297 yards allowed in the first half was more than they allowed in any first half last season. Seattle allowed 281 yards in the first two quarters of a home loss to Houston in late October.
“I saw us with a chance, way late in the game; we were in it with a chance to win it—even despite the things that had occurred early, that kept us from being in better command of it,” said Carroll, who is now 4-5 in openers leading Seattle.
“It’s frustrating to not get that (win) from them. ...
“It’s not a very clean game for us. But after all of that, we felt like we could’ve won that game and we really had a great chance to do that. It’s really frustrating.
“I can see the newness of us.”