Almost always—like he chews gum and spouts positives—Pete Carroll greets Russell Wilson as the quarterback comes off the field following a Seahawks drive. Great or awful.
But not during the decisive moment of this game Monday night.
First, down 17-10 with Seattle’s offense surging for the first time in the game, the usually sound-choosing Wilson made a incredibly poor decision to throw outside on a stop route to rookie running back Rashaad Penny. Chicago’s Prince Amukamara intercepted and returned it for a touchdown to put Seattle down 24-10 midway through the fourth quarter. Then on the next drive Wilson, characteristically ball secure, lost a fumble trying to scramble to doom the Seahawks’ last true chance.
Carroll stood silently with hands on his hips. As the Soldier Field crowd roared and Wilson trudged to the sideline, the coach stared straight ahead. Not only did he not talk to Wilson, Carroll didn’t even look at him.
That remarkable and decisive moment is how the Seahawks, depleted down to retreads and guys facing prison time on defense, lost 24-17 to the Bears to fall to the dreaded 0-2 on this young, already tumultuous season.
“They weren’t characteristic. At all,” Carroll said after a pause to consider the question of Wilson’s mammoth errors.
“Not even for a second.”
The coach’s hands were wide. He half-shrugged. Then he smirked.
Exactly how uncharacteristic was it. Amukamara’s play was only the second interception thrown by Wilson returned for a touchdown in his NFL regular-season career. The other was Oct. 7, 2012, in his rookie season. That was at Carolina, by Captain Munnerlyn.
Wilson was not smirking after these so-changed Seahawks completed their second 0-2 start in four seasons.
“You know, we’re young,” Wilson said. “We’re going to be able to figure it out. ... I’ll bet on the guys we have.”
Of his killer interception, Wilson said only of Amukamara: “The guy made a great play.”
This night had all kinds of frustration for the Seahawks. Despite getting a winning effort from its decimated defense that was missing five injured starters, including All-Pro Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowl veterans Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, Wilson, of all guys, ultimately doomed them.
What was at stake, statistically speaking? Since NFL changed to four-team divisions in the NFC, AFC in 2002, only 11 percent of the teams that have made playoffs started 0-2. One of those few 0-2 playoff teams: the 2015 Seahawks.
But at 1-1? Forty-one percent of playoff teams in the last 16 seasons have started that way.
Seattle plays its home opener against Dallas (1-1) in six days.
“We’re going to find our way, I think, really soon,” Wilson said.
While their makeshift defense was keeping them in the game, the Seahawks’ offense was unwatchable for the first three quarters: 80 total yards, five sacks allowed (Wilson held the ball too long on at least two of them), no runs called from midway through the second quarter into the fourth, and just three points. That was up-tempo during a 2-minute drive to end the half, and a 56-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski.
After Chicago went ahead 17-3 on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky to Anthony Miller 40 seconds into the final quarter, the Seahawks decided to go up-tempo again. And they zipped 11 plays to their first touchdown of the night. Tyler Lockett grabbed Wilson’s pass over the back of face-guarding Bears defensive back Kyle Fuller for a 19-yard score.
Ten, hurried plays produced 75 yards, five fewer than Seattle gained in the first three quarters combined. Penny, the rookie first-round pick, was in for that entire, awakening march.
So much for wanting—needing—to run Chris Carson more. Carson carried three times for 13 yards and a first down on the game’s first three plays. He had three runs, total, for the rest of the game.
Carroll said all the injuries to safeties and linebackers on defense forced Carson to play more special teams, and that in turn left the lead back “gassed.”
“He had to kind of double dip,” Carroll said of Carson on offense and special teams, “and I wanted to see how we could do with Rashaad and get him some playing time.”
Carson looked fresh and ready on the sidelines, especially in the fourth quarter when he was there with his helmet on behind coaches exhorting the offense with waves of his hands and arms between plays to keep up its hurried pace.
I asked Carroll how long he was going to keep Carson so involved in special teams that he can’t play offense, apparently.
“He’s a fantastic special-teams guy so he just had to stay in there,” Carroll said. “That was not the design going into the season. But this week he just had to do it, and had to help us out. But we’ll play him more. There was nothing about his play that kept him out of there.
“We just didn’t get enough chances, and I wanted to get Rashaad going a little bit and see where he is and see where he is in his development.”
Penny finished with 10 carries for 30 yards. The Seahawks’ running backs rushed 19 times in 64 plays, for 57 yards.
For the second consecutive game, their opponents had about a 10-minute edge in time of possession. That’s indicative of which team is controlling the Seahawks’ games so far this season.
Seattle’s first 34 plays Monday: 25 passes, nine runs. In a game that stayed within one score for all by 67 seconds over the first three quarters.
Seattle’s first 87 play calls this season: 64 passes (including and NFL-most 11 sacks allowed) and 23 runs.
The Seahawks ran it 14 consecutive times from late in the second quarter into the fourth quarter. They ran six plays in the third quarter, all passes. They gained a total of 1 yard.
Seattle had 80 total yards entering the final quarter.
The Seahawks went from 8:11 left in the second quarter until 14:15 left in the fourth quarter between running plays.
Carroll said that was his fault, that he told play caller Brian Schottenheimer to take down-field shots with Wilson in the pass game to begin the second half and that the tack got Schottenheimer off the track of seeking balance.
Shaquill Griffin’s two interceptions in the first half, one on a pass tipped at the line by strong safety Bradley McDougald, was perhaps the only reasons Seattle didn’t trail 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
The defense kept the calls and schemes relatively simple. Because it had to.
Austin Calitro, playing middle linebacker for Wagner, and debuting Mychal Kendricks, starting for Wright after just two practices with the team, helped Chicago score the only touchdown of the weird first half. Kendricks, playing five days after he was unemployed facing prison time for admitted insider trading, missed two tackles on plays the Bears gained a total of 35 yards. That was on Chicago’s opening, 96-yard drive. The final 3 yards came on a shovel pass by Trubisky to tight end Trey Burton for the touchdown, after a play-action fake of a run off-tackle left.
Calitro overran the shovel pass by 3 yards, fooled by the fake handoff. Wagner assuredly would have been standing in the shovel-pass hole at the line of scrimmage, waiting to hit Burton for no gain.
“We gained chemistry as the game went on,” Calitro said.
It was no better on offense early. After those first three runs by Carson to begin the game, the Seahawks ran it two times the rest of the quarter. Meanwhile, the Bears sacked Wilson five times on 19 drop backs among all those pass plays. That left Wilson dumped 11 times through two games, the most in the NFL this season.
Wilson took blame for three of the sacks last week at Denver. He was to blame on at least two of the five in the first half Monday. He held onto the ball for extra time while his receivers remained well covered down the field.
Seattle was 2 for 8 on third down in the opening half, leaving it 4 for 20 on the season. The Seahawks had 79 total yards on 28 plays, 2.8 yards per play. The offense created a third and 22 at its own 1-yard line, then a third and 17.
Michael Dickson punted five times in the first two quarters. The half was so bad for Seattle even the wondrous rookie failed; he snaked one of his usually booming, 55-yard punts out of bounds after just 10 yards.
Yet in the biggest Chicago caper since Prohibition, the Seahawks trailed only 10-3 at halftime.
Wilson’s 18-yard pass on a back-shoulder throw to Brandon Marshall they’ve been working on since the side fields in August’s training camp jump-started a 2-minute drive that ended with Janikowski’s 56-yard field goal as time expired in the half. It was the second-longest in Seahawks’ history, 2 yards short of Josh Brown’s (2003) and Steven Hauschka’s (2014) team record.
Wilson finished 22 for 36 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns. The second one was in mop-up time to rookie tight end Will Dissly from 2 yards with 14 seconds to go.
The Bears recovered Dickson’s short, twisting onside kick to end it.
“We are capable of a lot more,” left tackle Duane Brown said.
“We have to play with more confidence. And more attitude.”
Or, as Carroll admitted: “We’re still a work in progress.”