Russell Wilson pushed both hands outward. Then he dropped his head.
David Moore dropped all of himself to the turf. He stayed down, as if shot.
The Chargers all danced around them and the field. It was a white blur of escapism and celebration.
This is what losing the ingredients to an indispensable recipe looks like.
Wilson’s pass got deflected just before it reached David Moore on a final, untimed down following two penalties. The ball clanged off the receiver’s chest in the back of the end zone. That’s how Seattle’s 25-17 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers ended Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
But the Seahawks (4-4) lost it way before that.
“We didn’t get a turnover; we needed to do it,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We didn’t get to the quarterback enough to cause those plays to happen as they have been.
“And we weren’t able to compliment (on offense), like we have for the last month or so: Play both sides of the ball really clean. What that happens, we are going to be in a tough one. And we were.
“We were poised and ready to win it. So we’re disappointed we didn’t get that done.”
The recipe has become clear since late September, after two ghastly defeats to begin this year. That recipe has also become the only way to win. The lack of even one ingredient means likely defeat. These Seahawks are not as experienced and talented in as many areas as in the previous six years, five of them playoff ones. System and scheme, not merely talents, is what wins for Seattle this season.
On offense, the Seahawks must run the ball early and often with punishing lead back Chris Carson. That’s to consistently to set up Wilson’s play-action passes. Fewer, more opportunistic passes give an offensive line that still has pass-protection issues against standout edge rushers fewer opportunities to do what they are least effective at doing. See: just 14 completions in 17 throws but 248 yards passing for Wilson last week, a win at Detroit.
On defense, the recipe is to at least affect the opposing quarterback into quick decisions, and to take the ball away. The Seahawks forced 16 turnovers in the first seven games.
Sunday, for the first time since way back on Sept. 17 at Chicago, the Seahawks did none of the above.
The defense didn’t get to Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Few do. He entered Sunday having been sacked just nine times in seven games, the fewest of any full-time starting quarterback in the NFL. And the Seahawks did not force a turnover, after forcing three the previous Sunday in the win at Detroit.
Plus, in the third quarter the Seahawks lost strong safety Bradley McDougald to a knee injury. He’s been the Seahawks’ most consistent and best player from the opening game. Second-year man Delano Hill replaced McDougald, who returned for one play in the fourth quarter.
The result: After Seattle allowed three and 14 points in its two previous games against inferior Oakland and Detroit, the Chargers rolled to 249 yards on just 25 plays in Sunday’s opening half. Allowing 10 yards per play is no way to win a game.
The Seahawks were fortunate to be down only 19-10 into the fourth quarter, before Wilson’s interception for that Chargers touchdown.
Rivers completed 13 of 26 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers in his 200th consecutive NFL start.
“It’s really important, man. We’ve been priding ourselves on getting turnovers. Creating turnovers. I feel like our turnovers help our offense out,” All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
“We definitely need to get the ball. We didn’t do that today. That’s something that stands out to me. We need to get the ball out.”
Carson left the offense and the game after 40 yards on eight carries in the first half, including a tone-setting 15-yard run on the game’s first play. Seattle started with four consecutive runs for the second straight game. Three games ago, in the win over Oakland in London, they ran seven consecutive times with Carson.
Sunday he re-injured his sore groin and hip that caused him to miss the win at Arizona Sept. 30, the only game in his previous four he hadn’t rushed for 100 yards.
“Chris has been pretty hot lately,” Carroll said.
“We certainly missed him.”
Mike Davis replaced him and gained 62 yards on 15 runs. But he’s not the bullish, decisive Carson.
Even Davis said of the offense without Carson, “it changes the physicality...I feel like Chris can do it all.
“We usually click more. We didn’t click like we have been.”
Then, right guard D.J. Fluker, the massive road grader and team’s best run blocker, left the game in the third quarter with a calf injury. Backup center Joey Hunt is absolutely not D.J. Fluker in size, experience and performance. But Hunt went in at right guard.
Not having Carson, losing their best run blocker and thus not having as formidable a rushing threat made the offense resort to almost every-down passing, and Wilson and his line look like it was 2017 again. Or weeks one and two at Denver and Chicago this season. The Chargers sacked Wilson four times. That was the most times he’d been dumped since six sacks by the Bears in week two. Los Angeles hit him six other times. For the first time in six games, Wilson was running around avoiding more hits and sacks instead of throwing on time and to planned routes by Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Moore.
The Seahawks compounded losing Carson and Fluker with 10 penalties, for 83 yards. That included Fluker and center Justin Britt for highly debatable unnecessary-roughness flags during live-ball running plays, plus Moore for standing in the way of a Chargers defender trying to get outside to cover Baldwin on a third down in the first half. That resulted in a missed field goal.
Then there was the final penalty, a false start on left guard J.R. Sweezy at the end.
It came after Wilson hit Nick Vannett with a bullet pass into the end zone the tight end snared on fourth down with 1:50 left to bring Seattle within 1:50 left. The Seahawks had all three time outs remaining.
They had Sebastian Janikowski kick a plop ball short on a semi-onside kickoff, but the Chargers fielded that easily at their own 42-yard line.
“We had to stop them anyway,” from there or deeper in Chargers’ territory,” Carroll reasoned about the onside kick.
After two runs and Seattle timeouts, on third and 7 from the 50, defensive tackle Jarran Reed sacked Rivers back to his own 40. The resulting punt was downed at the Seahawks 18.
Wilson and the offense had 82 yards and 1:24 to go, with no time outs.
Wilson completed a pass to Lockett to the Seattle 40, then the Seahawks got to the Chargers 44 thanks to a roughing-the-passer foul on Charger Melvin Ingram. Wilson ran to the Chargers 28, then spiked the ball with 30 seconds to go. On second down he dropped the shotgun snap and threw incomplete. With 24 seconds left a dump-off pass to Davis was short of the line to gain. On fourth down, Wilson chucked one up in the end zone for Lockett, as it was broken up by Chargers cornerback Michael Davis, flags flew for interference on Davis.
Officials enforced the foul to the 1-yard line with no time left on the clock.
Before the untimed snap, with the Seahawks needing a touchdown then the two-point conversion to force overtime, the right side of the Chargers’ defensive line barked simulated offensive signals. That caused Sweezy to flinch early. The foul pushed the ball back to the 6.
“You can see it,” Carroll said of the Chargers’ uncalled baiting.
Wilson wouldn’t specify what that penalty changed. But the Seahawks seemed poised to run Davis out of shotgun spread formation before the flag flew. From the 6, it had to be pass.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with the penalties,” Britt said. “We’ve got to clean that up.”
On the next and final snap, from the 6-yard line instead of the 1, Wilson waited then fired a dart to the back of the end zone between two defenders for Moore. Chargers safety Jahleel Addae made a fantastic play coming across off his receiver Lockett to tip the ball before it arrived to Moore. The ball hit Moore squarely in the chest between the numbers, and slammed off his chest between the 8 and 3 on the front of his jersey to the turf.
“David Moore is going to make that play 10 times out of 10,” Wilson said.
“It was a tight window and we tried to get it in there. I think maybe it got tipped a hair, a little bit. It was tough. David has done a great job all year making those plays.
“He’s going to make the next one. No doubt.”
Wilson completed 26 of 39 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns and a killer interception.
He appeared to hand the Chargers the game with 7 minutes left when he threw outside left intending to target Moore, but Chargers cornerback Desmond King was the only man out there. King caught the pass for an interception and returned it easily 42 yards. Los Angeles’ Caleb Sturgis missed his second extra point, on top of a missed field goal, and Seattle trailed 25-10.
The Seahawks’ ensuing drive gained yards, to the Chargers 6-yard line, but took more than 5 minutes. Moore dropped a touchdown pass with more than 2 minutes left, costing Seattle more time. By the time Vannett caught his TD, only 1:50 remained.
The Rams lost at New Orleans to fall to 8-1. They are still three games plus a win over Seattle ahead of the Seahawks atop the NFC West. The Seahawks play the Rams in L.A. next Sunday.
For the more reachable goal of wild-card entry into January’s playoffs, Carolina won and is 6-2. Minnesota won and is 5-3-1.
The Seahawks, two games behind the Panthers and 1 1/2 behind the Vikings for a wild-card spot, play at Carolina Nov. 25 and host Minnesota Dec. 10.
So the goal is still attainable. Just harder to attain as of Sunday night.
“I’m not discouraged.” Wagner said. “There’s eight more games. There’s lots of season left. There are a lot of things left to be done.
“Am I disappointed in the loss? Of course. Who loves to lose? No one loves to lose. But discouraged? No. We have too many great players in this room. We have too much confidence. We show too much to be feeling like that.”