Russell Wilson’s final, desperate heave of another inspired-but-fruitless rally fell incomplete. Then Doug Baldwin tossed his helmet over the bench. Pete Carroll took off his coaching headset and just stared blankly onto the field.
What a Seahawks romp this was. Until the Rams knew Seattle was going to throw.
With the Seahawks in empty-backfield formation on third-and-3 in the fourth quarter, Dante Fowler crashed through Seattle left tackle Duane Brown and chopped his arm down onto Wilson’s for a sack and fumble. Fowler recovered the ball at the Seahawks’ 9-yard line with 6 minutes left.
“I thought I had him pretty deep up the field. He went for the ball... It sucks,” Brown said. “It sucks. I put them in great position...
Los Angeles scored a touchdown on the next play, Brandin Cooks on a fly sweep. That gave the Rams a 12-point lead, breaking open a frantic game and ruining the short-handed Seahawks’ upset bid Sunday at the rocking Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The final score ended up 36-31 in favor of the Rams, despite the Seahawks rushing for 273 yards rushing without their lead rusher and best run blocker against the Rams’ all-world defensive front. And it became the latest in a season full of almosts for the Seahawks.
Seattle gained the most yards rushing it ever has in a defeat.
“It’s three games this year where we could have just won them,” rookie running back Rashaad Penny said after his breakout game of 108 yards on 12 carries.
“We just kept fighting.”
But, Penny added: “This is the time we’ve got to start winning. It’s getting close (to too late).”
They may be the best 4-5 team in the NFL—whatever that’s worth, entering Thursday night’s game at home against Green Bay.
“I really love that football team today,” Carroll said, after his latest return to his old college coaching home at USC. “It was hard. It was tough. We were ahead. We were behind. We battled. We catch up. We go ahead again. We just keep fighting.
“And we make a big mistake and give up the ball. ... Turned the game around right there with the big turnover.”
But, Carroll said, “that kind of fight, that kind of battlin’ will take you a long ways.”
Still, grit’s great, but now all five of Seattle’s five losses this season have been by one score. This young, encouraging, odds-defying team needs to start turning want-to into wins.
Seven games remain in the regular season. Five will be at home.
The Seahawks need six wins to realistically have a chance at their sixth playoff berth in seven years.
As defensive end Dion Jordan said after his strong game (five tackles and a sack shared with Frank Clark)“ “This has to be the turning point.”
“I’m not a moral-victories guy. A loss is a loss,” All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wager said after he chased Rams running back extraordinaire Todd Gurley around the Coliseum, usually from behind; the NFL’s rushing leader gained 120 yards on 16 carries.
“One-hundred percent, I definitely believe that we can turn this around. ... We feel like we are a lot better than our record shows. But we’ve had some plays that have gotten away from us that have cost us games.”
Such as L.A.’s third-and-15 near midfield late in the third quarter. Seattle was leading 21-20 following Wilson’s touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett, the wide receiver’s career-high seventh TD reception this season. The Seahawks’ safeties dropped way deep while Wagner and his linebackers appeared to stay too shallow. Rams receiver Robert Woods ran free across the field between them, in the middle of the wide expanse of open space, for a 35-yard catch and run to the Seattle 19-yard line.
Wagner said he didn’t know what went wrong. Carroll said the third-and-15 was a blown zone coverage, a simple error of fundamental responsibility.
“That should never have happened,” the coach said.
This try-hard team can’t afford gifting the opposition anything. Especially not the soaring Rams (9-1).
Two plays later, on the first snap of the fourth quarter, the Rams took the lead for good. Jared Goff’s 10-yard TD pass to Tyler Higbee beat nickel defensive back Justin Coleman to the goal line.
Yet, as almost all season, the Seahawks kept coming.
Wilson, who also scrambled for 92 yards, threw his third touchdown pass, this one to Mike Davis with 1:56 left. That pulled Seattle within 36-31. After a deep kickoff, the Seahawks used their first two time outs before Los Angeles had third-and-14 with 1:40 remaining. Seattle held, the Rams punted, and Wilson had to go 75 yards in 1:24 with no time outs.
“I think the whole stadium was nervous, to be honest with you,” Wilson said.
He completed a pass to Lockett to the Rams’ 47 with a minute left. Then Wilson scrambled to the Rams 36. With 37 seconds left, Wilson got hit as he threw too far out of the back of the end zone to David Moore. On fourth-and-10 with 26 seconds to go, Wilson scrambled away from more pressure. He threw desperately incomplete before he got hit, over the head of the well-covered Lockett along the left sideline.
Seattle rampaged on the ground all afternoon despite Chris Carson and plowing right guard D.J. Fluker missing the game with injuries; Carroll thinks both will be able to play Thursday against the Packers. Davis ended up with 11 rushes for 58 yards on this wild day in L.A.’s old bowl.
Wilson completed 17 for 26 passes for 176 yards in the air. Yet his crushing sack-fumble that proved decisive.
After the Rams went ahead in the game’s fourth lead change, 26-21 early in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks responded with Wilson’s scramble runs to reach the red zone. But Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh easily ran past fill-in right guard Jordan Simmons, a September waiver pickup making his first career start because Fluker was out, for a sack on third down. Seattle settled for a Sebastian Janikowski field goal that cut the Rams’ edge to 26-24.
Carroll then had Janikowski try to surprise the Rams with an onside kickoff. But Janikowski kicked it directly on a bounce to L.A. front-line man Josh Reynolds. The Rams had the ball past midfield.
“Let me tell you this: If it looked like that during the week we never would have called it. It looked great all week long,” Carroll said. “That was not the ball we were supposed to hit. ...
“We thought we had a great chance to surprise them. ...The execution was so much different than (we needed).
Carroll’s reasoning for onside kick was understandable: That the Seahawks’ defense would not stop Goff, Gurley and the Rams’ offense anyway from getting to the red zone. So why have them take more if the remaining 9:52 doing it?
The Rams, the NFL’s top-ranked offense, rolled up 456 yards, one month after gaining 468 in their 33-31 win in Seattle.
Yet after Janikowski’s flubbed kickoff Seattle’s defense got the stop it had to have. Wagner and safety Tedric Thompson tackled a wide receiver Brandin Cooks on a screen at the 2-yard line. That forced another Rams field goal and kept it a one-score game, 29-24.
Penny’s second long run of the day late in the third quarter set up Wilson’s second touchdown pass, to Lockett, for that short-lived 21-20 lead. Lockett broke free from tight, in-his-face coverage by Rams’ cornerback Troy Hill in the end zone and made a leaping, twisting catch.
With that Wilson joined Dan Marino and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks with 20 touchdown passes in each of their first seven NFL seasons.
Penny, frustrated recently by rarely playing, burst into prominence really for the first time this season on Seattle’s second drive of the game. He romped 38 yards around left end behind a crunching block outside by wide receiver Moore. On the next snap, he looked like the top pick the Seahawks made him this spring, cutting from left outside right and out-running every Rams to the goal line for an 18-yard touchdown.
His first career score put Seattle ahead 14-7 in a video game-like opening quarter of spins and yards and little defense.
Curiously, Penny had only one other carry in the first half, for no gain on a fruitless 2-minute drive past midfield late in the second quarter. Davis got nine rushes in the half, for 50 yards.
The Seahawks’ defense just couldn’t stop the Rams consistently.
Goff came out throwing on Los Angeles’ first four plays, and 21 times in all in the first half. He completed 16, for 163 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Gerald Everett in the middle to end L.A.’s opening drive.
The pass set up Gurley’s runs outside. He repeatedly galloped through arm tackles at the line of scrimmage for 76 yards in the first half. That was 1 yard fewer than he had while scoring three touchdowns in the first meeting between these teams last month in Seattle.
You know, one of the other close losses the Seahawks have had in this season of what-ifs and could-bes.
“You want to win every game. You want to judge everything by wins and losses,” Wilson said. “But I think the true character and true growth really comes from...how you build off the tough times...
“But we have great faith that great things are going to happen.”
It needs to happen.