Tyler Lockett’s first game replacing retired Doug Baldwin as Seattle’s number-one receiver was two-plus hours of double teams. And zero chances.
Then Lockett got his one shot. That’s all he needed to win.
Jadeveon Clowney made even more of an impact than expected in his first game for the Seahawks, and first game in nine months. Unless you thought the new pass rusher would play 48 of the 77 snaps the defense had on Sunday. His coaches didn’t.
And the Seahawks got 2019 off to a victorious start—despite themselves.
Lockett caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson while wide open on his first target of the game, on the first play of the fourth quarter. Then a huge goal-line stand sparked by Clowney and new defensive tackle Al Woods preserved Seattle’s 21-20 victory over the Bengals in the season opener at CenturyLink Field.
“It was an ugly win,” All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner. “But it was a win.
“You think about last year: We went 0-4 in the preseason and then lost our first two games.”
Yet those Seahawks still made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
These Seahawks were out-played for much of the game. They had issues in pass protection and the running game and pass defense. They allowed Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton 418 yards passing, John Ross 158 yards receiving with two touchdowns. They were out-gained 429 yards to 233.
Dalton’s dashing day was up there with Ben Roethlisberger (456 yards passing in 2015), Philip Rivers (455 in 2010) and Dan Fouts (440 in 1985) for most against the Seahawks. Ever. Seattle gets Rothlisberger next week in Pittsburgh.
Yet the Seahawks won Sunday, for the second time in five openers.
“It was very ugly,” Lockett said, wearing white T-shirt with blue writing that said “Don’t Waste Your Gifts.”
“But if we can win playing like that, then imagine what we can do playing at our best.”
Coach Pete Carroll used a 1970s Muhammed Ali reference to described what his defense did in winning Sunday.
“We rope-a-doped a little bit today,” Carroll said, “and that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Wilson said: “We were battling ourselves today.”
He began his eight season as the Seahawks’ starting quarterback by completing 14 of 20 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. But he was sacked four times.
Clowney debuted for the Seahawks with his first sack, a pass batted down that the 6-foot-5 pass rusher almost intercepted and constant havoc-wreaking in Cincinnati’s backfield. His first game in nine months, since early January in the playoffs for Houston, came eight days after his trade to the Seahawks.
“Yeah, I felt like I was still knocking some rust off,” he said, looking happy and comfortable in his new locker room among his new teammates and their rap blaring after the win. “But I had a good time out there getting going and getting moving.
“It’s crazy. This fan base is the best that I’ve ever been in front of. I remember telling guys when we were on the road here (for Houston, in a 2017 game) that I’ve never heard a stadium this loud.
“Being a part of it now is even better.”
Lockett had as many targets through three quarters Sunday as you did. He admitted that was frustrating him.
“They did a lot of good things, especially against me, that I’ve never seen before,” Lockett said, meaning constant coverage by a defenders short and another long, like the fifth-year veteran was back breaking college records at Kansas State again.
“I think for anyone, it’s frustrating,” Lockett said of zero targets through 45 minutes Sunday. “But it’s more frustrating just because you go into the first game and Cincinnati did a lot of stuff against me that I didn’t think they were going to do.”
But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Lockett showed up.
Wilson faked a handoff left, then rolled to his right and found Lockett running free down the middle of Cincinnati’s defense, between defensive backs split far and wide for one of the only times against him all day. Wilson’s pass settled into Lockett at the 10-yard line. He cruised in from there for the go-ahead score.
Lockett kept the ball as he jogged to the Seahawks sideline—perhaps because he wasn’t sure when he might see it again.
The Seahawks stayed ahead because of a big goal-line stand on the Bengals’ ensuing possession.
Cornerback Tre Flowers was burned for another in a string of catches outside by John Ross (the former University of Washington wide receiver had seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns Sunday), then got called for pass interference from behind
The Seahawks were down only 17-14 entering the final quarter despite trailing in total yards 356-120 late in the third.
The NFL’s top-ranked rushing offense in 2018 had 32 yards on its first 15 carries against what was the league’s 28th-ranked rush defense a year ago. Without the run to slow down Cincinnati’s defensive front four and its pass rush, or to at least keep it honest, Seattle’s offensive line showed much of what it did in 2018: it couldn’t protect Wilson in long-yardage situations when defenses knew he had to pass.
The low point came midway through the third quarter. Down 17-14 Wilson got sacked on the first play of a series, by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on a blitz. On second and long right tackle Germain Ifedi got beaten soundly for a sack on a four-man rush, by defensive end Sam Hubbard.
Wilson was sacked four times and hit nine other times in his first 20 drop backs. Last season when Seattle began it throwing 73 percent of the time Wilson got sacked a league-high 12 times in the first two games.
No one in the NFL has been sacked the last five seasons more than Wilson.
Yet the Seahawks remained down only 17-14 because on consecutive drives by the Bengals inside Seattle’s 30-yard line Dalton dropped the ball in the rain trying the throw and defensive tackle Woods grabbed it for a turnover, and the Bengals ran the ball up the middle on third and 8 then missed the ensuing field-goal try. On a Cincinnati drive to the Seattle 36 late in the quarter, receiver Tyler Boyd slipped down wide open for what could have been a touchdown catch. Then on the ensuing fourth and 1, Woods dropped running back Gionvani Bernard short of the line to gain.
And the Seahawks survived again.
On the play before Lockett’s go-ahead touchdown, right tackle Germain Ifedi was caught holding at the start of a 20-yard run by Rashaad Penny. Instead of first and 10 at the 14-yard line, Seattle went into the fourth quarter first and 20 at the 44.
Here’s the thing about this Sunday in early September, the first of 16 acts in a long performance of the regular season: More than many Seahawks early seasons, this one is not likely to be indicative of what this team will look like in November and December. This isn’t the “Legion of Boom” secondary and a deep, pressuring defensive front and Wilson throwing to the incredibly reliable Baldwin though an uncanny, unspoken understanding the quarterback and receiver shared in the biggest moments of games.
Those players—with the exception of Wilson, Wagner and linebacker K.J. Wright—and those Super Bowl days are gone. There are so many unknowns, so many new parts in key spots right now.
“We’re all right. We’ve got a long ways to go,” Carroll said.
“This isn’t an indication of anything.”
CARSON IN THE CLUTCH
Third and 2 at the Seahawks’ own 15-yard line. The Bengals had used its remaining time outs on defense. Wilson turned and gave the ball to Chris Carson, who had 13 carries for just 26 yards at that point.
Carson trampled through falling Bengals at the line of scrimmage behind left tackle Duane Brown. Then he bulled through three more, carrying defenders like mail with him on a 21-yard gain that clinched the win.
PAGING MARQUISE BLAIR
Tedric Thompson showed why he should not be the starting free safety once rookie Marquise Blair fully gets back from the hip pointer that kept him out for much of the preseason.
Dalton chucked a jump ball up toward John Ross in the final seconds of the first half, almost Hail Mary style. Thompson ran under like a returner does a punt. But the replacement for departed Earl Thomas as the Seahawks’ deep center fielder in the back of the defense jumped about a day and a half early for the arriving ball. As his feet returned to the ground at the 12-yard line, the ball plopped behind Thompson to Ross for a gift of a 55-yard touchdown.
Thompson, to his credit, gave a direct answer when asked about the gift score.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I’ve got to catch the ball, though.”
Carroll wasn’t happy that the play was one coaches simulate with Seahawks defensive backs routinely, so they can make plays exactly like the one Thompson did not.
“We throw the ball deep to those guys all the time. Every day in practice,” the coach said. “He just misjudged it. He’s a terrific, ball-hawk guy, and he just misjudged it. He left his feet too early.
“It was too bad. That never should have happened, obviously.”
That, and the tiring Clowney late in the second quarter, are how Dalton had 245 yards passing and two scoring throws to Ross in the first half.
The former University of Washington wide receiver flashed his Dubs—his hand in the shape of a W—in the end zone after his first TD catch, 33 yards on a flea flicker. Ross zoomed easily past outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks down the left sideline for the catch and score. Bengals rookie head coach Zac Taylor’s scheme beat Seattle’s on that play.
Blair returned to full practicing this past week. The second-round pick from Utah lost his chance to win a starting job paired with Bradley McDougald at safety because he wasn’t on the field for much of August. Now that he’s back on the field, he may soon be with McDougald on the back line of Seattle’s defense.
ANSAH DEBUT ON HOLD
Ziggy Ansah’s debut will have to wait until perhaps next week’s game at Pittsburgh.
The Seahawks’ prized offseason signing and 2015 Pro Bowl defensive end with Detroit missed Sunday’s game. He was inactive after his first full week of practice in nine months, since shoulder surgery and then a strained groin in August.
“We thought it was gonna be close,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider told KIRO-AM, the team’s flagship station, on Sunday’s pregame radio show.
“It’s very much precautionary.”
Carroll said Ansah “just wasn’t quite ready for this game. We are thinking long haul, and we’ll hope that next week will be the week. ...He just couldn’t quite get it right.”
Quinton Jefferson and Rasheem Green started at defensive ends. Jefferson responded to the unexpected boost in playing time with two sacks, three quarterback hits and two tackles for losses. Jefferson also batted down a third-down pass with 3 1/2 minutes left to end a Bengals drive and keep Seattle ahead 21-20.
Jefferson likely earned more time and a higher place in a defensive-end rotation that is also likely to add rookie first-round draft choice L.J. Collier in the coming weeks.
Collier practiced last week for the first time since he sprained his ankle and foot in late July.
DISSLY HURT AGAIN
Will Dissly played in his first game since a ruptured patellar tendon last Sept. 30 ended his rookie season and promising start to his Seahawks career.
Sunday, he got hurt again.
The former UW tight end and defensive lineman left the game with a right knee injury. That left the Seahawks with one tight end on the roster, Nick Vannett. Reserve offensive tackle George Fant played snaps as an extra, run-blocking tight end, as he did for an average of 14 plays last season.
“Will got hit on the knee a little bit. We have to see what that means,” Carroll said.
FORD, THORPE HURT
With Jarran Reed suspended for the first six games, Poona Ford and the brilliant Woods started at defensive tackle.
Ford, last season’s undrafted rookie surprise, left the game with a injury to his right calf.
“Poona had a calf that kind of tightened up,” Carroll said. “I don’t know if it was cramping, or not.
Special-teams captain Neiko Thorpe left the game with a hamstring injury, “so we’ll see what that means,” Carroll said.