Chris Carson stood on the sideline, blue paint on his jersey, benched after yet another fumble.
K.J. Wright stomped off the field next to a trainer following the Saints’ last touchdown, as angry as he was hurt.
Pete Carroll stood nearby, a look of bewilderment on his face. It had a bloody, messy cut across the bridge of the nose, the result of getting hit in the face by a ball in pregame warmups.
The Seahawks’ day was just as ugly.
“Even the coach got hurt in this one,” Carroll said, ruefully, after his first loss in 15 September home games leading Seattle.
Russell Wilson had 32 completions in 50 throws for 406 yards, the most pass attempts and the second-highest yardage total of his career. He threw for two touchdowns, including to Will Dissly on the final play. He had another 43 yards with two rushing scores, another 100-plus passer rating.
Yet Wilson’s brilliance could not mask fumbles, turnovers, more penalties, special-teams breakdowns and all-around poor Seahawks play.
It was so bad, so given-away, New Orleans, finalist in the NFC last season, didn’t need injured Drew Brees to beat Seattle 33-27 at booing CenturyLink Field on this rainy Sunday.
It wasn’t nearly as close as that score suggests. Seattle gave New Orleans two touchdowns early to go into a 13-0 hole. The Seahawks scored two touchdowns in what was beyond garbage time, after the Saints led 33-14.
“We gave them some stuff early, and we’ve got to quit doing that,” center Justin Britt said.
“We can’t keep starting slow.”
Really, the Seahawks got what they deserved while being denied their first 3-0 start to a season since 2013 — their Super Bowl-championship season.
“I mean, we spotted them 13 points,” wide receiver Tyler Lockett said after all the mistakes wasted his career day (11 catches, 154 yards).
“You take that away, it’s a whole different ball game. I think for us, we’ve just got to eliminate the penalties, especially on first down. It shoots us in the foot. It’s hard to do great on first and 25 or first and 20.”
Seattle’s malfunctioning offense had two more of those. It’s had six first and 16 or mores in their first three games. The best rushing offense in the NFL last season—heck, the Seahawks’ entire offensive game plan—becomes useless prep work when its first, second and third and Tukwila.
“We’re a better football team than that,” left tackle Duane Brown said.
Are they, though?
The Seahawks (2-1) found enough late-game magic by Wilson and Lockett to beat Cincinnati and Pittsburgh by a combined total of three points in the first two games.
The Bengals and Steelers aren’t the Saints. They weren’t conference finalists last season. The two teams Seattle beat despite its ongoing mistakes didn’t even make the playoffs in 2018, and seemingly won’t this season, either. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are each 0-3.
“At the end of the day, you can’t expect things like this to happen like it’s happened in other games (too) and everything just continues to go our way and we found a way to win,” Lockett said.
“At some point, it was going to have to stop being in disguise. It was going to have to reveal itself to us, that we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We can’t continue to do these things thinking we are still going to win. ...
“You can’t just put yourself in a hole and expect to always find a way to come back every, single time.”
They now head to Arizona (0-2-1) for their first NFC West game of the season searching to answer blowing their prime chance at the Saints without Brees. Days after the 12-time Pro Bowl passer and future Hall of Famer had thumb surgery, Teddy Bridgewater (19 for 28, 177 yards, one touchdown) beat Seattle instead.
How will they fix the penalties, the missed tackles, the gifts to opponents?
Cornerback Shaquill Griffin pointed to the need to mind details more in the lighter practices on weekday mornings and on Friday, Saturday and pregame.
“All the little things,” said Griffin, who had three tackles and knocked down a pass Sunday. “We just go through walk-throughs. And you just have to take that part and every part of practice seriously. ...
“We have to focus on being more mentally tough and seeing that the things that we do, every, little thing matters.”
The Seahawks’ gift-giving began four plays into the game. That’s when the Saints (2-1) led, without its Brees-less offense touching the ball.
The Seahawks’ offense began the game by netting minus-10 yards and two penalties — tight end Dissly for an illegal block on the very first play put Seattle in first and 20 yet again this early season. All-Pro Michael Dickson then kicked a not-All-Pro-like 38-yard punt. Saints rookie Deonte Harris took the short punt and zig-zagged through Seattle’s punt-coverage team that had five men unblocked and free to make a play. None did. Harris ran rookie Ben Burr-Kirven and the others for a 53-yard touchdown.
It was the first punt return for a touchdown against Seattle in four years, since Tavon Austin did it for the Rams in 2015.
Two improvisational adjustments by Tyler Lockett after Wilson held onto the ball got the Seahawks even late in the opening quarter.
Lockett drifted and kept drifting deep and into the middle of the field during Wilson’s scramble on a third and 5. Wilson’s eventual throw found him for a 32-yard gain. Then, after a 16-yard run by Carson running over Saints like Marshawn Lynch once did, Lockett ran an initial hook route to the goal line. Wilson waited, and Lockett took off behind New Orleans’ coverage to the back right of the end zone. Wilson’s flick of a pass found Lockett there for the tying touchdown.
But the Seahawks’ mistakes were just beginning.
Twice they wasted time outs for having 12 men on the field after huddling, once on defense and the other on offense against their own goal line. The Saints were leading 20-7 in the third quarter when they missed a 53-yard field goal. But Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods was penalized for lining up with his left shoulder partially over New Orleans long snapper Zach Wood. The NFL years ago made it illegal for the defense to align any player over any part of the snapper on field-goal attempts. That foul gave the Saints a gift first down.
Bobby Wagner made consecutive stops on the 1-yard line on second and third downs. But on fourth and goal, Bridgewater flipped a quick toss out to Michael Thomas for a touchdown. Seattle trailed 27-7.
The Seahawks got the benefit of a Saints giveaway on a third-down incomplete pass on the ensuing drive, a defensive-holding foul 15 yards away from the play. But on third and 6 from the Saints 14, the Seahawks ran Carson for 1 yard. On fourth down, no one blocked a free blitzing Saints linebacker. That resulted in Wilson rushing a throw wide left and incomplete of the open Lockett on the left side of the end zone.
Instead of 27-14, the Saints took possession still up by 20 late in the third quarter.
The Seahawks even had a 15-yard penalty by a guy who wasn’t even playing. Safety Tedric Thompson was inactive because of a hamstring injury. But he was healthy enough to go off the sideline into the middle of the field, well past the yard numbers, to celebrate his teammates recovering a muffed punt by Harris midway through the third quarter.
Instead of a first down at the Saints 33, Seattle was pushed back to midfield. That drive ended on fourth down from the Saints 13 when the offensive line did not pick up a blitzing Saints linebacker and Wilson threw a pass under duress wide of the open Lockett in the back left of the end zone. The Seahawk reamained down 27-7 entering the final quarter.
The game was a desperate scramble for Wilson from there. His 1-yard run got Seattle within 27-14. But after a Seahawks’ defensive stand, the Seahawks had a third and 2 at their own 27 with 10 minutes left. C.J. Prosise ran for only 1 yard.
On fourth and 1, Wilson saw the Saints in “zero” coverage, with no safeties in the middle of the field. He appeared to change the play at the line and sent Malik Turner and Lockett on deep pass routes. Lockett was getting contacted down the field. Wilson threw to Turner outside right, well beyond him incomplete. That was essentially Seattle’s last chance to get back in the game.
Carroll challenged the play for pass interference. But the contact worth reviewing was on Lockett, 20 yards away from the play. And the new NFL reviewing rules are for pass interference on intended receiver, not illegal contract on others. So Carroll lost that challenge.
The Saints took over at the Seahawks 26 and scored a touchdown, Alvin Kamara on a 1-yard run with 4:19 left.
And the Seahawks got what they truly earned Sunday.
Carson lost his third fumble in 2 1/2 games. It was his fourth of the season already, counting the handoff he and Wilson botched while a blitzing Steelers cornerback hit him late in last week’s win at Pittsburgh.
Carson was finishing a 23-yard run with two arms over the ball in the second quarter. Yet Saints cornerback Eli Apple still was able to punch the ball out of Carson’s right arm just before his knee hit the turf on a tackle to end the run. Safety Vonn Bell recovered and ran 33 yards for a touchdown to put New Orleans ahead 13-7.
“I’ve just got to keep my elbow tucked. That’s it,” Carson said. “.I’ve got to protect the ball. That’s it.”
Rashaad Penny would have replaced the fumble-prone Carson at that point. But the 2018 first-round draft choice who scored on an exquisite, 37-yard, cut-back run at Pittsburgh was inactive because of a hamstring injury he oddly got in Friday’s light practice. So Prosise replaced Carson for the start of Seattle’s next drive.
Prosise touched the ball in consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 2 and 3 of the 2017 season, two full years ago.
Carson had one yard on his first five carries. The Saints did what the Bengals and Steelers did in the previous games: Stacked the line of scrimmage early in the game, knowing Seattle would seek to establish the running game that led the NFL in 2018.
Carson re-entered for Prosise on fourth and 1 at the Saints 42-yard line late in the second quarter. The Seahawks sent rarely used fullback Nick Bellore in, put him on a wing left and sent him in motion short route, behind right tackle Germain Ifedi. Carson ran up the middle instead of behind Bellore, and was dropped for a 1-yard loss by New Orleans’ Demario Davis.
The Saints took the ensuing possession to the end zone. Bridgewater completed his first target of the game to star receiver Michael Thomas to convert a third down. Then his screen pass to running back Alvin Kamara went 29 yards for a touchdown. Kamara ran past flailing Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin then bounced off safety Bradley McDougald’s shoulder tap on his way to the end zone.
Seattle was down 20-7.
Carson, Seattle’s 1,100-yard rusher last season, finished the half with 48 yards on 12 carries—and that costly, latest fumble. He finished the game with 53 yards on 15 runs.
The Seahawks were basically a desperate, playground offense relying on Wilson’s throwing and improvisational running in the second half. They threw the ball 36 times and ran it eight after halftime.
After the game, Carroll professed Carson is still his lead running back.
“He’s had three, remarkable punches (by defendrs) that have knocked the ball out,” Carroll said of the first three games.
“He’s been a marvelous player on this team. And he has to fix this.”
CLOWNEY, ANASH TANDEM QUIET
Top offseason acquistion Ziggy Ansah was active for the first time for the Seahawks, coming back from shoulder surgery last year then a groin injury in August. That meant the first time the pass rush used Ansah and recently added Jadeveon Clowney as opposite edge rushers.
They were on the field together for 15 of the Saints’ 50 offensive plays, and only four times in the second half. They had no sacks and no hits on Bridgewater.
Seattle’s only hits on Bridgewater through three quarters came from Quinton Jefferson. The usual defensive end was playing as a hybrid tackle inside Clowney or Ansah for much of the game.
The Seahawks blew a chance to cut into the Saints’ two-score lead at the end of the first half.
With two timeouts and 29 seconds left, Seattle came out throwing. Wilson completed a pass over the middle to tight end Nick Vannett for 9 yards. A choice such as that demands using a timeout there. But the Seahawks did not. The linemen were late getting to the next line of scrimmage after Vannett’s catch.
Nineteen seconds elapsed between the first play of the drive and the second.
By the time Wilson chucked a deep jump ball down the left sideline that DK Metcalf caught on the rookie’s first target of the game for 54 yards to the Saints 16, time in the half expired before the Seahawks called timeout.
The Seahawks left the field with two, unused timeouts, a 13-point deficit, and a home stadium full of booing.
“It’s just, we were on the wrong side of the field and all of a sudden the big play hits, and we pop,” Carroll said.
“Russ came up with some magic and made a great play with DK. If we knew that was going to happen, I would have called the time out earlier. But, it didn’t work.
“That was just kind of how this thing went. It was one of those days.”