Russell Wilson ran when he had to. Threw precise darts when he had to. Twice, he willed his Seahawks back from 18 points down to within two points late.
On this Sunday inside the Edward Jones Dome, Seattle’s relentless quarterback rebounded from one of the worst games of his career to do just about everything. Except, that is, play special teams.
Wilson became the first player in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 yards in a game.
“I don’t care,” he responded. “I’m about winning.”
That didn’t happen. Again. Wilson’s 313 yards passing with two touchdowns, plus 106 yards running, and Doug Baldwin’s seven catches for 123 yards as the new No. 1 receiver after the stunning trade of Percy Harvin two days earlier — none of that ultimately kept Seattle from a self-inflicted, 28-26 loss to the Rams.
As coach Pete Carroll said afterward: “There is so much room for improvement.”
Monumental breakdowns on special teams cost the Seahawks 14 points, a final possession likely near midfield — and ultimately the game.
Afterward, players such as linebacker K.J. Wright sat stunned in front of lockers with hands on their chins.
Yet Wilson remained characteristically sunny side up afterward.
“I think the best part about today, even despite the loss, is just our resilience,” Wilson said. “Our resilience showed up.
“Our backs were definitely against the wall.”
They still are.
The Super Bowl champions are 3-3, and Wilson is the quarterback of the third-place team in the NFC West entering next week’s game at NFC South leader Carolina. The Seahawks are on their first two-game losing streak in 24 months. They have as many defeats in six games as they had in all 19 games last season.
After this second straight defeat, Baldwin confirmed he got in a physical altercation with Harvin days before the final exhibition game in August. The News Tribune confirmed through league sources with knowledge of the reasons for Friday’s trade that the fight with Baldwin, another altercation Harvin had with former receiver Golden Tate in the days before February’s Super Bowl, and Harvin indeed refusing to enter last week’s loss to Dallas in the fourth quarter are why Harvin “didn’t fit” in Seattle.
“Yes, it is true,” Baldwin said of the fight with Harvin this preseason.
“However, when you deal with somebody 12, 14 hours a day, you’re going to have issues and conflict. It’s a family in this locker room. Just like family members, you’re going to have issues and scuffles.”
And adversity. Loads of it now.
The Seahawks entered Sunday without four injured starters, then lost a fifth when fullback Derrick Coleman broke his foot in pregame warmups. When this game began, they had a cornerback, Tharold Simon, filling in for injured starter Byron Maxwell and committing two major penalties in the first 15-plus minutes to set up St. Louis’ second touchdown.
Without Harvin to feature on gadget fly sweeps, bubble screens and tailback runs anymore, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell started the game by going back to what got Seattle to the Super Bowl last year: relying on the power running of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch carried five times on the first drive, which ended with Steven Hauschka’s field goal. He carried 18 times in all, for 53 yards.
The strategy of finally feeding Lynch would have — should have — worked for a win. Seattle outgained St. Louis 463 total yards to 272. Wilson, who had his third-lowest passing rating in last week’s loss to Dallas, was 23 of 36 for 313 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was not enough.
The Seahawks’ kickoff-coverage team gave up a 71-yard return to Benny Cunningham that set up St. Louis’ first touchdown. Then in the second quarter the entire punt-coverage unit fell for a Rams fake that maybe should work in middle school but not in the NFL.
The Rams have run fakes and gadget plays in the kicking game for years with coach Jeff Fisher scheming against Seattle, but none this good. St. Louis had dual punt-return men deep. Stedman Bailey was on the right with Tavon Austin even with him deep on the left. Carroll confirmed Seattle’s Jon Ryan punted the ball as the play call specified, toward the right corner of the field near the goal line. As the ball was in flight that way, the Rams shifted their nine blockers over to the opposite, left side away from the ball and toward the idled Austin. The Seahawks aggressively followed those nine blockers that way instead of following their assigned route under the punt’s flight.
That left Bailey alone to catch the ball and run untouched 90 yards for the touchdown. The Rams led 21-3.
“They did a great job. It pushed everybody that way,” Carroll said. “We chased all of their blocks in that direction.
“Great play by them. They played to our discipline.”
Then, one final, crucial special-teams blunder, at the apex of Seattle’s comeback.
The Seahawks rallied with 16 consecutive points into the fourth quarter. One play after a holding penalty on extra tackle Alvin Bailey wiped out a Lynch touchdown run, Wilson threw under usual pressure to the back shoulder of Cooper Helfet in the end zone. The No. 3 tight end, with starter Zach Miller and fill-in Luke Willson out injured, made a remarkable leaping, twisting catch while getting the toes of each shoe just inside the sideline boundary for the 19-yard score. Helfet’s first touchdown of his three-year career made it 21-19.
The two-point try to tie it with 9:51 left went awry when a Rams pass rusher sped past rookie right tackle Justin Britt and forced Wilson to throw early. Jermaine Kearse dived for the lofted ball in the middle of the end zone, but the ball tipped off his hands — and away from teammate Robert Turbin, who was coming from the right behind Kearse for the catch that would have tied the game.
The Rams drove from their own 20 to the Seahawks’ 14 on the ensuing drive, with quarterback Austin Davis connecting for 30 yards to Chris Givens, who beat nickel back Marcus Burley across the field.
With the game on the line, the Seahawks defense allowed Davis to complete four of five throws for 66 yards. The last one was 4 yards on second and goal to tight end Lance Kendricks, who scored when Wright — who moved to middle from outside linebacker because starter Bobby Wagner is in a leg cast for turf toe — couldn’t tackle Kendricks following his catch at the 2. That made it 28-19 Rams with 5:36 left.
“Just a bad play,” Wright said, barely above a whisper. “Not good enough. I just didn’t make the play.”
Davis, St. Louis’ No. 4 quarterback as of August and a volunteer assistant coach at a Missouri high school this time last year, completed 18 of 21 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. The Seahawks didn’t sack him, continuing their issues of not getting the pass rush home.
Yet Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense kept coming. Wilson hit Lynch and Baldwin on consecutive plays out of hurry-up offense with 4 minutes left, then found Jermaine Kearse across the middle for a 29-yard catch and run to the Rams’ 9. Wilson to Baldwin in the slot from there for the touchdown pass with 3:22 left cut the Rams’ lead to 28-26.
The Seahawks’ defense forced a three-and-out on a pass breakup on third down by Richard Sherman while Seattle used its last two timeouts. That set the Rams up to punt from their own 18 with 2:55 left. That’s when Fisher called his second trick play in the kicking game. Instead of punting, Johnny Hekker threw a pass outside to Cunningham for the first down on a fake.
It was a supremely daring call by Fisher. Had the play failed from there, the Seahawks could have knelt down three times, then kicked the short, winning field goal.
DeShawn Shead was late coming over to cover Cunningham in the flat on the fake. Shead said it was a play he and the Seahawks had prepared for. But as Carroll said, “we never thought they’d do it then.”
“We have an old history here with the hide-out play, but this was great execution by them on a couple of different situations,” Carroll said.
Even after that, the Seahawks had one more chance when St. Louis’ Tre Mason amazingly fumbled on a hit by Malcolm Smith at the end of a long run to the Seattle 32. The ball bounded 9 yards and rested under Sherman’s legs and, briefly, his torso. Yet the officials ruled St. Louis ultimately recovered. The Seahawks were still steaming afterward that replay officials did not even stop the game to review who recovered the ball under the huge pile.
“I had the ball. I was down,” Sherman said. “I thought they would have blown the whistle, but they stopped the ball and moved it back to the old spot.”
The way the Seahawks started, the way they played special teams, they hadn’t earned a gift, final chance.
Afterward, All-Pro safety Earl Thomas went around the silent locker room encouraging teammates individually, showing his appreciation.
“The character is there. This is not the time to point fingers,” Thomas said. “This is the time to embrace guys, and help them.”
As Sherman said: “Guys just have to play better football.”
So much better.