“FINISH!” failed. Again.
Pete Carroll, the man behind that one-word mantra, bent at the waist in the middle of the Seahawks’ coldly silent locker room. The coach lowered his voice to talk in a near-whisper to Richard Sherman, who was sitting on a wooden stool.
The All-Pro cornerback was just shaking his head over this most recent late collapse and a defeat his coach described as “baffling.”
A few feet to their right, Cary Williams stared straight into the carpeted floor. The cornerback the Bengals targeted eight times for three completions, one 72-yard touchdown that got called back and two interference flags — including the one that helped set up Cincinnati’s field goal on the final play of regulation — had his head in his hands.
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For three quarters Sunday, 65,000 stunned Ohioans made sold-out Paul Brown Stadium sound almost empty. The Seahawks defense looked like its one of old. It was holding undefeated Cincinnati’s league-leading passing game to just one touchdown. Seattle led 24-7.
For the fourth quarter, the Seahawks defense look like its one of recent. And that’s not going to win any titles.
The Seahawks failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time in seven games dating to January’s NFC Championship Game. That’s why they lost 27-24 in overtime to the Bengals on a 42-yard field goal off the left upright and through by Mike Nugent with 3 minutes, 36 seconds left in overtime.
It was the largest blown lead in a loss for Seattle in 11 years, since Carroll still had boyish, bushy hair and coached USC. On Oct. 10, 2004, the Seahawks also led 24-7, at home against St. Louis, and also lost in overtime.
“It’s about looking at ourselves in the mirror, from up front to the back end,” defensive end Cliff Avril said, “and deciding to get better.”
At 2-3, the two-time defending NFC champions cannot afford to get much worse.
Their only wins this season entering next weekend’s home game versus unbeaten Carolina remain against Chicago and Detroit. Both were winless when they got to Seattle, and the Lions (whom Seattle escaped for a 13-10 win) still are.
On Sunday against one of the NFL’s hottest teams, the Seahawks dominated the first 47 minutes.
But they had to play 60.
The Seahawks scored 17 consecutive points and outgained the NFL’s second-ranked offense and top-ranked passing game 236-58 from the end of the first quarter until two minutes remained in the third.
Then the Bengals (5-0) scored 17 points in the final 12 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter. That was off a 35-yard punt return past DeShawn Shead, more long passes past Sunday strugglers Kam Chancellor and Williams, and an 82-yard drive in the final 2:17 without any timeouts. That ended with Cincinnati’s field-goal unit rushing onto the field and Nugent making his 31-yard field goal as time expired, extending a game that should have been over.
In the end, Seattle’s offense gave no help to its partners under siege across the line.
“We left the defense out there too long. … That starts with me,” quarterback Russell Wilson said.
He completed 15 of 23 passes for 213 yards, with a touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse, one interception — and four more sacks. He’s been dumped 22 times in five games.
Rookie Thomas Rawls gained 169 yards starting his second consecutive game because Marshawn Lynch was out with a strained hamstring. Rawls bulled, Lynch-like, for a 69-yard touchdown to make it 24-7 midway through the third quarter.
But after that, the Seahawks ran 26 plays and gained 53 yards. That’s not exactly a “FINISH!”
“Really tough loss,” Carroll said. “I’m baffled a little bit. We’re very clear about what we want to do and how to get it done. What’s startling is that it’s not happening.
“We’ve had to be terrific in this mode for years to be able to do what we’ve done. The last three (losses) have been the same storyline at the end.
“If we can fix that, we can change the season. And that’s what we plan to do.”
It was 24-7 in the third quarter when Cincinnati’s Adam “Pacman” Jones ran back a punt 35 yards to the Seattle 33. Shead, usually a sure special-teams ace, took responsibility for that. Then All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner banged his sore shoulder and went off with a trainer and team doctor with a pectoral-muscle injury.
On the second of two plays Wagner missed, the Bengals scored on a 10-yard pass from Andy Dalton to tight end Tyler Eifert down the middle past a flailing Chancellor, who with Williams had extra-rough days in coverage and tackling. Seattle’s lead was down to 24-14 with 12:45 left.
Along the sideline, Wagner yelled and angrily stomped away from the doctor as the Bengals scored the TD that revived their chances.
Leading by 10, Seattle had third-and-2 with 9:50 left. Rawls and fullback Derrick Coleman were in an I formation. The Seahawks had 182 yards rushing to that point. But, curiously, they chose to throw. Wilson couldn’t find anyone open. He scrambled around and then threw the ball away, getting drilled in the chest by Cincinnati’s George Iloka while doing it. The Bengals got the ball back down 10 with 9 minutes to go.
Wilson said that call was for a pass in the flat or over the middle to tight end Jimmy Graham (three catches, five targets, 30 yards). He didn’t have time to find either option.
Dalton (30 for 44, 331 yards) then converted consecutive third downs with throws. When he saw the middle of the Seahawks’ defense empty on second and goal from the 5, he snuck it in to cut the lead to 24-21 with 3:38 to go.
That set up the rest of Seattle’s latest collapse.
“Last year we were 3-3 and going nowhere. I think we’re closer now than we were then,” Carroll said.
“We’re not dead and gone. We don’t feel like that at all. We just need to fix some things, and I think we can.
“We just need to finish the game.”