Real-life sadness intersected with football disappointment Monday at Seahawks headquarters.
Coach Pete Carroll reached out to friend and protégé Steve Sarkisian at what is the lowest point of Sarkisian’s career, if not his life.
“This is an opportunity for Sark to get right, to get well,” Carroll said Monday, about 90 minutes after USC announced it had fired Sarkisian as its coach for reasons reportedly related to alcohol abuse.
On Sunday, USC athletic director Pat Haden had placed the former University of Washington coach on indefinite leave for being unfit for work and “not healthy.”
As Carroll, the Trojans’ former head coach who hired Sarkisian for his first coaching job 14 years ago, was speaking Monday more news came out from SB Nation that Sarkisian was checking into a “residential treatment facility” to treat an alcohol issue. Sarkisian had spoken of that issue in August following his slurred speech and profanity while addressing a USC preseason event.
Carroll, 64, said he’d been in contact in recent days with the 41-year-old Sarkisian, whom he hired in January 2001 to be an offensive assistant at USC.
“Pullin’ for him,” Carroll said. “He’s got some big challenges, and he’s got to go take care of them. It’s not about coaching now. It’s about his personal life and getting things in order.
“I know he’s committed to taking the right steps to do that. And this is hugely important.”
In 2002, then-USC coach Carroll promoted Sarkisian to become the Trojans’ quarterback coach. Carroll made him their offensive coordinator in 2008.
Many of Carroll’s assistants came from USC to the Seahawks in 2010, a year after Sarkisian became a first-time head coach at UW. So, many current Seahawks staffers also know Sarkisian well.
Sarkisian is also going through a divorce. He and his wife of 18 years, Stephanie, have three children ages six through 12.
“I’ll be here to support him,” Carroll said. “I know him (from) before, and there’s a lot to offer the world. And it’s been hard on him — and he’s made it hard on people around him, too. He knows that. He’s aware of that. He’s got to take the step to take care of business now.”
That was the ominous backdrop from which Carroll and his staff dissected film of Seattle’s 27-24 loss in overtime at Cincinnati on Sunday — and from which Carroll said star running back Marshawn Lynch is likely to return to practice Thursday and play Sunday at home against Carolina (4-0). Lynch has missed the last two games with a strained hamstring.
The Seahawks (2-3) led the unbeaten Bengals 24-7 with 12 1/2 minutes left. It was the largest blown lead in a Seahawks’ loss since October 2004.
Three times in about 90 seconds Monday, Carroll used the word “disappointing.”
“Very disappointing loss,” Carroll said. “Very disappointing that we went ready to capture an opportunity against a really good team. … We came out and played, really, our best football for the most part. And then they captured the momentum and the energy they needed to finish the game off, and we didn’t. It’s real obvious.
Most obvious: the defense throttling Cincinnati’s top-ranked passing game through the end of the third quarter. Seattle sacked Andy Dalton twice as many times as he’d been sacked in four games. But then the Seahawks allowed Dalton to throw all over the place for the Bengals’ 20 consecutive points.
“We changed coverage. We were not sitting back. We weren’t waiting on them,” Carroll said. “We were still trying to push to create the pressure that we had created earlier. We had some good success with blitzes, and the four-man rush was obviously helping us. We rushed them better than probably anybody has rushed them this year.
“We kept pushing it. It’s just plays, a play here and there. A couple of technique errors, leverage and stuff like that, and coverage that could have helped us on third-down conversions ...
“At least make them beat you when you’re exactly on point with what you need to do, and we just missed some fine points there.”
Disappointing? That was also Seattle’s offense. It gained a season-high 397 yards overall behind an improved offensive line. Undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls, Lynch’s full-in, rushed for 169 yards, the most by a Seahawk since Shaun Alexander’s 201 in a Seattle snowstorm against Green Bay in 2007.
But Seattle gained 53 yards over its final 26 plays at Cincinnati and punted on each of its final six drives, before the Bengals kicked the game-winning field goal with just under 4 minutes left in overtime.
“Any sequence in there. We could have stopped them, made a third down stop on defense. Any sequence in there, we had two third and 4s and a third and 2 that we couldn’t convert on a day when we were making some third-down conversions and handling those situations,” Carroll said.
“Any one of those wins might have been the difference in the game. It’s just frustrating that we didn’t get any of them when we needed.”
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin used that word three times in 60 seconds talking about this trend Sunday in a quiet corner of an even quieter Seahawks locker room at Paul Brown Stadium.
“It’s frustrating, obviously,” Baldwin said. “The more frustrating part is that … we didn’t finish. We’ve been known for finishing. We’re the ones who always preach ‘You can’t win a game in the first half; you have to win the game in the fourth quarter.’ And we didn’t do that.
“It’s extremely frustrating knowing how talented we are, knowing how good we are, and knowing how poised we can be in those moments.”
Baldwin and Jimmy Graham led the Seahawks with three catches in Cincinnati. But neither caught a ball in the fourth quarter, when one first down on any drive would have Seattle 3-2 and a game out of the division lead right now instead of 2-3 and two games back of Arizona in the NFC West.
“You’ve got to finish,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “In the Super Bowl, we didn’t finish. Green Bay (last month), we didn’t finish. That’s on us.
“The offense gave us a nice lead. And the defense, we’ve just got to step up and finish.”
Carroll said All-Pro LB Bobby Wagner’s strained pectoral muscle could keep him out “a couple weeks” or could be well enough for him to play this weekend. More tests are coming. … Carroll said DT Jordan Hill is likely to miss a couple games with a strained quadriceps.