With the offense the way it is behind a new, sputtering line and Russell Wilson playing on a sprained ankle, the Seahawks are going to have to win with defense and Wilson’s defying plays.
That didn’t happen Sunday at Los Angeles. Not much of anything did for Seattle -- at least not positively.
Oh, Wilson tried. His 53-yard strike down the left side to Tyler Lockett, who had spent most of the final 3 quarters on the sideline with a knee injury, got Seattle from its own 12 to the Rams 35 in the final minute.
But on third down, Christine Michael tried to bull through two Rams while seeking the first down line to gain at the Los Angeles 25. Safety Mark Barron knocked the ball from Michael. Linebacker Alec Ogletree recovered. And the Seahawks lost their first game this young season, 9-3 at the packed, roaring Memorial Coliseum, the NFL’s first regular-season game in this city since 1994.
“Really disappointed,” coach Pete Carroll said. “To come out and play like that, not give us a real shot to get ahead was tough. Tough day.
“I never thought we’d go the first couple weeks having scored one touchdown. I’m surprised at that.”
The Seahawks (1-1) managed their fewest points in a game since Oct. 23, 2011, a 6-3 loss at Cleveland. That was a 7-9 season, Carroll’s second one -- and only non-playoff season leading Seattle.
Carroll said the offensive line with new starters in four of the five positions and a fill-in guard, J’Marcus Webb, playing right guard for injured No. 1 draft choice Germain Ifedi is not the issue. The issue, the coach thinks, starts with not converting on third downs. The Seahawks were four for 13 Sunday and are nine for 29 .(31 percent) through two games.
They were 46.5 percent converting third downs to extend drives last season.
Of course, an ineffective and at-times malfunctioning offensive line can hinder a team’s ability to convert third downs.
As tight end Jimmy Graham said after his three catches for 42 yards: “We know we are better than this.”
Yes, this team has looked bad in recent early seasons -- then rebounded with fantastic Decembers and into the playoffs the last four season and two of the last three Super Bowls. Thus, it has earned the benefit of all your doubts right now.
Not that that makes you feel any better.
“We’re going to be fine,” Lockett said. “It’s only week two.”
The NFC West-rival Rams (1-1) looked awful in losing their opening last week 28-0 at San Francisco. They weren’t a ton better Sunday, managing just 283 total yards against Seattle.
But the Seahawks were even worse. In almost all ways.
Again, the defense did its job. Los Angeles gained just 283 yards. The Seahawks had won their last 11 games dating to the start of last season when holding opponents to that many yards or fewer.
When I asked if he is happy with how the defense has played in allowing 19 points through two games, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett said outside the locker room: “I’ve been happy with the way this defense has played for five years.
“We played great defense. We just have to play better as a team.”
Indeed, Wilson couldn’t pull plays out of his magic hat so readily because of the gimpy ankle that kept him from eluding swarming defenders and extending plays as he often does. That meant Wilson was not able to mask the deficiencies in his pass protection. New lead back Thomas Rawls started for the first time since he broke his ankle in December, then left in the first half for good after he got kicked in the leg.
The offense converted just four of 13 first downs. That’s nine for 29 on the young season now.
The Seahawks also had 12 penalties called on them. Killer ones, too.
The Seahawks couldn’t get out of their own way all day.
They appeared to get a big stop with 2 1/2 minutes left in the game when Cassius Marsh sacked Los Angeles’ Case Keenum. But Marsh grabbed the quarterback’s facemask while doing it. Instead of fourth and Gardena, the Rams got a first down near midfield -- and forced Seattle to start its next drive at its own 12 with 1:53 left instead of up nearer midfield with more time left.
“That was huge,” Carroll said of the call.
Marsh was incredulous walking to the team bus to the airport after the game.
“I didn’t get any explanation. I didn’t grasp any facemask. There was no pulling his head; it didn’t twist in any way,” Marsh said.
“Couldn’t have been a cleaner sack, to me. ... That’s just the way this game is today (with quarterbacks protected by rules and officiating).”
Another example: First and 10 at the Rams 34 in the first half became first and 10 after consecutive false starts by left tackle Bradley Sowell and center Justin Britt. First and goal at the LA 3 became first down at the 13 because wide receiver Jermaine Kearse got called for pass interference picking a defender in the end zone on an incomplete pass.
“Is this like the NBA: If you talk about the officiating (you get fine)?” Kearse asked.
“I would disagree.”
That drive to somewhere then nowhere ended with Steven Hauschka’s 23-yard field goal early in the second quarter. That tied the game at 3.
Los Angeles untied it after a blown coverage by the Seahawks on tight end Lance Kendricks’ long route behind linebacker Mike Morgan. Case Keenum rolled right then threw back left to Kendricks underneath a clear-out route that sent Seattle safety Earl Thomas deeper. The 44-yard pass set up Greg Zuerlein’s second field goal for the Rams’ 6-3 halftime lead.
Doug Baldwin, Lockett joined Rawls in going off injured under trainers’ watches in the first half. Lockett, the 2015 Pro Bowl rookie kick returner who’s been targeted by Wilson on passes 11 times in the season’s first six quarters, did not return until late with what the Seahawks announced as a knee injury.
Baldwin said afterward in the Coliseum’s tunnel he “felt like crap” with back spasms on a hard hit he took from behind following a third-down catch short of the line to gain and a knee that will require an MRI exam. This coming week before next Sunday’s home game against San Francisco (1-1 after a loss Sunday at Carolina) will be full of treatment for him.
Wilson was 22 for 35 passing for 254 yards on that ankle he sprained in Seattle’s 12-10 escape late past Miami in last week’s opener.
Michael rushed 10 times for 60 yards, then said of his final, fateful fumble: “I’ve just got to do better holding onto the ball in those situations and just come back and get better.”
Wilson said: “I told Christine Michael -- and Thomas Rawls, too -- I have all the confidence in the world in these guys.”
And of the struggling offense, in general: “Unfortunately,” Wilson said, “we needed to make one of two more plays.”