Just another Seahawks game. On Halloween eve just off Bourbon Street, no less.
The defense got exhausted. And the offense didn’t awaken — until it was too late.
With the Superdome as bonkers as New Year’s Eve on Bourbon Street down the road, Russell Wilson threw a jump ball outside right too high for Jermaine Kearse. Kearse made a crazy, leaping catch but could not get both feet down inside the back boundary of the end zone.
That’s how this Sunday afternoon ended for the Seahawks, with a loss 25-20 to the previously sinking Saints.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll walked off the field shaking his head. He wasn’t the only one.
“It was a very difficult day for us,” Carroll said. “We made it hard on ourselves.”
Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham had three catches on five targets for 34 yards in his return to the field in which he became a $40 million star before his trade to Seattle in March 2015. But Graham had only one target in Wilson’s final 10 passes, as Seattle got within 10 yards of winning at the end. Graham got just one target in the red zone, a 15-yard catch and run to the 5 in the fourth quarter before a short field goal by Steven Hauschka.
What did Graham think of the game and reunion? He walked silently in a cold stare out of the locker room, through a hallway and the entire, 120-yard length of the Superdome field, including both end zones, to the team bus. Never said a word. Never looked anywhere but straight ahead.
Cornerback Richard Sherman grabbed Saints coach Sean Payton on the field immediately after the final play and talked to him. Sherman got picked illegally -- but not called -- on a key Saints first-down conversion late.
Then Sherman picked all on the league needing to “make sure they keep an impact on and control of the game” through its officiating. Sherman called the officiating of Sunday’s game by referee Ed Houchuli’s crew “egregious.”
"I don’t know what it is, but it’s real obvious to the outside world how the game was officiated,” is representative sampling of what Sherman thought of Houchuli’s crew. “I don’t think they (the officials) were trying to hide anything. I mean, the calls – or lack thereof – were pretty egregious...
"…I mean, even at home we rarely get calls. But they don’t tear us apart (like they did today)."
Seattle had 11 penalties. New Orleans, which was averaging 7.5 flags accepted against it coming in, had two Sunday.
Despite the chirping -- justifiable, to me -- about the officiating, the Seahawks have far more pressing matters to fix. Such as its offense.
Leave it to leveled wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who came within a tackle of winning the game on a catch and run for 27 yards over the middle to the Saints 18 with 25 seconds left and finished with four catches for 51 yards, to understand the officiating isn’t Seattle’s biggest problem.
“Look at what happens before them,” he said.
The defense was on the field for 21 of the game’s first 29 minutes. Seattle (4-2-1) ran for three yards in the first half. THREE.
Earl Thomas picked up his first fumble recovery in two years, ran it in for a touchdown — then hugged the sideline official for a hilarious unsportsmanlike penalty he was glad to get. Until he got it.
The Seahawks’ offense was again going nowhere behind a new left tackle who was a college basketball player and whose previous football start was in a Pee Wee league. That was George Fant. It took a pass by Wilson to mothballed, two-reconstructive-knee-surgeries Paul Richardson, then a double pass from undrafted rookie wide receiver Tanner McEvoy, a former quarterback at Wisconsin to get the Seahawks moving. McEvoy’s strike to rookie running back CJ Prosise, who is more comfortable being the wide receiver he was for three years at Notre Dame, set up the offense’s first touchdown, a 2-yard run by Christine Michael.
On third and goal from 2 for the Saints (3-4) with 12:30 left in the game, inside receiver Willie Snead plowed Jeremy Lane 3 yards into the end zone. Outside receiver Brandin Cooks ran a slant behind Snead’s block for New Orleans’ go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard pass from Drew Brees on third down. Lane and the Seahawks’ bench howled in protest.
Lane said the official covering the play said he made no effort to avoid the contact, so he didn’t throw a flag.
“Really?” Lane said he told the official.
Rules state teammates cannot block for receivers past 1 yard beyond the line of scrimmage.
It took until the fourth quarter for the Seahawks to finally get the passing game going against the NFL’s worst pass defense. Wilson drove them from their own 25 to Steven Hauschka’s short field goal, and Seattle trailed 22-20.
Wilson was 22 for 34 passing for 253 yards, no touchdowns and one interception — just his second pick in 215 throws this season. That interception at the Seattle 37 set up the Saints’ first touchdown, a reach over the goal line by Brees. That was after the Seahawks stopped New Orleans on three consecutive plays from inside the 3, and it cut Seattle’s early 14-3 lead to 14-13.
In the fourth quarter, Sherman’s holding penalty on third down extended New Orleans’ late drive into Seahawks territory. Sherman was hopping mad, but the Saints got the field goal to take a 25-20 lead.
With no timeouts on third down near midfield, Wilson fired a dart in stride to slanting Doug Baldwin. His run to the 19 set up the Seahawks with 15 seconds to go. Wilson’s dump off pass to Prosise to the 10 didn’t leave much time — 2 seconds — for the final play, to Kearse.
New Orleans had eight plays inside the Seahawks’ 5-yard line in the game’s first 41 minutes. Seattle stopped the Saints on seven of them. Sherman and Frank Clark slamming into running back Tim Hightower from the 2, an incomplete pass, and tackle Ahtyba Rubin blasting through a block and dumping Hightower for a 2-yard loss on third down forced a short Saints field goal late in the third quarter and preserved Seattle’s lead, 17-16.
But only temporarily.
The first half half was a repeat of last week’s epic, 95-play overtime tie at Arizona: The Seahawks defense was on the field for 21 of this game's 29 minutes. The Saints’ offense ran 41 of Sunday’s first 54 plays. At that point, Seattle’s defense had been on the field for 75 of the 104 minutes the team had played the last two games.
Yet the Seahawks still led.
It took five tries from inside Seattle’s 5-yard line before the Saints scored a touchdown on Brees’ reach across the goal line from a half-yard out. The first touchdown allowed by Seattle’s defense in 120 minutes of game time, back to the third quarter of the win over Atlanta Oct. 16, got the Saints within 14-13.
The Saints calling a time out on defense early in Seattle’s ensuing drive helped the Seahawks move improbaby into field-goal position at the end of the half. Wilson’s completion on third down to Doug Baldwin then on a deep sideline route to Jermaine Kearse to the Saints 44 plus a quick out to Kearse out of bounds with 1 second left resulted in Steven Hauschka coming on for a 56-yard field-goal try. But holder Jon Ryan dropped the accurate snap from rookie Nolan Frese. Hauschka, who was making 59-yarders with yards to spare pregame inside the dome, never got the chance to increase Seattle’s lead. So it stayed 14-13 into the third quarter.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle