The Seahawks revamped secondary — “The Legion of Whom?” — made its debut Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons.
Despite fears that the absence of cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor would reduce the defense to 98-pound weaklings, business appeared to proceed more or less as usual.
A retired Navy officer belted out a stirring version of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The CenturyLink Field crowd remained in fever-pitch mode as Barbara Nichols, at 95 the oldest living member of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, raised the 12th Man Flag.
The Seahawks last 11 appearances on Monday Night Football were Seattle victories. Their record in prime time games since 2010 was 21-3-1. The fans knew all about how those crazy numbers could help make up for injuries sustained by players regarded to be irreplaceable.
And then Blair Walsh booted the opening kickoff to Atlanta’s Andre Roberts, who returned the ball from the south end zone to Falcons’ 48. Seven plays and three minutes later, running back Tevin Coleman was bolting into the north end zone.
So much for the concept of business as usual on Monday night, when the Hawks essentially refuted everything we thought we knew about them.
On the second snap of Seattle’s first possession, quarterback Russell Wilson, who came into the game resembling an NFL Offensive Player of the Year candidate, threw a pass intended for wide receiver Tyler Lockett. It ended up in the hands of cornerback Desmond Trufant, who took the ball from the Atlanta 22-yard line to the Seahawks’ 35.
Another quick drive — seven plays, a bit more than three minutes — ended with the Falcons celebrating a second touchdown. This time it was on a third-and-goal pass from quarterback Matt Ryan to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.
Visiting teams don’t show up at CenturyLink Field and score two touchdowns before the midway point of the first quarter. They just don’t.
But the Falcons did. They added a third touchdown in the second quarter, when Wilson was dropped for a sack and fumbled. When defensive end Adrian Clayborn picked the ball up, all he saw was green.
The Hawks realized their work was cut out for them against the defending NFC champions. Although their passing attack has underachieved while Ryan and first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian struggle to develop chemistry, this was a quality opponent that figured to test the depth of the injury-depleted secondary.
The game wasn’t even a minute old when it became evident the secondary’s depth would get tested some more. Shaquill Griffin’s tackle of Coleman resulted in a possible concussion that sent the rookie cornerback to the sideline — and kept him on the sideline.
For the Seahawks, losing a cornerback to concussion protocol was not what the doctor ordered. Come to think of it, concussion evaluation was precisely what the doctor ordered, but you get the idea.
Despite the cruel turn of events early, the Hawks defense got to halftime without Ryan picking it apart. His precision passing largely was responsible for the Falcons advancing to the Super Bowl last season, but his numbers through two quarters were not as jaw-dropping as pessimists envisioned: 9-of-15 for 98 yards.
Five different receivers were targeted, but the only one who demanded special attention was former All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. He finished the first half with two catches for 22 yards, statistics that had to please Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard.
But challenged to make the most of the terrible cards they’d been dealt, some other developments were not as pleasing. Head coach Pete Carroll’s recent vow to minimize penalties remains, well, a vow. The Seahawks, who lead the league in a category no team should aspire to lead, were flagged four times for 61 yards in the first half.
If there were a penalty for unnecessary strategy, a fifth flag would have been thrown on the Seahawks coaching staff. Lining up for what loomed as a routine, 38-yard field-goal attempt with seven seconds remaining in the half, Blair Walsh didn’t get an opportunity for the kick that should have cut the Hawks deficit to four points.
Instead, holder Jon Ryan threw a short pass to tight end Luke Willson, who was dropped for a four-yard loss. What were the Hawks thinking? That Willson would catch the ball and outrace 11 defenders for a 26-yard touchdown.
When you surrender 14 quick points, when it’s clear the night is shaping up as a grind, every score is precious, even routine field goals.
Especially routine field goals.