John McGrath

John McGrath: Caving in to Kam Chancellor might hurt Seattle Seahawks more than loss to St. Louis Rams

Rams tight end Lance Kendricks, left, catches a 37-yard pass for a the tying touchdown as Seahawks free safety Dion Bailey, right, watches after tripping during the play.
Rams tight end Lance Kendricks, left, catches a 37-yard pass for a the tying touchdown as Seahawks free safety Dion Bailey, right, watches after tripping during the play. The Associated Press

In the aftermath of a Seahawks-Rams game Sunday that seemed to swing from one wild and crazy play to another, Fox studio commentator Howie Long brought up the name of somebody who didn’t participate in a play of any kind.

“Kam Chancellor sure improved his leverage today,” said Long, referring to the former captain of the Seahawks’ once-stellar defense.

That Chancellor’s contract holdout weakened the Seahawks was as obvious as the tableau of the fallen safety who was helpless to replace him. Preseason injuries forced St. Louis to start third-team running back Benny Cunningham in the opener. Behind an offensive line believed to be even more unstable than Seattle’s, Cunningham figured to have little daylight in a dome that’s as dark as doom anyway.

Sure enough, the Seahawks held Cunningham to 45 yards on 16 carries. But he also caught four passes for 77 yards, occupying a key role in a Rams air attack best described by this stat: quarterback Nick Foles completed at least one pass for more than 20 yards to five different receivers.

Precisely how much the Seahawks were hurt by replacing Chancellor with the inexperienced Dion Bailey is anybody’s guess, but you’ve got to assume a Pro Bowl veteran would have been an upgrade over a flat-footed replacement making his first NFL start.

But if the Seahawks suddenly surrender and agree to restructure a contract, they end up losing more than a heartbreaker in St. Louis. They lose all that coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have stood for during Chancellor’s holdout.

Granted, during the Rams’ late drive reminiscent of the New England Patriots fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl 49, the Seahawks were desperate for somebody to participate in a third-down stop. There were no third-down stops. St. Louis converted on a third and 11, a third and 3, a third and 15 and, finally, the third and 5 that victimized Bailey.

A tough defeat, and the absolute worst way to kick off a season that’s setting up as a mid-September combination punch. Next up: An NFC Championship Game rematch in Green Bay, a date the Pavlov’s Dog Packers have been salivating over since the 2015 schedule was released.

But no defeat, no matter how disheartening, should compromise principles established to secure long-range plans for the team. If Carroll and Schneider blink first, the message about holding steadfast on guaranteed contracts will be clear: “We say what we mean and we mean what we say — unless, like, you’re really good at what you do, and the guy we arranged to fill in for you tripped while attempting to cover the pass that turned a 31-24 lead into a 31-31 tie.”

Chancellor is a force, to be sure, and Bailey is a project, but the overtime defeat hinged on more than a position change in the secondary. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked six times, and when he managed to avoid the blitzkrieg, he was hurried and hassled.

Scoring 31 points suggests an offense operating at full-throttle. It didn’t. Thanks to Tyler Lockett’s punt return and Cary Williams’ stat-book superfecta — the blitzing cornerback registered a sack, forced a fumble, recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown, all on the same play — the offense produced only 17 points.

Not so long ago, 17 points would have been enough to assure a Seahawks’ victory over the plodding Rams, known for their bold special-teams play and relentless pass rush. But these aren’t the same old Rams, and the Seahawks aren’t the same old Seahawks.

I am thinking here of Carroll’s decision to attempt what he called a “pooch” kick in overtime. Daryl Johnston, in the TV booth, noted that the gamble reflected the coach’s trust in his defense: Carroll had faith the defense could hold the Rams to a field goal, Johnston said, a scenario that would enable the Seahawks to answer with a scoring drive of their own.

My take? I suspect Carroll had such little faith in a defense challenged to make third-down stops, he was willing to risk giving the Rams possession at midfield in exchange for the chance to get first dibs at a winning touchdown.

And while I’ve seen better kicks, pooch or otherwise, it wasn’t the strategy at the beginning of overtime that backfired on the Seahawks. It was the strategy a few minutes later, when the Hawks needed less than 1 yard on a fourth-down play to keep hope alive.

Wilson took the snap from the shotgun and handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, immediately engulfed by what looked like 35 Rams defenders. Inevitable comparisons were made between Lynch’s DOA carry and the goal-line pass that deprived Seattle of a second consecutive Super Bowl championship, as if to validate the crazy call.

Nonsense. The Seahawks almost certainly move the chains Sunday if Wilson lines up under center and executes a quarterback sneak. A shotgun snap on fourth-and-inches makes no more sense than throwing a slant-route pass to a backup receiver at the goal line.

In any case, the two-time defending NFC champs are 0-1, and if they somehow defy some very long odds and escape Green Bay with a 1-1 record, a parade might be in order.

I don’t know how Kam Chancellor is processing all of this. All I know is that he is wanted and needed and missed, and that a capitulation acknowledgment of how much he is wanted and needed and missed stands as a loss quite more substantial than a 34-31 defeat on Sept. 13.

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