The Seahawks led 24-7 going into the fourth quarter. For the fourth time in six games, the Seahawks failed to hold a fourth quarter lead.
It’s not just on the defense — although it played a big part again today. After a tepid start to the game, Seattle’s defensive counter worked to perfection. They were creative with blitzes and smothered the run game. Andy Dalton looked rattled.
Cincinnati found a way to counter themselves — and the Seahawks sadly had no answer this time. It’s hard to tell on the first viewing but it looked like the Bengals quickened things up, worked the middle and exploited the slot. Dalton’s two touchdown throws were identical with Kam Chancellor and/or Earl Thomas responsible for a similar blown coverage.
It was all too easy with the Bengals facing a desperate situation. They had to score quick and big. Big play after big play followed. There was little resistance as Cincy edged to a 24-24 tie as time expired and overtime.
The offense was equally responsible. Like the Super Bowl — they had an opportunity to help protect a two score lead. Even a modest drive with a couple of first downs would’ve aided the cause. Instead they were impotent and lifeless when it mattered. The Seahawks punted six times in a row to end the game, barely mustering a first down in the process.
And all this with the offensive line playing very well.
Two third and short plays stand out in regulation, with the Seahawks leading. The first provoked a low percentage fade down the right sideline to Jermaine Kearse. The second was a slow developing throw where Russell Wilson heard footsteps, tried to step into the pocket and was sacked.
The temptation is to ask why didn’t they run the ball on 3rd and 3/4 — I suspect Cincinnati expected the call and were prepared. Throwing the ball was probably the right thing to do. It’s the types of throw that are hard to fathom.
Some of the critique surrounding the Jimmy Graham trade has been asinine and poorly researched. He’s been Seattle’s most targeted receiver in the opening quarter of the season and this is a very different offense to New Orleans’ with Drew Brees.
Even so — this is surely the exact reason they brought Graham in at great expense? Two third and short calls with the game on the line. Maybe Graham was the initial primary target on both plays? Perhaps. But the fact is the Seahawks haven’t crafted the types of plays in those money situations to make their big investment worthwhile after five games.
Graham in Seattle wasn’t about 1500 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was about improving red zone and third down efficiency.
Surely they had a play to get a minimum of four yards from their new asset?
While the Bengals made adjustment on offense and featured their athletic tight end against a supposedly elite defense, the Seahawks had no answer. In six drives.
It cost them a vital game.
The next part of the schedule is favourable. None of the following are gimme’s, but there’s scope for a long winning run:
Carolina (H), San Francisco (A), Dallas (A), Arizona (H), San Francisco (H), Pittsburgh (H)
Heading into that with a 3-2 record intact sets the Seahawks up for a real tilt at the NFC West and possibly a first round bye. Instead, they drop a second heartbreaker on the road after a similar meltdown against the Rams.
On both occasions the defense couldn’t hold and the offense couldn’t counterpunch.
It’s still too early in the season to be too critical, but there are several big questions that have to be asked right now:
— What can this team hang its hat on offensively during a vital portion of a game? They have a lot of big name playmakers. But what are they?
— How much longer does the offensive staff need to create a series of plays to get the best out of Jimmy Graham? Especially on vital downs. Some would argue it’s already taking too long. It’s not about 35-yard gains or touchdowns. Can he at least convert a short third down or two?
— I don’t want a comments section filled with ‘Fire Bevell’ because it’s a lazy go-to reaction. Every team that lost today has a rabid fan base screaming at either a.) the quarterback b.) the Head Coach or c.) the offensive coordinator. Seahawks fans have established their target but let’s try and talk football. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are not blameless either. That said — Bevell must take a portion of responsibility for this defeat. The offense had no counter in the fourth quarter when they needed a couple of first downs to snatch back momentum. The six punts to end the game were as costly as the big plays given up on defense. At times like this — you want and need a counter.
— What is wrong with the defense and why are they so streaky? In the last two games they’ve dominated high-octane passing games and limited the run. Then when the game is on the line, they’ve given up big plays. Against the Lions Kam Chancellor bailed the unit out with a huge fumble. They weren’t as fortunate today.
— Why has this team, built on the foundation of ‘finishing’, suddenly become so incapable of ‘finishing’. They’ve been outscored 53-13 in the fourth quarter in 2015 and threw away leads in all of their three losses.
— Do the Seahawks know the best way to use their quarterback? They own the best mobile thrower in the league, with an exceptional arm. Yet Wilson’s play is rarely consistently focused. Is the constant switching from read-option to pocket passer to scrambler to whatever he’ll be next week eliminating any hopes of their QB finding a rhythm? And do they know what they want Wilson to do in key situations anymore? They’ve struggled with two overtime possessions this season, usually a plus point for this team.
— The defensive personnel is very similar to previous years and they’ve shown flashes. It feels like the key to this season is ultimately sorting out the offense. Around this time last season they turned to the run game and Marshawn Lynch and rediscovered what they are. It felt like today they similarly returned to the run. But will they allow themselves to keep doing this with a lingering storyline wearing #88 being given incredible scrutiny every week?
— On the positive side of things, the O-line played much better (run and pass). Thomas Rawls had a terrific game and showed the Seahawks can be competitive minus Marshawn Lynch. There’s little Lynch could’ve done today to prevent the six consecutive punts to end the game. Rawls ran with authority behind a well-organised O-line.
It’s very difficult to finish with 12-13 wins every season. The teams that have managed it consistently are those with the very elite quarterbacks playing in weak divisions — the Colts/Manning, Patriots/Brady and Rodgers/Packers. Teams in recent years have been able to win Super Bowls with the following records:
2012 Ravens (10-6)
2011 Giants (9-7)
2010 Packers (10-6)
Nobody will want to face the Seahawks in the playoffs. If they can get to the post-season they’ll be a threat (health permitting) with a shot to win it all. However, their margin for error to get to even 10-6 is running low after the tight defeats in St. Louis and Cincinnati.
Based on their last three road trips against difficult opponents, they’ll need to find a way to win these types of games if they do reach the post-season and have to travel.
Credit the Bengals for the comeback — but this one will sting all week.