The bye week was supposed to provide rest, not a need for re-training.
After a 24-21 loss in Miami Sunday to a decidedly ordinary Dolphins outfit, coach Pete Carroll owned up that the defeat rested upon him: From preparation to playcalling, he took the blamed. Now the Seahawks have to regain their post-season footing in Chicago next Sunday against the Bears.
“We screwed up,” he said, “I blew it.”
When a team loses so many road games so closely — all five defeats have been by a touchdown or less, this one on a 43-yard field goal as time expired — every defeat holds the opportunity to see single plays as game-turners.
And while Seahawks fans lament a terrible penalty call against Earl Thomas that voided a fourth-quarter, end-zone interception by teammate Bobby Wagner, two other developments were more important — the offense didn’t get a first down for the game’s 16 minutes, and the defense gave up 17 points in the final eight minutes.
Those failures were team-wide, a collection of misalignments, misplays and miscalls that said a team doing well before the break forgot a lot in two weeks.
“We haven’t looked that sloppy all year,” Carroll said. “Maybe we gave a young team too much time off. I don’t know.
We played hard, but we played sloppy. It kills me to say that.”
Carroll’s passion for error-free ball is well-known, which is why this manner of defeat was most galling. He sounded baffled.
“This game was a different style for us,” he said. “We have been terrific with penalties this year and we had seven in the first quarter (for the game 10 for 59 yards). It’s so uncharacteristic of what what we were doing. When we’re doing that much wrong, it’s on me.”
One thing that went right was the play of QB Russell Wilson, who had his best game yet (22 for 27 passing, including 16 in a row, for 224 yards and no turnovers, as well as five rushes for 38 yards). Afterward, he was quick to diplomatically disagree with Carroll’s assessment of mishandling the time off.
“I usually agree with coach 100 percent, but not on that one,” Wilson said. “The break was good for us. We’d played 14 games straight. Coach Carroll has done a tremendous job.”
Also defending Carroll was Marshawn Lynch, who had a hard game against Miami’s well-regarding rush defense, limited to 46 yards in 19 carries.
“What? We’re not supposed to take our bye week?” Lynch said. “We are all professionals. We all know what we had at stake. I don’t think it had much to do with us.”
As much drama as was packed into the final minutes, including a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Seahawks’ Leon Washington — his eighth that tied the NFL career record — the biggest laments should be reserved for the beginning of the game, which began with four consecutive, penalty-pickled possessions of three-and-out. Besides the obvious absence of points, the stall put more pressure on the defense, which by game’s end seemed too fatigued to corral Miami.
The Seahawks tied the game at seven just before half when Wilson, after a brilliant scramble, offered a three-yard TD pass to tight end Anthony McCoy. It was set up by an eye-popping catch inside the Miami 5-yard line by Golden Tate, who leaped over his falling defender and laid out for a diving grab.
But earlier, Carroll passed on a fourth-and-one at the Miami 35, choosing to punt instead of attempt a 52-yard field goal, which would have matched PK Stephen Hauschka’s season best. The conservative playcalling came back to haunt when Miami’s defense continued to deny Lynch and the Seahawks’ standard ground-first attack.
The only other offensive score was a four-yard TD pass to fullback Michael Robinson in the third quarter for a 14-7 lead that capped an 80-yard drive, sustained by another scramble from Wilson, this one for 20 yards.
But Miami relied on its running game — 189 yards — to get two touchdowns in three minutes around Washington’s return to tie the game at 21. One drive was sustained when Thomas leaped to attempt a deflection of a pass by Miami’s Ryan Tannehill — another of the NFL’s sterling rookie QB class — that was picked by Wagner in the end zone in what should have been his second of the day.
Instead, Thomas was called for roughing the passer, even though he was airborne when Tannehill released and fell into his chest, not his head. If that play was a foul, then QBs will have the freedom to maneuver under any airborne defender in an attempt to draw a penalty.
Instead of the Seahawks having a first down at the Miami 20, Miami had a first down at the Seattle 3. The Dolphins scored on the next play.
On what proved to be their final possession, the Seahawks moved into field goal range but lost yardage on their final three plays and were forced to punt from midfield. The Dolphins started on their own 10 and Tannehill (18 for 26 for 253 yards) expertly moved the Dolphins to set up Dan Carpenter’s game-winner at the gun.
“That was a very, very big call in this game,” Carroll said of the call against Thomas. “It looked wrong to me.”
It was wrong. But so, for much of the game, were the Seahawks. That set them up to be vulnerable to a bad call.
Five games remain to dig themselves out, after taking their talents to South Beach and squandering most of their margin for error.