Turns out Chris Carson did not retire at halftime of the Monday night game. Instead, coach Pete Carroll admitted Tuesday that he mishandled the Seahawks’ starting running back. Perhaps it was the football equivalent of losing a baseball pop-up in the lights. Monday night TV, and all.
After six carries for 24 yards in the first 18 minutes of what became a 24-17 loss to the Bears in Chicago, Carson never was heard from again. He was neither injured nor being punished, creating the largest of several mysteries that hung over a winnable game that instead left the Seahawks 0-2.
Compounding the puzzle, Carroll claimed after the game that Carson was “gassed” after having done extra work on special teams because of the injury absences of several players. But when the official snap counts emerged post-game, it showed Carson with only two special teams snaps.
It turned out Carroll didn’t know what was going on with Carson.
“I didn’t read it right,” he said on his weekly radio show on ESPN 710 Tuesday morning. “I was off on the thing I said about Chris . . . When I commented about that (post-game Monday), I wasn’t clear. I just misread the situation.
“I make mistakes. I need to do better.”
Carroll said he thought Carson’s sideline body language indicated he was tired, when in fact offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer pulled him from special teams assignments because he was running so well.
“I misread a little bit of something happening,” Carroll said. “He was on special teams a couple plays. He looked like he was kind of worn down a little bit. I thought that’s what happened when I looked at him. But it wasn’t to bench him. It wasn’t like I was disappointed with him.
“I just wanted to give (backup RB Rashaad Penny) a chance, and Chris never really gets back in the game. It feels like, ‘What, did you bench him or something?’ That didn’t happen. It was just the way that things turned, so I missed it a little bit.”
Penny finished with 30 yards in 10 carries, but the ground game as a whole produced just 74 yards in 22 carries, a paltry uptick from from the 64 in 16 a week earlier in Denver. The Seahawks’ 138 yards are 28th in the NFL’s first two weeks, a regression from last season when they finished 23rd. The outcome was not helped by the unintentional grounding of the more effective back.
Carroll also took some blame post-game for playcalling in the opening two possessions of the second half that helped force three-and-outs each time. Rather than run, he wanted to take “shots” against the Bears cornerbacks, but the Seahawks didn’t get either the pass protection or the separation by receivers to make anything work for as much as a first down.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he said Monday.
There was a third mystery that may have had the most consequential outcome.
With about eight minutes left in the game and trailing 17-10, the Seahawks made a first down at the Seattle 45-yard line after two rushes by Penny. But because of a misalignment on the next play, the coaches burned a timeout. QB Russell Wilson was clearly irked, flinging his hands up at his sides as he walked toward the coaches on the sidelines, TV cameras catching Wilson muttering in anger.
Carroll said Wilson was upset over the failure to trust him to get players realigned.
“He didn’t want to have to use the timeout,” he said. “We were misaligned a little and didn’t want to waste a play. What he said was, ‘I could have fixed it, and we didn’t need to call a timeout,’ but we needed to fix it.
“Just competitive thoughts, ‘Maybe we can do this, maybe we can get them this way.'”
The discussion produced no good results.
After the timeout, Penny rushed for a third consecutive time, this for one yard. Then came the game-breaking play: On second-and-9, Wilson dropped back while staring left at Penny along the sideline. Veteran CB Prince Amukamara, reading an unhurried Wilson’s eyes before he threw, closed his gap and stepped in front of Penny or an interception and a 49-yard return for a touchdown.
It was the first pick-six of a Wilson pass since his rookie year of 2012. Whether Wilson was distracted by the coaches’ playcalling or the timeout wasn’t clear, only that he made a mistake rarely seen from him.
“We’ve thrown tons of those routes in the past, I don’t ever recall that happening,” Carroll said. “He just got fooled on it.”
In the fourth quarter, Wilson sliced up the tiring Bears’ defense with 13 of 14 completions for 157 yards, but the one miss was the pick-six, followed on the next possession by a strip-sack that caused a lost fumble.
It was Wilson’s sixth and final sack of the game, matching the total against Denver. The 12 sacks lead the NFL. At the beginning of the radio interview, Carroll, unprompted, made the point that Wilson is sometimes forcing things.
“I’m finding Russ over-trying a little bit,” he said. “He’s pressing in difficult situations to try and see if he can come up with a way to make something happen, instead of just getting rid of the football. In the long-yardage situations, he needs to throw (away) the football a couple times. We need to get rid of the ball and just give up on a play because it’s not happening and not take an additional pressure.
“That does go right to Russell’s competitiveness — he’s a battler and he’s going to try to figure it out. He has so many times. But maybe not then, not now, so we don’t have to take the negatives. The negative plays are really difficult.”
After two games, it seems Wilson is struggling more than he ever has with the fight-or-flight decision that is a big part of the job. One reason for the slower uptake likely is executing on new ideas is taking more time, especially including making him more of a pocket passer so that less rests on his shoulders.
But for now, the implementation seems to have added, not reduced, stress. Particularly if Wilson also feels obliged to put a sticky note to Carroll’s forehead to remind him to call more running plays, while keeping the leading rusher in the game.
Another loss: DT Johnson goes back to Vikings
Desperate because of injuries, the Seahawks Friday had to let go well-regarded veteran DT Tom Johnson, but hoped to re-sign him out of free agency perhaps as soon as this week, once regular players returned to active duty and temp help could be jettisoned.
But his old club, Minnesota, beat the Seahawks to him, compounding a grim week for the Seahawks.
Media reports say Johnson, 34, signed a one-year deal with the Vikings for $1.5 million after starting the opener for Seattle in Denver. In March, he was signed out of free agency to give the Seahawks depth on a D-line that had lost DEs Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, and DT Sheldon Richardson.
The Seahawks used the roster to room to hire SS Shalom Luani, the former Washington State star, to help with depth in the secondary. But despite being active Monday, Luani didn’t play in Chicago.
Asked Saturday if he wanted Johnson back, Carroll said, “Yeah, there definitely could be a chance for that . . . Tom did a great job for us. We love him. We hated to have to separate like that. He’s a good ballplayer.”