The Seahawks Sunday had the great good fortune to be facing one of the more notorious non-finishers in the NFL. Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton has an uncanny way of starting the race in a Lamborghini and finishing in a Corvair. Which, truth to tell, is the main reason the Seahawks are not 0-1 after losing at home to a 9½-point underdog.
Dalton threw for a career-high 418 yards with no interceptions, creating a 36-24 advantage in minutes of possession, delivered seven balls for 158 yards to former Huskies star John Ross, and was supported by a stellar defense that held the Seahawks at the Clink to 233 yards of offense.
And they lost, 21-20 (box).
Margins obviously don’t get thinner, but had it been almost any other 31-year-old veteran QB entering his ninth NFL season, the Bengals would have found a way to win.
Instead, the Seahawks emerged ahead. It’s hard to say they “won” it in any way other than the scoreboard, which is the only one that counts. For that, they have to thank QB Russell Wilson, the anti-Dalton.
Wilson inadvertently summarized the distinction between the quarterbacks with one of his usual trite sayings, but on this occasion, it was trenchant.
“When the game’s on the line,” he said, “don’t blink.”
Dalton and the Bengals, 4-12 a year ago with a new coaching staff, blinked. Wilson and the Seahawks avoided the loss.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wilson suckered the Bengals defense with play action, rolled out right and drilled WR Tyler Lockett with a 44-yard touchdown pass for a 21-17 lead. It was the No. 1 receiver’s only reception of the game, and it was enough.
The Bengals’ final three possessions of the game resulted in a field goal and two punts, plus a one-play clock-out.
“In the end, we just didn’t make the play that got us over the top,” Dalton said. “I mean, we drove the ball well, made a bunch of big plays, long drives . . . we handled the noise well, we handled the weather well.”
They just didn’t have the QB.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, played mostly poorly, as coach Pete Carroll was wont to admit, yet won their 11th home opener in a row.
“It wasn’t the game I hoped it would be,” he said. “I was really surprised we had trouble protecting today. We struggled with our (play-action pass) stuff, which has been really strong. We didn’t get our shots. So it made for a hard day.
“The thing that was great was we played from behind (most) of the day, and we never stopped thinking we were going to win.”
Which is the summary rationale for why they made Wilson in the offseason the game’s highest-paid player.
Lost in all the first-game screw-ups was the fact that Wilson, despite heavy harassment that included four sacks, completed 14 of 20 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns with no picks or fumbles.
On a day when the Seahawks’ touted run game was held to 72 yards and the defense gave up several big plays, Wilson carried the afternoon, barely.
The major storyline of the preseason, improvement in the pass rush, turned in an odd way. DE Ziggy Ansah, listed as questionable Friday, was held out, as was rookie DE L.J. Collier. That left headliner DE Jadeveon Clowney, acquired in a blockbuster trade with Houston a week earlier, to be the main pressure guy in his first Seahawks game.
He batted down a pass early, and had a sack as well as a tackle for loss, but was mostly just there. The Seahawks sacked Dalton four times, hit him four times and batted down three passes, but the Bengals’ commitment to the quick-pass game went largely unanswered by the Seattle defense.
Clowney wasn’t too concerned.
“I felt like I was still knocking the rust off,” he said, “but I had a good time out there getting going.”
The defender who really had a good time was DE Quinton Jefferson, the afterthought guy who started in the preseason as a place-holder for Ansah.
Jefferson was in on six tackles, had two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and two batted passes.
“He had a terrific game today, definitely the best game he’s had for us,” Carroll said. “We needed every bit of it.”
On offense, all eyes were on rookie second-rounder DK Metcalf, who had four catches (Lockett’s TD was the only other reception by a wideout) for 89 yards. Included was a beauty in the third quarter when Wilson scrambled and lofted a change-up floater over the middle that Metcalf ran under for a tough catch in traffic and a 25-yard gain.
“I don’t know how to explain that pass,” Carroll said. “But it was a great grab for him under duress. That’s a really good start.”
Metcalf also had two penalties, both declined — offensive pass interference and a hold, both likely to be written off to rookie foolishness.
Harder to explain was the afternoon’s most obvious large error — the mistimed jump by third-year FS Tedric Thompson on a deep throw to Ross that became a 55-yard touchdown completion in the second quarter.
This is the first season since 2011 that the Seahawks have opened without All-Pro Earl Thomas as centerfielder. With the arrival of Clowney, free safety is the single biggest personnel mystery.
Thompson’s error in judgment deepened the mystery.
“He’s a terrific ball-hawk guy, and he just misjudged it,” Carroll said. “It was too bad. Never should have happened, obviously.”
But it did. A fair amount of things happened Sunday that shouldn’t have happened, which is to be expected in an opener. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they had Andy Dalton to bail them out.
Next week, it’s Ben Rothlisberger in Pittsburgh, after a blowout loss to to New England Sunday night. Mis-timed jumps likely will be treated with unusual cruelty.