We all know that in terms of outcomes, the NFL preseason is meaningless, especially when the Seahawks are in max-protect mode regarding the health of players. The truth was amplified last season when all fake games were scrubbed because of COVID-19 and no one noticed any compromised play.
So after the 2021 preseason was cut from four to three games (and the regular season increased to 17 games), the meager hope was for a bit of August relevance. Coach Pete Carroll tried to bang the drum for Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos — the first home game in front of fans since December 2019 — by suggesting Friday there was a desire make it a little something, especially after the listless 20-7 loss to the Raiders in Las Vegas.
“It’s our first chance to make an impression on (fans), and how we’re going to play, style of play, effort, and what they can count on,” he said. “This relationship with our fans has been famous. This is our chance to reunite and get rolling, so we need to play good football to do that. That’s what we intend to do.”
Instead, intention fell victim to incompetence. The first impression was depression.
Again withholding nearly all the offensive starters and most of the defensive starters, the Seahawks managed to look worse, blasted 30-3 (box). The ugly show featured nine penalties to none for Denver — five on a single player, rookie TE Dom Wood-Anderson — 0-for4 on fourth downs, three first-half turnovers by the starting quarterback, AlexMcGough, 18 yards on six touches by the much-anticipated RB Rashaad Penny, and injuries to three reserves, LB Ben Burr-Kervin (knee), WR John Ursua (knee) and SS Ryan Neal (strained oblique).
A part of the maladroitness was inevitable because the Broncos played their first unit early against the Seahawks twos. QB Teddy Bridgewater, who led a short scoring drive and a long scoring drive in Denver’s first two possessions, sat down after a 14-0 lead and the Broncos were never threatened.
The dismal outcome of the homecoming — 62,028 tickets were distributed, but it appeared at least 20,000 didn’t show up, either by dint of covid or common sense — left Carroll subdued, maybe even a little stunned.
“We’d like to be having fun, winning football games, but that’s not where the match-ups are happening right now,” Carroll said. “Two weeks in a row of playing football, where the lessons are hard and they’re obvious.”
The most obvious was at quarterback, where the Seahawks not only kept Russell Wilson out of harm’s way while LT Duane Brown remains unavailable, they also didn’t play backup Geno Smith, recovering from a concussion in last week’s game. That left matters to McGough, who was terrible, and recently signed Sean Mannion, who was mediocre.
McGough was picked off twice, both on bad decisions to throw, and lost a fumble after a sack.
The tandem played behind a line absent several starters. But there were some absent basics that just shouldn’t be the case with pro quarterbacks.
Of the first pick, a badly under-thrown ball toward the sideline, Carroll said, “He made a really tough decision . . . it was just not a good throw at all. To not get the screen off, and wind up as a pick, that shouldn’t happen. We have to throw the ball away there.
On the second pick, he flung while backpedaling from a rush on third-and-9 on the Denver 29. The fumble came on a fourth-and-4 at the Denver 27, after a 10-yard sack.
“Those are decisions that you have to make right,” Carroll said. “We can’t give the ball away.”
Mannion took over in the second half and was 13 for 23 for 118 yards and led a drive to a field goal. At least neither he nor McGough figure to be much of a factor in September.
But there’s one more fake game, next Saturday at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. If Brown declines to practice this week, he certainly won’t play, which means Wilson should stay sidelined as well. As you may recall, Wilson, without a preseason last year, started 5-0.
The three-game fake season has created some game awkwardness because teams have different timetables regarding which players play when and how much.
“This format for us was different than we’ve ever done before,” Carroll said. “We’ve done something different, and it hasn’t been a lot of fun and games with the way we’re playing. But, week three is a big deal for us.
“We’ll go back to a lot of the other guys that haven’t played in the first two games to prepare them for game one of the regular season. That’s been the plan all along.”
One of the players expected to get some quality time was Penny, the fourth-year running back and former first-round draft choice said to be sufficiently healthy and improved to trust spelling starter Chris Carson. He had eight yards in five carries and one catch for six yards. The third veteran back, Alex Collins, had 20 yards in seven carries and two catches for 25 yards.
Asked whether Penny was on a pitch count, Carroll said, “We were just trying to balance it out, and make sure that he got enough looks. I think he had 15 or 16 plays. We weren’t really counting plays, we just wanted to give him a chance to get out on the field and play. I think he and Alex split plays.”
Behind the makeshift line and McGough’s carelessness, Earl Campbell wouldn’t have done much Saturday. Still, if the idea, as Carroll said, was to impress the returning fans, all it did was introduce anxiety. Even though everyone knows better.