The Seahawks didn’t do much of anything well Sunday against Los Angeles, but even when they actually made a play, it backfired.
Their second-quarter interception of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, for instance. On a fourth-and-one at the Seattle 24, Goff threw a pass that linebacker Michael Willhoite picked off at the 12. Willhoite posed in triumph, perhaps sensing neither he nor his teammates would enjoy many more chances to pose in triumph.
Had Willhoite simply tipped the ball out of bounds, the Seahawks would’ve taken over possession at the 24 instead of the 12. On an afternoon Seattle’s once-proud defense surrendered 352 yards, and its offense allowed seven sacks, and its punting unit on special teams more resembled tackling sleds than tacklers, a minus-12 yard field-position exchange did not figure prominently.
But the unwise interception is a fitting way to recall a 42-7 defeat of such epic humiliation, the issue was decided by halftime. From the third play of the day, when tight end Tanner McEvoy caught a Russell Wilson pass for a 22-yard gain and promptly turned the ball over on a fumble, to the penultimate play of the second quarter, when Los Angeles’ Todd Gurley ran unencumbered down the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown, the Rams did almost nothing wrong and the Hawks did almost nothing right.
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That the game was seen as a de-facto NFC West playoff contest compounded the weird vibe at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks suffered the most lopsided home defeat of head coach Pete Carroll’s eight-year Seattle career. Valiant comebacks have become a staple of that career, but there’s a difference between 16-0 — the halftime deficit the Seahawks solved in the 2014 NFC Championship Game against Green Bay — and the 34-0 halftime deficit they faced Sunday.
“Always Compete” is a favorite Carroll bromide, but as comeback hopes were becoming less and less realistic, there were moments the Team That Always Competes appeared emotionally disengaged.
Afterward, a reporter asked Carroll if he was happy with the Hawks effort.
“I wasn’t happy with anything,” he said. “There was nothing about that game. We avoided a shutout and scored a touchdown, but, no, there was was nothing to be happy about. That was a really dismal performance by us.
“This is the only game you’ve ever seen us play like this. I can’t remember, maybe back to Year One or something like that. Our expectations were that we were going to be right in the middle of this thing.”
Another cornerstone belief of Carroll’s is that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Perhaps, but if your start is as lethargic as the Seahawks was, nothing else much matters.
The game was not even 90 seconds old when McEvoy’s fumble set the Rams up for a scoring drive that began at the Seattle 40. The Hawks next possession was a three-and-out slog that concluded with defensive tackle Aaron Donald sacking Wilson for an eight-yard loss.
A third possession began at the Seattle 20 and, thanks to a holding penalty on left tackle Duane Brown and another of sack of Wilson, ended with a Jon Ryan punt from the Seattle 10. Pharoh Cooper returned the punt 52 yards, to the edge of the goal line, putting Gurley in position for a touchdown run better described as a waltz.
By the time the Seahawks finally moved the chains, with 3:20 remaining in the first quarter, they were down 13-0.
“We’ve struggled before in the first half in games, but we always seemed to find our rhythm,” said wide receiver Doug Baldwin. “For whatever reason, today we weren’t able to do that. It culminates in the score that you did see because in all three phases we didn’t play effectively.
“Not to take anything away from the Rams — that’s a great team we just played — but that wasn’t the style of football that we like to play. We didn’t put our best foot forward and we didn’t play Seahawks football.”
Injuries found the Seahawks taking the field absent four Pro Bowl-caliber defensive starters (Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright). Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner started, but was hampered by a hamstring strain. That’s just about half the defense out of service, and while adhering to the “next man up” principle is laudable, its becoming clear that Wright and Wagner are as indispensable as Sherman and Chancellor.
“The fact he and K.J. weren’t out there working all week long, that affects us,” Carroll said of a Wagner’s hamstring. “We haven’t been like that for six years, I think. That’s the first time. That may be as obvious an issue as anything. But still, that’s not why guys missed tackles and things like that.
“We tackled poorly. There was a play there where we missed three tackles in a row. Sometimes we play a game and don’t miss three tackles the whole game.”
They tackled poorly, pass-protected poorly, ran routes poorly, pursued punt returns poorly.
All in all, a day to forget. Except the performance was so unlike anything we’ve seen from a Carroll-coached team in recent years, it’s a day to remember.