Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse huddled together in a corner of the visitors’ locker room. The mood was more disbelieving than distraught.
Three of the biggest mainstays in Seattle’s offense have been in it for five seasons now, in Baldwin’s case six. And they’d rarely seen massive malfunctioning like this.
“We were just talking about, sometimes you have to have a little bit of struggle to overcome,” Wilson said.
No, this was a lot of struggle. So by the quarterback’s reasoning, the overcome could be mammoth.
Or will it prove to be too much?
The Seahawks started five injury fill-ins on Sunday. All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas missed his first game after 118 consecutive starts to his career. Seattle started three rookies on its offensive line, including a first-time center and a former college basketball player at left tackle. Wilson ran for his life all day, was sacked six times and threw two interceptions. That matched the number he had thrown through 10 games.
Ultimately, it was as remarkable as it was concerning that the Seahawks lost just 14-5 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Top wide receiver Baldwin (seven catches for 34, inconsequential yards) summed up the day pretty well.
“Sorry, fellas,” Baldwin said, “I’ve got nothing good to say.”
Instead, Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston said what the Buccaneers did — and what the Seahawks did not: “We brought it today.”
Yet Seattle’s defense did its job. Again. It allowed two quick touchdowns to Bucs star receiver Mike Evans — faster than you can say “Where’s Earl Thomas?” But Tampa Bay scored zilch over the final 47 minutes.
The Seahawks’ NFL-leading average in points allowed went down, from 17.3 to 17. And they still lost.
This was the third game this season that Seattle (7-3-1) failed to score a touchdown. The loss was the most decisive in five years by at least one measure: The Seahawks had led or been within one score of the lead in the fourth quarter in 98 straight games.
But because Arizona (4-6-1) lost at Atlanta, the Seahawks remain three games up in the NFC West. Five games remain in the regular season. The next one is this coming Sunday night at home against Carolina.
“It happens, man,” linebacker K.J. Wright said of the dud in Florida. “We’ve seen this every year I’ve been here. Somehow, a team beats you that’s not supposed to beat you.”
Wright had a standout game, with two tackles for losses and eight stops in all. His tackle inbounds after a reception denied Tampa Bay a chance at a field goal right before halftime. That kept the score at 14-5.
For the rest of the game.
“We’re going to be fine. We’re going to bounce back,” Wright said. “We are at home next week. We are going to find a way to get a win.”
Seattle has lost this season when allowing nine, 25 and now 14 points. It tied last month while allowing just six points in Arizona.
Wilson finished 17 for 33 passing for 151 yards and a passer rating of 38.8. The only day he’s been rated worse was Oct. 18, 2012, in a 13-6 loss at San Francisco in his rookie year. The offense didn’t score a touchdown that day either.
Of getting sacked six times, Wilson and coach Pete Carroll both mentioned a previous issue: The quarterback needs to get rid of the ball more quickly.
It’s not like this porous offensive line can afford its passer to scan the field like a farmer does his crops.
“I have to figure out if I can get the ball out quicker,” Wilson said.
Concerning thing is, this wasn’t the 1985 Chicago Bears that Seattle was facing.
The Buccaneers (6-5) entered the game ranked 26th in the 32-team NFL in total defense and 24th in points allowed. But star tackle Gerald McCoy and rookie Noah Spence each had 1 ½ sacks. They spun. They looped on stunts. They generally manhandled rookie guard Germain Ifedi and the tackles: Garry Gilliam, undrafted rookie George Fant (the hoops player) and Bradley Sowell.
It got so bad that line coach Tom Cable benched Gilliam, the starter all season at right tackle, in the first quarter. He put in Sowell for the rest of the day.
That didn’t help, either.
“We’ve been battling through some injuries,” Wilson said. “That’s no excuse. We’ve still got to find a way to win.”
Carroll’s message to his team after this face-plant, according to Ifedi: “It’s not the end of the world. It’s not panic. We’ll fix it.”
Needs to happen sooner than later.
What this loss does do is make far less likely any chance of Seattle catching Dallas (10-1) for the NFC’s top seed. The Seahawks are a half-game ahead of fellow division leaders Detroit and Atlanta for the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs. The No. 2 seed gets a first-round bye and then a home game in round two.
All three times that Seattle has advanced to the Super Bowl, including twice in the last three seasons, it has had home-field advantage and two home playoff wins to get there.
Sunday showed that the Seahawks have many issues to figure out to even get into January.
All day, the Seahawks offense seemed to be waiting for its defense to make the big play for it. It did, with 10:14 left. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin forced a fumble by Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Steven Terrell, Thomas’ fill-in, recovered at the Seattle 41.
The Seahawks drove deep into Tampa Bay territory. But on third down, Jimmy Graham was upended after a catch, legs flying, by Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David and lost the ball. David returned the fumble 53 yards to the Seattle 25. That ended the Seahawks’ best hope to rally.
Another huge play by the defense — an interception in the Seahawks’ end zone by safety Kam Chancellor on the ensuing possession — kept Seattle alive with 4 minutes left.
Wilson then converted a fourth-and-14 pass to Jermaine Kearse, then one on third-and-long to Paul Richardson. Seattle was at the Buccaneers 30 with 2 minutes left.
But when Wilson tried to hit Tyler Lockett at the goal line, Tampa Bay safety Bradley McDougald waited, then zoomed over from the center of the field. McDougald’s interception truly ended it.
Wilson said he saw McDougald in the center of the field, but just went for it anyway.
“Yeah, we were trying to take our shot. We’ve got to go win it,” Wilson said. “Their guy made a good play. I’ll take that shot 10 times out of 10.”
Like the rest of Sunday — like many times this season and in previous, inexplicable Seahawks pratfalls in the last few seasons — that shot was but a frustrating blank.
“It’s nothing we haven’t been through before,” Wilson said. “That’s the good thing for us.
“We’ve been through it all.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle