Seattle Seahawks

How the Seahawks failed on 4th down — 3 times

Two prime chances. Three measly yards.

Surely the Super Bowl champions could gain three yards on two of the biggest plays at Arrowhead Stadium, a pair of plunges that determined the Seattle Seahawks’ fate Sunday — if not the season.

Nothing is sure this season for Seattle.

“We had plenty of chances in this game,” coach Pete Carroll said — make that, bemoaned — following his Seahawks’ 24-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Plenty of chances.”

Yet when it mattered most the league’s 31st-ranked passing game failed to gain two yards.

“We need to do better, you know. We had plenty of chances today to make plays,” Carroll said of the passing offense. “We protected well enough to give us opportunities.

“We’re still working on it.”

Third-and-goal at the 4 against the league’s 20th-ranked rushing defense. Seattle (6-4) is down 24-20 with eight minutes left. But two plays earlier it had lost two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger to a high-ankle sprain and twisted knee.

That proved huge.

Marshawn Lynch goes up the middle behind fourth-string center Patrick Lewis on a delayed handoff, then cuts back to the right. He gains only half of the needed 4 yards.

Fourth-and-goal at the 2. Instead of a field goal that would have cut the lead to 1, Seattle sends out three wide receivers — Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and rookie Paul Richardson. Two go left, one right. Lynch is the lone running back.

The thinking is understandable. Two yards to take the lead, knowing your defense hadn’t stopped Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City running game.

Baldwin runs from the left slot straight up field in man coverage against Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith. Rather than a roll-out with a run-pass option for Wilson, the elusive quarterback takes one step and lofts his pass far left toward the back of the end zone for Baldwin. Baldwin takes a shove in the back from Smith as the ball soars over both of them and hits the cold turf incomplete.

“To me, as far as I know, that’s illegal. That’s why we have a rule book,” Baldwin said, still steamed after the game played in 10-degree wind chills.

“I mean, I was open. As far I know, when the ball is in the air no one can touch you as a receiver until the ball gets there. That’s what I know.”

Asked if the official on that side that he yelled at for not calling pass interference said anything to him, Baldwin said, “He didn’t say anything relevant.”

After the Seahawks forced a Chiefs punt that Bryan Walters returned to the Kansas City 45 with 6:15 left, they had third-and-8. Wilson hit Kearse with a low pass on slant. Originally officials spotted the ball as a first down. Kansas City coach Andy Reid got the frantic word from his assistants in the press box that the spot was erroneous, that Kearse was actually a yard short. Reid successfully challenged the spot. So Seattle faced another fourth down with one yard to go at the Chiefs 36 instead, still down 24-20.

This time they went with Lynch, who had 140 yards rushing last week and 124 on his first 23 carries. But 22 of those carries had come behind Unger.

Lynch took Wilson’s handoff and ran behind Lewis and left guard Alvin Bailey. Three huge Chiefs, led by crashing defensive end Allen Bailey, beat those two Seahawks and engulfed Lynch. It took about 900 pounds of Chiefs to stop Lynch for no gain, but they sure did.

“They did a good job. Hats off to them containing us in the end,” Lewis said in a hushed tone at his locker.

“They really didn’t do anything special. … We just didn’t get it done.”

The Seahawks actually had a third chance on fourth down in that final 7:11. But that last one was of desperation: fourth-and-18 from Seattle’s own 20, after Wilson had been sacked once and chased twice into incomplete throws. Wilson rolled left and then fired a prayer of a jump ball in the direction of well-covered Richardson just as linebacker Tamba Hali was hitting the quarterback.

Richardson never had a chance to catch the high throw, with Smith over his back. Game over.

Wilson finished 20 of 32 for 178 yards and two touchdowns. This was the fourth consecutive game Wilson failed to throw for at least 200 yards. It’s the first time that’s happened since his first four games in the NFL in 2012.

That’s fitting, because this reminds Wilson of that.

“I reflect back to my rookie year. We had five losses — then won the rest of our games.” Wilson said of that 11-5 season of 2012. “We keep believing.

“We just keep going.”