Kam Chancellor’s chilling glare and tone said even more than his words.
Asked Wednesday how he thought he played last weekend — when the thumping strong safety and his Seattle Seahawks teammates blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost at Cincinnati — Chancellor said: “Didn’t have my greatest game.”
Then his dark eyes widened and fixed on the questioner.
“It WILL be handled,” he added.
It was the Seahawks’ best finish in months.
Chancellor’s promise could be bad news for the unbeaten Carolina Panthers. The Seahawks (2-3) host them Sunday in what’s as much a must-win as Seattle can have in mid-October.
Or, it could be more of what has become a disturbing trend for the two-time defending NFC champions. The Seahawks have blown fourth-quarter leads in five of their past seven games dating to the conference title game they won in overtime in January.
Undefeated Cincinnati’s rally from a 24-7 deficit to a 27-24 victory in overtime was the biggest blown lead in a Seattle loss in 11 years. It came after the Bengals targeted Chancellor eight times by unofficial count. The Bengals completed five of those, some of them seam routes down the middle of Seattle’s defense with tight end Tyler Eifert.
That unofficial count on Chancellor had been 10 targets and seven completions — until coach Pete Carroll stressed Monday and reiterated Wednesday that Chancellor, despite being near the catches, was not the man responsible for the coverage lost on Andy Dalton’s two touchdown throws to Eifert.
Both times, Cincinnati sent wide receiver Marvin Jones from the slot in front of Chancellor on a short curl route and Eifert to the outside, behind Chancellor to the end zone. The first time, cornerback Cary Williams and Chancellor both took Jones while no one took Eifert on the game’s initial score. On the second score, Williams arrived very late to Eifert in the end zone. That allowed the Bengals back into the game at 24-14 with 12 minutes left in regulation.
“It was just Cover Three,” Chancellor said of the defense Seattle was in on the first score, meaning he was up short, free safety Earl Thomas was the lone safety in the deep middle and the cornerbacks had responsibility for the two outside thirds of the field. “They ran a spot route, with me as the hook defender I jumped the spot route. Then the corners are, you know, the guys to stay on top.
“Cary, I guess it just was a miscommunication. The corners are supposed to stay on top and take the deep third. That was just the issue on that play.”
The NFL is a notoriously copycat league. So you can bet your cat stripes the Panthers this weekend are going to send wide receivers short and their own star tight end, Greg Olsen, for throws by Cam Newton deep behind Chancellor — just like the Bengals did with Eifert.
As outside linebacker K.J. Wright said Wednesday: “We know this team is going to be trying to do the same thing the Bengals did. Olsen is Cam’s guy. They connect a lot.”
The other Kam takes that challenge as an affront. The tight end is the primary responsibility of the strong safety in most defensive sets.
“Yeah, man, when anybody has a big game against us we take it personally,” Chancellor said. “When an offense has a big game against we take it personally. But, yeah, when a tight end has a big game you take it personally.”
The Seahawks’ defense met Wednesday and talked about their fourth-quarter collapses. Seattle led Detroit 13-10 late two weeks ago. Then the defense allowed the winless Lions to drive from their own 9 to a half-yard from Seattle’s goal line before Chancellor miraculously punched the ball from receiver Calvin Johnson for the game-saving fumble into the end zone.
The Seahawks led Green Bay 17-16 entering the fourth quarter in Week 2 at Lambeau Field. They lost, 27-17.
They led at St. Louis 31-24 with 1 minute to go in the opener but gave up the tying touchdown and lost in overtime.
They led Super Bowl 49 with 9 minutes remaining 24-14. Then Seattle allowed Tom Brady to throw two touchdown passes and the Patriots to steal the NFL championship on Feb. 1.
Could it be the Seahawks are victims of their own success in recent years? Is it possible that after consecutive Super Bowl seasons, including the 2014 one in which they began 3-3 then rallied with 11 wins in 12 games to reach the ultimate game again, the Seahawks get the feeling of “Oh, we got this” when they take leads late in games?
“It can get to you. You can think you have a game won when it’s really not over. That can definitely get to you,” Wright said. “We definitely talked about that (Wednesday).
“We’ve got to get out of that mode. We’ve got to stay hungry and just stay in (an) attention to detail — and know teams are not just going to bow down to us.”
Across the locker room, back in the intense corner Chancellor occupies, the team leader was asked the same question: Have the Seahawks been complacent late in games?
“No, man. That’s a crazy question,” Chancellor said with a forced grin that was more diabolical than disarming.
“We just need to do things right, longer. … We’ve just got to finish in the fourth quarter.”
SUNDAY: Carolina (4-0) at Seattle (2-3), 1:25 p.m., Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM, 1030-AM