To tell you the truth, this was one of the most gut-wrenching, depressing Seahawk losses for me in a long time. I can't remember feeling so crappy since maybe the Miami game last year. I know I'm supposed to be rational and analytical but after that game was over I moped around for the rest of the day and sighed heavily every 30-40 seconds, usually in the direction of someone else, just so they knew how sad I was.
At first I think I was pissed off about the refs' bad calls, which helped contribute to the loss, but the more I thought about it, I realized it was the multitude of missed opportunities that really had me feeling down. The thing about this game was that Seattle actually played well in spurts and they really should have won, but a bunch of costly mistakes, miscues, mis-throws, misdiagnoses, and missed tackles allowed the Colts to hang around all game, and gave them a chance to make some huge, great plays and take back the lead. These mistakes kept the Seahawks from burying the Colts early on, and later these mistakes were capitalized on by the Colts to eventually win the game. Shit happens in every game - it's never going to be perfect, but this game seemed like one screwup after compounding screwup after another, and eventually the clock hit zero and Seattle had fewer points.
I'm taking nothing away from the Colts, because they played a great second half and did what they needed to do to win the game (particularly Andrew Luck, who looked amazing, and T.Y. Hilton, who made several very impressive, clutch grabs), but this one hurt because of the missed opportunities to put the game away early or come back to win it late. So, this Tell the Truth Monday will talk about the missed opportunities rather than the missed calls. Both affected the outcome of the game, but the ultimately, these were things Seattle had control over that went wrong.
1. The safety. This is, by definition, an armchair quarterback type of column and I fully realize I'm criticizing plays with 20/20 hindsight, of course, so now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, it annoyed the crap out of me during the live action that Jeron Johnson jumped on that football at a dead sprint. Even a slight slow-down to fall on it would have helped, especially considering the fact that if the had Colts gotten to it first, it's still a safety. Instead, Jeron dove on the ball with reckless abandon at a 35 miles an hour and gave the officials a chance for that 50-50 call. Really, the odds that Johnson comes up with the football while running at that speed are pretty low in the first place, so it was somewhat miraculous he even appeared to gain any control. Nine times out of ten, that ball careens off of his shins or his facemask out of bounds. It just came off to me as a really stupid play.
Now, believe me, I realize that in the heat of the action, Johnson doesn't know who is around him or right behind him, but that was a 5-point missed opportunity, and a 17-0 lead is potentially much more devastating to the psyche of an opposing team than a 12-0 lead. Slow down, put both hands on the football without sliding out of bounds, and 7 points. Missed opportunity. Missed opportunity. Gah. I hated this game.
2. On the long TD bomb to T.Y. Hilton, Earl Thomas catches up to Hilton after he's made the catch, at the 20 yard line, and neither tackles him nor pushes him out of bounds, instead timidly letting Hilton slow up and run right past him. Considering Earl had some big-time tackles in this game (honestly, he's looked much, much better in this department this season and had a few really impressive plays in this game alone), it was disappointing effort and execution and led to a big swing in points and momentum for the Colts. We've seen Seattle tighten up in the redzone so that missed opportunity really stung and stuck out to me. Imagine a field goal there instead of that huge, explosive, powerful play. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
3. On the Seahawks' next drive, on a FG attempt, the Colts block the kick, run it back, and both Jon Ryan and Luke Willson have unabated shots at the ball carrier at around the 5- or 10-yard line. Both guys just totally f*cking whiff though, and whoever it was that picked up the ball waltzed into the endzone. I don't care if that's your punter and your tight end, at least just use your arms to push the guy out of bounds. Jon Ryan is ripped - I am certain he is strong enough to at least push that guy out of bounds. Combined with the earlier ET whiff, 14 points are on the board for Indy and those 14 potential points should have been in the hands of one of the best defenses in the NFL in the redzone. But, they weren't, due to missed opportunities. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
4. Mental mistakes: Seattle, leading 19-17 as the half wore down, was driving quickly, and had gotten themselves into Indianapolis territory. Russell Wilson then calmly sat in the pocket and hit Doug Baldwin on an out-route for 18 yards that put Seattle at the Colts' 24-yard line with 26 seconds remaining. Only, the play would be called back, because J.R. Sweezy inexplicably ran downfield to start blocking on the 2nd level. The next play, Russell Wilson would overthrow Golden Tate in what looked to be a sure touchdown. I'll talk about that in my next point, but needless to say, that Sweezy mistake was potentially huge, and completely avoidable.
By my count, Wilson had three 'endzone throws' that ultimately looked like overthrows but were due to timing issues with the receivers and/or offensive line. All had the potential to be scores. Overall, I actually thought Wilson played a fairly brilliant game - his 100+ yards on scrambles were not misleading, stat-wise, - those were solid, decisive-not-magical-escape scrambles that really kicked the Colts in the nuts when they thought they had him bottled up.
As a defense, letting Wilson escape and pick up huge yardage when you have good coverage downfield and a good pass rush in his face, well, that's frustrating. Wilson didn't look tentative throwing the ball, he stepped up into the pocket to deliver passes on several occasions, and apart from a few inaccurate passes, played a pretty excellent game, in my opinion. The problem, though, were those three missed opportunities, because they came at pretty crucial times.
Here they were:
First, this potential touchdown with 20 seconds left in the half was overthrown to Golden Tate on a Wilson escape from the pocket. Wilson threw as he jogged forward and some contact between Golden Tate and the defensive back disrupted the timing just slightly enough to make it look like a terrible overthrow. Goddamn it.
Seattle ended up getting no points before the half. A seven-point swing for Indy because of slight timing issues and/or an overthrow.
The second and third missed opportunities at the endzone:
11:28 third quarter, Seattle leading 19-17. They've just gotten a turnover from their defense and badly need to regain some momentum. On 2nd and 8, Wilson throws a redline pass to Baldwin down the sideline. Baldwin gets a clean release, makes his double move, has a step on his defender, there is no safety over the top, and a well placed football certainly has potential to be a touchdown. Due to timing issues with the double move by Baldwin, the ball sails over Doug's head by about ten feet.
Next play, on 3rd and 8, with pressure in his face courtesy of Michael Bowie, Wilson overthrows Rice running a seam route. We've seen Rice score on this route a few times before in the past, so again, just frustrating.
This overthrow would be blamed on the pressure in Wilson's face, and he threw off his back foot a little bit, but again, it's a play that Wilson can make and has made in the past. This is a swing of 4 points, as the Hawks settle for a FG. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
6. Golden Tate....and his drops. Ok, maybe they weren't technically 'drops', but again, Tate had at least three passes go right through his hands and these are the types of plays you normally see him make. He knows it, I don't have to harp on it, but that hurt in this game. Missed opportunities. That's what I'm talking about, and there were several catchable balls that Tate couldn't come down with, and they could have been potentially big plays. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
7. Russell Wilson tries to burn a hole through Marshawn Lynch's chest like he's Jesse Ventura in Predator. With 44 seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter and the Seahawks leading 25-22, Seattle faces a 3rd and 4 from the Indianapolis 28 yard line. Marshawn Lynch leaks out to the right, is wide open, and Wilson throws a dagger to him for what will surely be a first down. However, the 98-MPH fastball hits Lynch mere nano-seconds before Lynch can get his head around to see the ball and it bounces off his chestplate. Poor timing, poor touch, poor execution, fourth down, and 4 point potential swing as Seattle settles for a field goal again. Gah. I hated this game. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
8. Read Option woes. Seattle ran the read option a few times in this game and the way that they kept going at it was a bit weird to me. On at least two occasions, they ran the option keeper, the Colts scraped their middle linebacker over to Wilson's side after crashing with their DE, and the MLB just easily tackled Wilson for a loss. This is literally the most basic way to stop the read option and Seattle attacked Indy's defense as if they'd never seen this strategy. Normally, you'd see Zach Miller arc-blocking on the scraping LB to give Wilson some running room, but the Hawks didn't even have a TE to that side on both occasions. With 8:55 left in the game and trailing 31-28, Seattle went to this play on 3rd and 2 from their own 28 and was stuffed. Missed opportunity. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
9. Colts lead 31-28 with 4:30 remaining. They're driving. They face a 3rd and 5 from Seattle's 45. They're out of field goal range. They run a draw play to Trent Richardson (I'm sure this would have drawn boos has it not worked), Michael Bennett recognizes it, gets two hands on the running back, and Richardson shakes him off, gains ten, keeps the drive alive, and the Colts get a field goal instead of punting it back to Seattle. This means the Seahawks now have to score a touchdown to win instead of get a field goal to tie the game and sent it to overtime. Huge, gigantic missed opportunity by Bennett. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
10. Seattle is now down 34-28 but they have the ball with about 2 minutes left in the game. This is Russell Wilson's domain. Nevermind that the Hawks wasted all three of their timeouts already (idiots), this is what Wilson is known for, and things start off with a bang when the robot rushes for 22 yards on a scramble. Huge play, the Hawks are now in striking distance, and they just grabbed some momentum. The next play, Darrell Bevell dials up a screen play and it. is. a. beaut. Wilson takes the snap, the line holds for a second before releasing, Lynch goes to position himself to take the ball and has a shitload of running room in front of him. I'm going off of the broadcast view, but there's literally no one on the screen to the left hand side of the field.
And then Marshawn Lynch trips after getting his feet tangled up with C Lemuel Jeanpierre.
Wilson now has pressure in his face because the entire left side has left their pass rushers to move downfield for the screen, and he forces it to the right to Luke Willson, who drops it. Fuck.
The next few plays are equally frustrating, as Rice gets interfered with but the flags don't fly, Tate has another ball go through his hands, and then Wilson throws a pick to end the game. That screen play would have been huge though. Missed opportunity. Gotta make these plays to win big games on the road against good opponents.
Even with these ten points of contention, Seattle was still somehow in this game to the very end, they still put up 423 yards of offense, including 218 rushing yards with two 100+ rushers in Wilson and Lynch, and they still held Andrew Luck to 6.7 yards per pass attempt despite his amazing fourth quarter heroics, and held Indy's rush attack to 3.8 yards per attempt.
Yes, there were a few. At first glance, the Wilson overthrows really worried me, but when you realize that the three egregious plays were all due to timing issues rather than pure accuracy issues, it assuaged my fears some. Wilson finished 15 of 31 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, and rushed 13 times for 102 yards.
Marshawn Lynch ran extremely well. The line opened up giant holes for him. The offense clicked at times. Things were actually kind of okay on that side of the ball. Stupid mistakes just came back to haunt them.
Doug Baldwin continues to look like a legitimate go-to guy on third down, and again came up big in this game. Jermaine Kearse continues to build confidence and seems to just have a nose for the endzone. Golden Tate, despite a few issues catching the ball, looked deadly in YAC and the way the Seahawks are using him is exciting. Luke Willson broke a few tackles in the open field and though he's still a rookie, was asked to do a lot in the gameplan. Michael Bowie & Lemuel Jeanpierre got valuable snaps in the line of fire, and James Carpenter bounced back in this game to open up some big lanes for Marshawn Lynch.
The miscues and missed tackles and mistakes I've outlined above are all pretty fixable though, to be honest. In the big scheme of things, it's easy to get that 'sky is falling' feeling after a loss, but at least the Hawks aren't the Giants. Or the Steelers. Or the Texans. Or the Bucs. This was a frustrating setback, particularly because the rest of the NFC West won their games this week, but Seattle emerged with no major injuries and frankly the offense looks like it's just about ready to hit second gear. The defense looked beatable in this game but were foiled by missed assignments and miscommunication more than a lack of talent or poor schematics. The Colts had a great gameplan and Andrew Luck executed it brilliantly. This happens in the NFL.