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Seahawks 31, Falcons 34 Quick Thoughts: At least Sheldon Richardson is good

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In a bitterly disappointing loss, the Seattle Seahawks dropped their second consecutive home game, falling to the Atlanta Falcons 34-31. For Seattle, it was a slow, error filled start that put them behind early. Game mismanagement and poor coaching decisions only deepened the hole they had dug for themselves, and eventually it cost them the game.

On Atlanta’s side, the Falcons capitalized on every opportunity early on - to their credit - and benefited from a Seahawks defense incapable of getting off the field on third down. Neither team played a particularly clean game, but in the end Atlanta played a good road game, playing relatively error-free football and consistently moving the chains against Seattle’s defense.

Sheldon Richardson

Sheldon Richardson’s fine season continued on Monday night, playing his best game of the season in an ultimately fruitless effort. He came alive on the Falcons’ second possession, stopping Tevin Coleman in the backfield early in the drive, before stuffing him on the goal line prior to Mohamed Sanu’s touchdown catch. His play against the run was phenomenal, and effectively shut down Atlanta’s running game. By the end of the game, Richardson had totaled five run stops on 25 run snaps, as well as adding the crucial sack to give the Seahawks’ offense a final shot.

Richardson has quietly been the Seattle’s best and most consistent defensive linemen all season long, but Monday night was the Seahawks’ first glimpse of the takeover-a-game ability he possesses. On an increasingly depleted defense, Richardson will need to continue producing performances like Monday night’s.

Mike Davis, if only for a moment

On the third play from scrimmage in the second-half, Russell Wilson hit Mike Davis on a throwback screen pass for the second time, this time Davis flying down the sideline for 21 yards before being brought down awkwardly. It would be the final snap of Davis’s night, as it was later reported he was done for the game with a groin injury. It was an abrupt end to a promising start for Davis.

Although he ended the game with just six carries for 18 yards, Davis’s performance against Atlanta was the best Seattle’s gotten from a running back since Chris Carson’s injury. He ran with intent, decisively hitting holes and finishing off runs violently — even temporarily taking Falcons’ safety Keanu Neal out of the game.

The extent of Davis’s groin injury isn’t yet known, but if it doesn’t cause him to miss time, the Seahawks’ backfield should be his moving forward. Having fresh, healthy legs at running back is a departure from Eddie Lacy and whatever version of Thomas Rawls the Seahawks have gotten this season.

Tyler Lockett, a good returner again

It took months, but Tyler Lockett stopped running directly into defenders when returning kicks. Instead, he capitalized on an embarrassing performance by Atlanta’s special teams, returning five kickoffs for 197 yards — good for 39.4 yards per return, a ridiculous figure when you consider none of them went all the way back for a touchdown. Matt Bosher’s refusal, or inability, to kick out of the end zone deserves some blame, but Lockett deserves some credit, too. He looked elusive returning kicks for the first time in a long time, and was aggressive looking for pockets to break through. If this is a sign of a healthy, all-the-way-back Lockett, it’s good news for a Seattle offense already getting great production from Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson and Doug Baldwin.

Jimmy Graham’s vindication tour

The continued revival of Jimmy Graham extended on Monday night, with the elite touchdown maker catching his seventh score of the season, and coming incredibly close to an eighth. Graham’s touchdown came on a shallow jump ball, something he and Wilson are looking increasingly effective at. He almost had a second touchdown on a ridiculous Wilson scramble, making a great adjustment on the football but ultimately being unable to secure the catch.

Criticized by many for soft play, Graham again displayed his competitive toughness against the Falcons, catching several big passes on digs and slants, and taking three shots from Atlanta’s defenders along the way. Although he’ll likely miss out at season’s end, Graham has an honest chance at being named an All-Pro this season if he keeps his pace up, and it would be entirely deserved.

Coaching errors

For the second time this season (at least), Pete Carroll’s game management cost the Seahawks greatly. In week three’s loss to the Tennessee Titans, poor clock management gave the Titans a chance to score to end the first half when they shouldn’t have had a chance, while recklessly using timeouts cost Seattle late. On Monday night against the Falcons, there were several head-scratching moments. Terrible coaching decision rapid fire!

  • The fake field goal to end the first-half: A high risk play even if Luke Willson does get into open field. Sacrificing three points for such a low-percentage play never made sense. Carroll’s post-game comments only made it worse. Asking a long snapper to block one of the quickest defensive tackles in the NFL was always a fools errand.
  • Challenging Doug Baldwin’s non-catch: An insane, mind-boggling decision. Carroll said after the game that he “trusted” Baldwin on it, but that shouldn’t have mattered. A quality control coach, or spotter, in the booth would have seen the same angles that those of us at home did -- where it was clearly an incompletion. That either should have been, or was, communicated to Carroll. Challenging that play, and the eventual defense for doing so, is embarrassing.
  • I have no basis for this, but put Richard Sherman in charge of timeouts so long as he is injured and on the sideline.

Pete Carroll is one of the best three head coaches in the NFL, but year after year he has games like Monday when you’re left scratching your head.

Odds and Ends:

  • Pushed into action earlier than expected due to a Shaquill Griffin injury, Byron Maxwell looked pretty good against Atlanta. He allowed a 62.5 opposing passer rating, and looked comfortable back in his old surroundings. If Griffin’s injury isn’t serious, the Seahawks should be OK at cornerback with Maxwell, Griffin, Justin Coleman and Jeremy Lane.
  • Wilson was incredibly effective on the ground, gaining 86 yards on seven carries, as well as a touchdown on fourth-and-goal. He likely will be forgotten behind Tom Brady and Carson Wentz by the end of the season, but Wilson absolutely should be in the MVP conversation.
  • Cool to see the payoff of Lockett’s early season jet sweeps in back-to-back weeks. Against the Arizona Cardinals, it was a fake sweep, pitch out the other way to J.D. McKissic. Against Atlanta, they faked bringing him in for a sweep before he reversed field, running an arrow route and gaining a first down.

Seattle will now move on to face the San Francisco 49ers on the road in what will likely be Jimmy Garapollo’s first start for the team. A win over the 49ers will move the Seahawks to 4-0 inside the division, a factor that could end up being massive should the L.A. Rams allow Seattle back into the division race.