A picture paints 1000 words...
The Seahawks started slowly against Atlanta, down more than 15 points at halftime for the third time this season. For the second time this year, they mounted a comeback in the second half to close the gap to two points in the fourth quarter, only to have their furious comeback attempt foiled by their own demise.
Seattle had a meltdown in Week 1. They were on the road and had scrapped their way from down 16-0 at halftime to down 17-19 with 3:56 to go in the game. Then, breakdowns on special teams led to two Ted Ginn touchdowns in the final four minutes. As soon as the Seahawks seemed back in it, the game slipped away.
In Week 2 at Pittsburgh, the Seahawks were down 17-0 at halftime and never had a chance. In Week 3, Seattle won a sloppy, toss-up type game 13-10—they were down 10-6 at halftime.
Through three weeks, they were a young 1-2 team looking for an identity.
In Week 4 the ‘Hawks were at home with the 12th man, hoping to win two in a row and focused on having their best game of the year. Unfortunately it brought a familiar conclusion, just with a different script.
Seattle has been outscored 67-13 in the first half this season
Right from the start, the Falcons controlled the game. After receiving the kickoff, Seattle went three and out, a possession that included a Tarvaris Jackson throw-away on third down.
Atlanta got the ball. They established both the run and play-action pass, were successful using audibles on the line of scrimmage and found Tony Gonzalez in the red zone. This is the Falcons’ formula and the Seahawks looked inept at stopping it. Then the Falcons drove down the field in 12 plays, 72 yards in 7:40 seconds for the touchdown.
Seattle’s next offensive drive featured an illegal motion penalty on 2nd-and-10 after the ball was snapped with four players in motion, and a failed scramble by Jackson on third down—a friend of mine aptly described the Seahawks as “amateurish” to this point. Soon, the Seahawks were down 14-0.
Then Tarvaris Jackson got 82 of his first half 133 passing yards on back-to-back plays to Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice, for the touchdown. Take away those two plays and Jackson is 6-of-12 for 51 yards in the first half.
Throughout the half, the majority of the defense looked lost. Tackling was an issue and too many receivers were open; most players on the defense were exposed. They didn’t look like a unit that was prepared for the test, and this was a week where Pete Carroll was supposedly putting a paramount on sharp preparation.
The score was 24-7 Falcons at halftime and something needed to change.
The post halftime surge…
After allowing the lead to grow to 20 early in the third, Seattle got the ball and established a rhythm on offense, notably with the no huddle. 27-7 early in the third became 27-21 after three quarters. The entire team showed resolve, a positive sign that this young group is developing heart and the will to win as a unit. The crowd helped keep them in this game, too.
Though the Seahawks couldn’t force turnovers—they have lost the turnover margin in three of four games in 2011, simultaneously leading to a 1-3 record—Atlanta didn’t move the ball nearly as well in the second half, gaining only nine first downs—after 16 in the first half.
The defense stiffened to allow six points in the final 30 minutes. Seattle stuffed the run and minus a 45 yard completion to open the second half, stifled the pass.
…Leads to the let down
Seattle was down two with 8:13 to go; they needed a defensive stop, like they had been doing all half. Unfortunately, the comeback began to stall before the Seahawks got the football.
Three of Atlanta’s nine second half first downs came on the clock-milking 11 play, 37-yard, 6:24 drive late in the fourth quarter—the first coming via a Brandon Browner illegal contact penalty. The Falcons then converted two more first downs.
Before the Falcons’ final third down, Seattle let 30-plus second runs off the clock into the two minute warning—if Seattle had called timeout and then stopped Atlanta on third down, the two minute warning would partially make up for the use of the timeout. Seattle could have used this strategy, but was presumably saving their last timeout for their last offensive drive.
Seattle got the ball at their own 15, 1:49 left. 55 yards to a 47-yard field goal and a legitimate chance at winning. However, this also meant Seattle’s two minute offense was in place; a situation they have struggled with this season.
A tipped pass turned into a successful nine-yard screen on the first play; two first downs later Seattle is on their own 42, 1st-and-10 with one timeout and about 53 seconds left. Here they could use that one remaining timeout, or even spike knowing they will go for it on fourth down.
When did Seattle lose this game?
Seattle let the clock run to 41 seconds, when the officials called timeout to review the play; Seattle hiked the ball at 37 seconds, 8-12 playable seconds were lost during the process.
Seattle then got another first down and spiked the ball. This sets up a 2nd-and-10 on the Atlanta 45 yard line; Sidney Rice clearly flinches, false start. As a result, all three of Seattle’s two minute drives, in as many weeks, involved crucial Seattle penalties.
The Seahawks became discombobulated and eventually faced a 4th-and-8; Seattle chose the 61-yard field goal try instead of going for it. Seattle left with a loss and one timeout to spare.
The finish may draw the scrutiny, but the game is played for four quarters
Now the concerns; how could Seattle not use their timeout in the final 2:32 when they had at least two logical places to do so; why let seconds tick off the clock after the Baldwin catch; when will Seattle eliminate penalties when running the two minute drill; was it the right decision to go for it on 4th-and-8? Seattle wouldn’t have been in that 4th-and-8 with better clock management or if Sidney Rice didn't jump offsides.
However, the questions shouldn’t just be placed on how they finished; let’s not forget how they started. Seattle came out flat. Seattle used two timeouts in the second half because of defensive confusion pre-snap and/or 12 men on the field. Furthermore, Seattle had multiple opportunities to give themselves more time on that final drive and a legitimate chance to win the game. This loss was the result of errors over the course of 60 minutes.
This wasn’t the Seahawks’ first slow start and it was their third fourth quarter rodeo of the season. They are 1-2 in games decided in the final minutes, 0-3 after being down eight or more points in the first half.
What should Seattle have done on 4th and 8?
If things don’t change; project this trend over the course of the season and Seattle is 4-8 in games decided in the final minutes, if they continue to be in these situations—Carroll is trying to build a “championship” defense to carry his team through these times.
Their formula of starting slowly, making strong adjustments at halftime and hoping spurts of strong play will create a win isn’t their goal; regardless of intentions, it’s not a sound formula.
Carroll said after the game “I think we grew more today and we know that we can get better. It’s about as much as you can take out of a game and get beat.”
The loss to Atlanta showed the Seahawks are building the resolve needed to compete for the division and hopefully NFL championships, but they are in the early stages of the sometimes painful growth process. The players need to perform better and the coaches need to improve managing the game in certain situations.
The problem isn’t a lack of talent, rather a lack of knowing how to play a complete game. The coaching staff must use the first quarter of the season as a lesson; the goal is less slow starts followed by spurts and stalls, more strong starts leading to steady play.
Then, the Seahawks can start winning games.