Seahawks’ failures on fourth down magnify differences between this year and last year
Converting one of two key fourth downs in the fourth quarter might have been enough to give the Seahawks a badly needed win.
Seattle Times staff reporter
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One flag or two feet.
Getting one or the other on two key fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter Sunday might have been enough to give the Seahawks a badly-needed victory.
Instead, Seattle got neither.
And on a day when it again became apparent this is simply a different team than the one that won the Super Bowl a season ago, that made the difference in a crushing 24-20 defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Heartbreaking,” quarterback Russell Wilson called it.
It could be season-defining as well, as Seattle fell to 6-4 — already one more defeat than the Seahawks had all of last season — and three games behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.
Seattle exhibited lots of flaws throughout, notably a suddenly porous run defense that allowed a season-high 190 rushing yards. But similar failings reared their heads a few times last year, too. And when they did, the Seahawks more often than not were still able to make the plays to turn possible defeat into certain victory.
Sunday, though, they were left lamenting opportunities gone astray in a season veering surprisingly off course.
Or in the case of Doug Baldwin, ruing a penalty flag that never came.
It was Baldwin who was supposed to be on the receiving end of a pass from Wilson with 7:11 left and the Seahawks facing a fourth-and-goal at the Kansas City 2, trailing 24-20.
Carroll said he eschewed kicking the field goal because, at worst, Kansas City would be stuck with the ball deep in its own end.
“One is to try to go ahead right there and also leave them there, and if we leave them there they’ve got to get out (of a hole),” Carroll said of his decision.
Wilson’s pass on a fade route flew over the head of Baldwin, who protested he had been interfered with by Kansas City cornerback Sean Smith.
“The ball was in the air, I looked back and I get pushed,” Baldwin said. “As far as I know, that’s illegal. That’s why we have a rule book. I mean, I was open.”
The officials, though, ruled otherwise and Kansas City took over at its 2.
As Carroll hoped, the gamble worked out in that the Chiefs couldn’t move, punting for what was the first time in the game, and Seattle got the ball back at the Kansas City 45 with 6:15 left.
A penalty for delay, though, moved Seattle back. It was a penalty that came with backup Patrick Lewis playing center after starter Max Unger was lost with a high ankle sprain that could have him out for an extended period.
Still, Seattle appeared to have picked up the first down on a third-and-eight pass to Jermaine Kearse. But Kansas City challenged the spot of the ball and won, setting up a fourth-and-one for the Seahawks from the Chiefs’ 36.
There was no doubt on either side what was going to happen next — the Seahawks were going to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch.
“I knew they were going to give him the ball,” said Kansas City defensive tackle Jaye Howard, who was drafted by the Seahawks in 2012 and released before the 2013 season and signed by the Chiefs.
“Before we broke the huddle, (the defensive linemen) just said, ‘We’re going to get off the ball and not let him get it.’ ”
And that’s what the Chiefs did as Lynch was stuffed at the line, a charge led by Kansas City’s Allen Bailey.
“They won the line of scrimmage,” Carroll said. “We had to make two feet and we couldn’t do it. We stuffed it up at them and they took their shot and we took our shot and they were very fortunate. They won, and that was a huge play.”
Certainly, there were other missed opportunities.
Seattle was forced to settle for field goals twice in the first half after driving inside the Kansas City 10-yard-line. One came after Kearse dropped an apparent touchdown in the final minute of the first half.
“I should have caught that,” Kearse said.
And after the two missed fourth downs, Seattle held to get the ball back one more time, at its 4-yard-line, with 2:47 left.
Wilson said what he always does — that he thought the Seahawks could drive the 96 yards and score.
Instead, after one first down, the drive ended on a sack and three incomplete passes — two to first-year tight end Cooper Helfet and one to rookie Paul Richardson.
Baldwin said the mood in the locker room was one of “general frustration.”
“Everybody’s playing hard,” Baldwin said. “That’s not the issue. The effort is there. We have to play smarter. We have to do things more efficiently. We have to execute the game plan as it’s called. It’s simple as that.’’
The Seahawks, though, are learning that nothing is quite as simple as it was a year ago, even gaining two feet.
|Coming up empty|
|The Seahawks took some chances on fourth down in the final quarter, most notably near the goal line about halfway through the period. Here’s how they fared:|
|Down and distance||Time||Result|
|Fourth-and-goal at KC 2||7:11 left in fourth quarter||Incomplete pass|
|Fourth-and-one at KC 36||3:38 left in fourth quarter||Marshawn Lynch stopped for no gain|
|Fourth-and-18 at SEA 20||1:18 left in fourth quarter||Incomplete pass|