SEATTLE It looked like September and October.
And for the Seahawks, that’s not a good look.
Russell Wilson was limping and grimacing before halftime.
His offensive line was flailing and failing in front of him, creating messes such as third-and-31. And that was one of the few situations out of which the Seahawks got themselves in a 23-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday that wasn’t that close.
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That Seahawks’ transformation, especially along the line that had turned Wilson into an NFL record setter?
“They showed up today,” Seahawks right tackle Garry Gilliam said succinctly. “We didn’t.”
Doug Baldwin caught his 11th touchdown pass in five games to become the fourth player in league history to do that. But that rallied the Seahawks only briefly.
Lost chances on both sides of the ball and giving away three turnovers while getting none in return ended Seattle’s five-game winning streak.
It felt like a relapse to the woes that caused Seattle’s 2-4 and 4-5 records this season.
How battered was Wilson after getting sacked four times and hit 13 more?
“It’s football,” he said, sounding as he did after beatings at the hands of St. Louis in September and Arizona last month. “I’m fine. I’m good to go.”
The best Seahawks’ fact to emerge from an afternoon that included seven players leaving for concussion testing, and was as much WWE steel-cage match as football game: Seattle already had clinched a playoff spot.
“You win some, you learn some,” Baldwin said. “This shows us there are some things we still need to correct.
“Granted, I’m glad we did it now during the regular season than in the playoffs, obviously.”
The defeat in front of a CenturyLink Field-record crowd of 69,080 increased the likelihood that the Seahawks (9-6) will fall from the fifth to the sixth seed in the NFC. That would mean a game Jan. 9 or Jan. 10 at the NFC North champion, either rebounding Minnesota (9-5) or skidding Green Bay (10-5), instead of at NFC East champion Washington (8-7).
If the Vikings beat the New York Giants on Sunday night, and beat the Packers next weekend at Green Bay, the Seahawks will play at the Packers to start the playoffs.
If the Vikings beat the Giants on Sunday and then lose at Green Bay, Seattle will need to win at Arizona to get the fifth seed and a seemingly preferable matchup against the Redskins.
If the Seahawks lose next week, they will open the playoffs at whoever becomes the NFC North champion.
And if they play like they did Sunday, it won’t matter where the Seahawks begin the playoffs. The postseason will be over for Seattle the same day it starts.
As Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said: “When you get to January, there are no do-overs.”
Bennett said he sensed a letdown in mindset and motivation in some of his teammates after they clinched a playoff spot last weekend. But coach Pete Carroll said no, there was none of that.
If so, what happened Sunday is even more alarming.
Last week, Wilson became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw three or more touchdown passes without an interception in five consecutive games. On Sunday, he became the Rams’ punching bag. Again.
He completed 25 of 41 passes for 289 yards, two touchdowns — including a cosmetic one with 17 seconds left to Jermaine Kearse. Wilson threw his first interception in six games. The team that had sacked him 31 times in seven previous games bludgeoned him relentlessly.
After five transforming games it was back to midseason form for Wilson and the offensive line. The quarterback abandoned a collapsing pocket, even at times when it was still intact. The line allowed St. Louis free rushers in its one-man blitzes. And that was when Seattle’s linemen weren’t getting penalized for false starts or holding or even clipping.
This was the first time in Wilson’s 63 career starts that the Seahawks didn’t lead at some point in a game.
And the Rams (7-8) won for the first time in 11 attempts in Seattle, dating to a wild-card playoff win on Jan. 8, 2005 — and this despite gaining only 207 total yards.
The Seahawks trailed 16-0 thanks largely to fullback Will Tukuafu losing a fumble on a third-and-1 run, his fourth carry of the season. The Rams’ Akeem Ayers ran that one back 45 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Seattle got back into the game thanks to two personal fouls by the Rams on third-down incomplete passes. Those extended the Seahawks’ last drive of the first half and first one after halftime.
The first was a debatable call on St. Louis cornerback Trumaine Johnson for hitting Luke Willson in the back headfirst as the Seahawks’ tight end touched a pass that Johnson’s hit broke up. Both Johnson and Willson left for concussion evaluations.
Seattle ended that 16-play drive with a field goal and its 16-3 deficit at the half.
On third down early in the third quarter, Wilson again got chased soon after the snap. He threw wildly incomplete — but Rams star tackle Aaron Donald got a personal foul for needlessly pushing Wilson to the ground.
That extended drive ended when Wilson threw between four Rams into the end zone. Baldwin caught that while getting drilled to the ground. He got up and pointed to the Rams, and then the home crowd roaring over him. Seattle’s deficit was 16-10.
The Seahawks squandered two chances to recover fumbles by Rams running backs in the fourth quarter. The first was on third-and-short when Benny Cunningham lost the ball out of a pile. Seattle safety Earl Thomas cradled it for a moment, but the ball squirted free across the wet turf on the rainy day. Officials ruled that St. Louis center Tim Barnes recovered the fumble, then ruled it was Seahawks’ ball, then re-ruled it was Rams’ ball.
Carroll could only scream at the officials; he and his team were out of challenges because of two earlier failures trying to overturn calls. The replay was not conclusive enough to overturn the initial call of Rams’ ball, anyway.
Thomas said the Rams were grabbing at his man region to loosen his grip of the football and steal it away. Barnes’ recovery was so big that Rams coach Jeff Fisher gave his center the game ball afterward.
Then the Rams’ 1,000-yard rookie runner, Todd Gurley, lost the ball at the Seahawks 3 at the end of a long romp. Seattle’s Jeremy Lane had his hands on the fumble, but could not drag it into his possession. St. Louis recovered, then scored on Gurley’s 2-yard run to make it 23-10 with 10:34 to go.
Baldwin joined Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe of the NFL and Art Powell in 1963 in the old AFL as the only players with 11 touchdown catches in five games. He set the Seahawks’ record with his 14th scoring reception this season.
Baldwin also joined Steve Largent (twice) and Joey Galloway (two times) as the only Seattle receivers with 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in a season.
“I’ll think about it when I retire,” Baldwin said.
For now, he and the Seahawks have much more to contemplate. And correct.
“It was,” Carroll said, “just a mess.”