Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks defense is paid to hold leads better than this

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday. The Seahawks gave up four scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, losing after holding a 17-point lead.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday. The Seahawks gave up four scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, losing after holding a 17-point lead. The Associated Press

A puzzled Pete Carroll couldn’t narrow down the reasons for the Seahawks’ squandered game against Cincinnati, so he relied on general terms like “baffling” and “startling.”

Yes, it was both of those. But those are descriptions of the systemic fourth-quarter collapse, not reasons.

I think it’s pretty easy to pinpoint where lies the prime culpability for Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss, and for every loss this season.

The defense.

Yes, that marvelous defense, the one that may end up being among the most dominating units in NFL history.

But when so many of these guys are elite at their positions, and they are being paid salaries commensurate to their honors, they must be expected to hold a lead when the game is in doubt.

In all three losses this season, the Seahawks had fourth-quarter leads — and the defense gave up scoring drives. Long ones, at that.

At St. Louis in the opener, they led 31-24 in the final five minutes and surrendered a 12-play, 84-yard drive. The next week, at Green Bay, they led 17-16 and were stung with a 10-play, 80-yard drive.

A defensive stop in either of those games would have given them a win. All they needed was just one more Richard Sherman deflection, a Bobby Wagner fumble recovery, a Michael Bennett sack, an Earl Thomas flying tackle. Any big play from one of their star defenders would have done it.

Sunday’s fourth-quarter collapse baffled and startled even more than the others.

The Bengals mounted four scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime (two touchdowns and two field goals). In the fourth quarter alone, the Bengals racked up 146 yards of offense and quarterback Andy Dalton completed 10 of 11 passes.

The offense went dormant too (punting on all six of its final possessions), but the expectations on that side of the ball aren’t the same. They’ve gone limp before. They’re not expected to control the game.

But the defense? To relinquish three leads in three losses?

Carroll said “there were too many things that happened across the board that led to this loss.”

Yes, but the defense is paid to not allow this to happen. Let alone to let it happen three times over the first five weeks of the season.

This game was such a tease because for three periods, the Seahawks looked like the elite team they should be — running the ball, playing stifling defense, grabbing turnovers.

After piddling around at 2-2 with shoulda-won losses and a couple wins over tomato cans, this win was going to be completely legit. The Seahawks were dominating a terrific Cincinnati team in their own park on a short week.

The Seahawks, it was clear, were back.

As it turned out, though, they were only three-quarters back.

It was that final period, as it has been in each of their losses this season, that doomed the Seahawks.

Carroll preaches winning the game in the fourth quarter. But they haven’t.

The philosophy isn’t flawed, Carroll said, it’s a matter of figuring out “schematically how to finish at the end of the game.”

Cincinnati is really good. But the Seahawks owned this game. The margin of the blown lead alone makes this one inexcusable — against anybody.

They’re 2-3 now, and Carroll thinks anybody who considers them “dead and gone” is digging the hole too quickly.

True enough. Last season was proof of that.

But like it or not, the identity the 2015 Seahawks have assumed is that of a team that falls apart in the fourth quarter.

This was one case where Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin provided pinpoint commentary from an understandably morose locker room.

“In the Super Bowl, we didn’t finish,” Irvin said. “(At) Green Bay … we didn’t finish. That’s on us.”

Sure is.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440

dave.boling@thenewstribune.com

@DaveBoling

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