Earl Thomas had the same feeling leaving the field at Paul Brown Stadium as most of you did watching or listening to Sunday’s game.
“You leave the game kind of scratching your head like, ‘What just happened?’ ” the All-Pro safety said of the Seahawks’ 27-24 loss in overtime to the undefeated Bengals.
Seattle led 24-7 with 12 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
What happened was after three quarters of handling quarterback Andy Dalton and Cincinnati’s league-leading passing game, the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” went bust.
“It didn’t feel right, getting out of here like this,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Seattle’s largest blown lead in a loss in 11 years.
The Bengals relentlessly and decisively targeted Seattle’s secondary with deep pass after deep pass, as advertised. This was after four weeks of foes dinking and dunking the Seahawks with quick, underneath routes.
Thomas got the Seahawks’ first interception of the season late in the first half, after a four-game drought that was the longest since Carroll became coach in 2010.
But even Thomas’ big play — denying Cincinnati a go-ahead score and then returning the ball 68 yards from the goal line into Bengals territory — was marred. End Michael Bennett got flagged for pushing down Dalton and then pushing his head to the turf during Thomas’ return.
The NFL’s No. 1 passing game went after first-year starting cornerback Cary Williams of Seattle eight times. The Bengals got him for three completions for 51 yards in the first quarter alone.
It would have been four completions for 123 yards and a touchdown had A.J. Green’s 72-yard score past the beaten Williams not been called back by a Bengals’ penalty for holding.
Williams then had two pass-interference fouls of 29 and 27 yards in the second half. The second time — Williams was called for hooking the left, inside arm of Marvin Jones as Cincinnati’s wide receiver was trying to reach for Dalton’s pass down the sideline — moved the Bengals from their 28 to the Seattle 45 with 1:25 left and the Seahawks leading 24-21.
Asked how he thought he played, a glum Williams understated: “I could have played better. … I didn’t play as well as I wanted to.”
He had company.
All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman was targeted seven times by the Bengals, yielding 61 yards. For a while, the Seahawks, in an unusual move, had him shadowing Green, Cincinnati’s top receiver, all over the field instead of having Sherman stay on the left side.
That worked, to a degree. Green, who entered averaging 17 yards per catch and had an NFL season-high 227 yards against Baltimore last month, had six receptions for “only” 78 yards and no scores.
“It did pay off,” Carroll said. “Richard did a great job.”
On the only play for which Sherman was credited for a pass defensed, perhaps Dalton’s worst throw of the day, to Green on the sideline, the ball went through Sherman’s stretched hands. It could have been Seattle’s second interception.
Sherman was uncharacteristically bland afterward.
“It’s not frustrating at all,” he said of the loss. “Sometimes the ball falls your way. Sometimes it doesn’t.
“It’s just as big as the rest of them. They are all the same size. Another championship opportunity, missed opportunity, whatever you want to call it. We get another opportunity next week (against unbeaten Carolina in Seattle).”
The Bengals went after Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor 10 times in his third game since returning from a two-month holdout. Six of the seven completions on Chancellor came after halftime, for 78 yards, and were mostly to tight end Tyler Eifert (eight catches, 90 yards, two touchdowns).
Despite allowing 153 of Cincinnati’s 331 yards passing to come in the fourth quarter and overtime, Thomas said he thinks the defending two-time NFC champions are going to be OK.
“What makes me think (that)? Because I know who we are,” Thomas said. “We played three quarters of great football. We just didn’t finish.
“Ain’t nothing changed.”
DALTON OFF HIS SPOT
The Seahawks put the Bengals in an unfamiliar situation: playing from behind. Entering Sunday, Cincinnati had trailed for only 1 minute, 58 seconds during its first four games.
Seattle’s pass rush almost could ignore the run for most of the second half and focus on targeting Dalton, who attempted 44 passes in the game. The Seahawks sacked him four times, twice as many times as he’d been sacked in 118 dropbacks before Sunday.
Bennett recorded his team-leading third sack. Fellow end Cliff Avril had his second. Tackle Ahtyba Rubin got his first sack, helped by Cassius Marsh. And nickel back DeShawn Shead dumped Dalton on a blitz.
Seattle didn’t blitz as much as it had in its first four games. Defensive coordinator Kris Richard often used Bennett inside at tackle in pass-rush situations, with Avril and Bruce Irvin off the ends.
RYAN, CANADIAN NINJA
Punter Jon Ryan was again one of the Seahawks’ best players.
Ryan, born and raised in Canada, punted eight times for a gross average of 50.9 yards. He was so good on a 62-yarder that it was better than the coverage; Adam Jones ran that one back 35 yards to the Seattle 33.
Ryan, who competed this offseason on TV’s “American Ninja Warrior,” made the open-field tackle, preventing Jones from scoring a touchdown.
Seattle LB Bobby Wagner entered the game with his sore shoulder heavily wrapped. Then he injured a pectoral muscle. He missed two plays, but returned and finished the game. … Carroll said defensive tackle Jordan Hill strained his quadriceps.