This was how the West was lost.
The Seahawks’ defense gave Seattle an unfathomable lead early in the fourth quarter, capping a rally from 19-0 down.
But then that same defense gave up another late lead — and likely the Seahawks’ two-year reign over the NFC West.
“We played well,” Seattle All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Not well enough to win.”
After the Seahawks pounded him for two sack-fumbles that put Seattle ahead in the fourth quarter, Carson Palmer drove Arizona 163 yards combined on two touchdown drives in the final nine minutes.
That sent the first-place Cardinals to a 39-32 victory — and the mistake- prone Seahawks to a three-game deficit in the division.
“We didn’t hold it. We had ’em,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
“A very difficult loss to take. We did it to ourselves, to a great extent.”
To an epic extent, in fact. The Seahawks (4-5) committed 14 penalties for 131 yards. That tied for the most flags in a game in the Carroll era that began in 2010. Many of the penalties were killers that extended Arizona touchdown drives on third down, or negated Seattle plays for would-be first downs.
“We put out such a miserable first half of football,” Carroll said. “To be that far behind in the sticks with the penalties … it’s really hard to play ball.”
The Seahawks have blown a fourth-quarter lead in all five of their losses this season and in seven of their last 11 games overall. They blew a chance to move within one game of the division lead with seven regular-season games remaining. That includes the finale on Jan. 3 at Arizona (6-3).
“It’s shrinking for us,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “We understand that.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson added, after a night of far too many first-and-20s and constant scrambles away from swarming Cardinals: “We have a tough road. Is it the end of the world? No. We have five losses. … We believe.”
With his offensive line continuing to malfunction around him, Wilson threw for 240 yards. But he completed just 14 of 32 passes.
He threw a touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin and one interception while way overthrowing him. Wilson lost a fumble into his own end zone for a first-half safety. He got sacked twice. He avoided many more.
“We have to stick together,” he said. “We have to lean on each other.”
Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril forced the first fumble by Palmer deep in Arizona’s end, setting up Marshawn Lynch’s 3-yard TD run. Linebacker K.J. Wright forced the second fumble that Wagner returned 22 yards for a touchdown. That turned a 25-17 deficit into a mind-boggling 29-25 lead for Seattle with 13:00 left in the fourth quarter. CenturyLink Field was shaking. Literally.
But Palmer wasn’t shaken.
The 35-year-old then led the Cardinals on touchdown drives of 83 and 80 yards for the win. His 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham, down a wide-open seam past Seattle’s safeties, gave Arizona back the lead, 32-29, with 8:41 left.
Then Palmer and running back Andre Ellington put the game away. Ellington’s 48-yard TD run down the left sideline — past a Seahawks blitz, then safety Kam Chancellor — on third-and-4 was the clinching play.
That made it 39-29 with 1:58 left, effectively ending the game — and likely the Seahawks’ chances to win the division again.
Palmer, the NFL’s No. 3-rated passer coming in, completed 29 of 48 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.
After a Cardinals’ punt in a 25-17 game late in the third quarter, the Seahawks appeared to have a first down at the Arizona 35 on a bullish, 11-yard run by Marshawn Lynch.
But officials flagged guard J.R. Sweezy for holding when Lynch made his cut outside right. The sixth penalty on the offensive line and tight ends while blocking ruined that drive.
But after Seattle punted and the game entered the fourth quarter, the Seahawks’ defense did it again. Avril sped in off right end, unblocked in a miscommunication by Arizona’s blockers. He sacked Palmer and forced a fumble that Wright returned to the Cardinals’ 3.
Lynch ran it in from there for his third rushing touchdown in four games. Wilson’s quick pass intended for Baldwin in the back of the end zone on the two-point conversion try was incomplete, so Seattle still trailed 25-23 early in the final quarter.
That was a whole lot better than the 19-0 hole the Seahawks were in with 6 minutes left in the second quarter. They gained 23 yards on their first 13 plays. By then the offense had also committed five penalties — all by offensive linemen and tight ends blocking — and had surrendered a safety.
That came in the first quarter, when Wilson scrambled into left tackle Russell Okung near his own goal line, trying to escape Cardinals’ pressure. The Seahawks were backed up that far because tight end Luke Willson was called for a holding penalty while the Cardinals were dumping Lynch for a 2-yard loss.
Other than that, the start was just dandy for Seattle.
The lopsided first-half numbers told of more Arizona dominance than the 22-7 score indicated. The Cardinals led in total yards (269-89), time of possession (21:17 to 8:43) and total plays (45-19).
“That was very difficult to have to face up,” Carroll said.
“We didn’t really get to play the game the way we wanted to play it because of all the penalties. … There must have been five first-and-20s in this game.”
The Cardinals go home to host unbeaten Cincinnati this coming weekend. Seattle will be two games out of a wild-card spot when it hosts San Francisco (3-6).
The Seahawks were nine minutes from being only one game out of the division lead.
“This definitely, definitely hurt,” Wagner said. “Tough one to swallow.”