Seattle Seahawks

John McGrath: Seahawks’ indifference to game clock came back to bite them

The Seattle Seahawks’ offense huddles during the second half Sunday under the leadership of quarterback Russell Wilson (3) against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The Seattle Seahawks’ offense huddles during the second half Sunday under the leadership of quarterback Russell Wilson (3) against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The Associated Press

Thanks to a second-half comeback that turned a 31-0 thumping into a 31-24 thriller, the Seahawks were able to walk off the field Sunday with the sense they didn’t lose so much as run out of time.

“If we had one more drive,” quarterback Russell Wilson insisted afterward, “we would have won it.”

Maybe, but there are only 60 minutes on a pro football game clock, and when a team is trailing by 31 points in the second quarter, its poise and confidence and history of resilience can be detrimental. Panic typically is not a wise option, but Sunday was not typical. Sunday was a five-alarm fire that called for a frantic response by the Seahawks, who never seemed to grasp the fact the situation was dire.

Their final drive before halftime, for instance, began with a handoff to Marshawn Lynch at the Seattle 33. Lynch kept his legs churning for as long as he could, bless his heart, but the valiant second effort that produced a 9-yard gain took 33 seconds off a clock the Seahawks couldn’t afford to squander.

The score was 31-0. Slightly more than a minute remained in the half. A handoff to a running back was inexplicable, but consistent with the Hawks’ determination to remain unfazed.

Pete Carroll will regroup the team in the locker room, the narrative went, and convince his players that if Carolina could put 31 points on them in the first half, they could put 32 points on the Carolina in the second half.

Seriously? Scoring 32 unanswered points on the road, against the conference’s top-seeded playoff team — a team that came within a few snaps of finishing the regular season undefeated — that’s how indomitable the Seahawks are?

Sure enough, Seattle converted its first two possessions of the third quarter into touchdowns. But the clock kept ticking, and the Hawks kept acting as if the clock wasn’t relevant.

Wilson’s brain is one of the attributes that have turned him into an undeniably elite quarterback, and yet I wonder: Why does this smart guy have so much trouble calling a play before the offense is tagged with a delay-of-game penalty?

Historically frigid conditions were responsible for Wilson’s communication issues with the coach’s booth at Minnesota. Got it. But the weather was no factor at Carolina, and communication issues continued to bog down the game’s pace on a day when a brisk pace of play was essential.

“The separation is in the preparation,” is among a dozen of Wilson’s favorite cliches, along with “the most important play is the next play.”

May I suggest an addition to Wilson’s assiduously scripted mantra?

“Hike the dang ball.”

After a sack by Carolina cornerback Josh Norman aborted a drive late in the third quarter — the Seahawks, left with a third-and-24 at their 43, were almost certainly punting — Wilson called a time out to avoid a 5-yard penalty for a delay of game.

Retreating 5 yards on a midfield punt meant nothing. The time out, precious to the point of invaluable, was wasted.

An offense challenged to hike the dang ball did the brunt of the lollygagging Sunday, but it was a team effort. The defense allowed Carolina to keep the ball for almost six minutes on a secnd-half drive that netted 26 yards.

Quarterback Cam Newton was able to sustain the “drive” by completing two third-down attempts against a non-existent pass rush. Defenses absent a pass rush might be tempted to blitz, but the Seahawks don’t like to blitz, and weren’t inclined to abandon the root principles they cherish.

The defense held the Panthers scoreless in the second half, so take a bow — kudos all around. The only problem with holding Carolina scoreless in the second half was the fact the Panthers weren’t trying to score. They were trying to kill the clock, which they did.

You don’t think about blitzing because rushing a linebacker or safety is at odds with your identity? Please. During a game that the opposing team takes a 31-0 lead into halftime, your identity is the least of your concerns.

A plausible case can be made that the Seahawks were the better team Sunday, victims of a clock that expired on them, one drive too soon.

The clock didn’t beat them. What beat them was their casual and baffling indifference to it.