Even not facing Kyler Murray can’t save Russell Wilson, Seahawks from season-crushing loss

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It’s so dark for the Seahawks, even (almost) always sunny Pete Carroll is gloomy.

He’s frustrated and without answers — more than at any other time in his dozen years leading the franchise.

After a recent midseason meeting with Jody Allen, the team’s chair, that the coach emphasized was “normal,” Carroll did something Sunday following his team’s latest loss and lost opportunity he’d never done before. He walked out his postgame press conference, abruptly. He said he had no answers for why his team is now 3-7.

“It’s not a different story. Been the same story in and out of this whole season, and we’ve got to see if we can turn it,” Carroll said.

“I’m really done. I’m done.”

Then Carroll walked away as another question was coming at him.

That remarkable act said more than any of words in the previous 8 minutes.

Thirty minutes later, Carroll unexpectedly returned to the press-conference room. He preempted wide receiver Tyler Lockett about to talk. The coach said he felt he had “short-changed” the media members and respected the job they had to do, and he wanted to correct that.

Asked in session two if this more frustrated than he’s been at any other point in his 12 years as chief of the Seahawks’ football operations, Carroll almost spat out the words.

“Yes. Absolutely. Not even close,” Carroll said.

The boos started in the first half of the last-place Seahawks’ latest splat, a 23-13 loss to the first-place Cardinals. Arizona was correct in thinking they could win in Lumen Field while resting star quarterback Kyler Murray and his injured ankle.

Carroll watched the end, his hands alternating between on his hips and clasped behind him.

After his final, futile pass fell incomplete under more pressure, Russell Wilson put on a team cap, and his hands on his hips along the sideline, too.

It felt, and feels, like the end of the meaningful portion of this wayward season for the Seahawks. They are 3-7 for the first time since their Jim Mora, “we need more dirtbags” team of 2009 that finished 5-11. That was Mora’s only season coaching Seattle.

Carroll arrived from USC a month after that dismal season ended.

“The reality is, I’ve been through tough times before,” Wilson, the 32-year-old franchise quarterback, said.

“You feel like it’s your worst day, just as a team, as a group. It can feel heavy and all that. But I do think you have to have to perspective to know there still is opportunity there. We have to decide. We have to execute. We have to go do it.

“We’re up against it.”

For the second consecutive game, Wilson looked like he came back too early from finger surgery that was supposed to keep him out. He completed 14 of 26 often-errant passes for 206 yards while getting sacked four times and hit six times.

This is the first time since Oct. 2016 Wilson has failed to throw a touchdown pass in consecutive games — the two games in his return from finger surgery Oct. 8.

The quarterback insists his finger is not the problem. Rust isn’t, either, Wilson said, after his second game back after more than five weeks between playing.

“I think when you guys see the deep ball you won’t say ‘rust,’” Wilson said. “If you watch it, the ball is coming out of my hand just fine.

“You know, you can make as many thoughts and excuses — I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not an excuse kind of guy. I’m a guy that, we want to fix it. We want to figure out how to get better.”

The offense again looked as bad as Wilson. Seattle, the worst team in the NFL converting third downs into first downs, was 2 for 10 on third down. The Cardinals did what the Packers did the previous week, often dropping off multiple defensive backs in deep coverage to prevent the big plays down the field on passes to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

But Arizona had a more damaging pass rush. The Cardinals sacked Wilson four times and hitting him six times. All-Pro Chandler Jones had two sacks. He has 15 1/2 in 10 career games against Wilson and Seattle, by far more than against any other opponent.

Most damning for Seattle: the Cardinals didn’t have Murray yet it didn’t matter.

Arizona’s star quarterback sat out with a sprained ankle so he can maximize the benefit of the Cardinals’ bye this week. But Seattle’s defense again, for the second time in two seasons on its home field, made 35-year-old journeyman quarterback Colt McCoy look like his old Texas Longhorns starring self.

McCoy, playing with a sore quadriceps muscle that forced him out of a 24-point home loss to Carolina the previous week, completed 35 of 44 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. He ran away from pressure and extended plays for big gains.

He looked more like Wilson used to look.

Seattle lost for the fifth time time in six games at booing, formally formidable Lumen Field. That dates to the Seahawks’ face-plant in the NFC wild-card playoffs against the Los Angeles Rams in January.

This season’s playoffs now seem out of reach for a team with an offense that continues to malfunction in almost all areas. It will take a seven-game winning streak from these Seahawks to end the regular season — beginning next Monday night at Washington (4-6) for Seattle to get to 10-7, or six wins in the final seven to get to 9-8 with any realistic hope at the postseason.

“It’s now or never,” Lockett said. “We’ve got to win every game to even have a chance.”

Duane Brown was shaking his head outside the Seahawks’ locker room, on his way to his car.

“Obviously, this is not the situation we would ever expect to be in,” the 14th-year veteran left tackle said. “The amount of talent that we have on this team, you never expect to be in this position. But we’ve got to keep fighting, you know what I mean? That’s all we can do.

“It’s disappointing. We felt like we were right there to win it. Again.

“Just a handful of plays were the deciding factor — as it’s been most weeks.”

Brief revival

Down 16-6 midway through the fourth quarter and without a touchdown since Halloween, the Seahawks awakened.

Wilson connected with Lockett on a scrambling, improvisational play. The 48-yard gain set up DeeJay Dallas’ 15-yard run on third and 1, then Dallas’ 2-yard touchdown run.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) catches a pass down field from quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the fourth quarter of an NFL game on Sunday afternoon at Lumen Field in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) catches a pass down field from quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during the fourth quarter of an NFL game on Sunday afternoon at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Suddenly, cheers filled Lumen Field. The Seahawks who had been sulking up and down their sideline revived. With 7 minutes left Seattle trailed only 16-13.

On Arizona’s ensuing possession, third and 7 at the Seattle 39 with 4:14 left, the roars in the stadium sounded like 2014 in SoDo.

Against blitzing Bobby Wagner and Ryan Neal, McCoy stepped up away from pressure and threw to wide-open tight end Zach Ertz in the middle of the field under safety Quandre Diggs and Seattle’s deep zone coverage. Ertz ran for a 20-yard gain to the Seahawks 19.

Then with 2:33 left, McCoy rolled outside right and fired a dart to Christian Kirk, who got outside safety Jamal Adams at the right sideline of the end zone. Kirk got his feet barely inbounds, but did not maintain full possession of the ball as he fell out of bounds. A replay review overruled the ruling of a touchdown, and Arizona had a third down instead of a game-ending touchdown.

On third down, McCoy faced another blitz and targeted Adams again. Adams hit Ertz before the pass arrived wide of them. Instead of a field goal and the Cardinals leading only 19-13, Adams’ pass interference gave Arizona first and goal at the 1.

“I put my hand on him a little bit, hooked him a little bit,” Adams said.

“Obviously, I can’t have that penalty late in the game and hurt the team.”

On the next play, James Conner ran for the touchdown that clinched the game for Arizona — and all but end the meaningful portion of Seattle’s season.

“Frustrated. Motivated. Committed to doing what it takes to get it turned. Still,” veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap said outside the locker room.

Asked if the playoffs are still worth considering, Dunlap scoffed.

“Pffft! I’m worried about getting the next win,” he said. “Then we’ll figure out what’s what from there. ...

“Right now, we don’t deserve to look up and think questions about the playoffs. We need to narrow our focus down.”

The big play that wasn’t

The Seahawks thought they had a game-turning play by Sidney Jones, the former University of Washington star cornerback, midway through the third quarter. Jones, starting because D.J. Reed was out with knee and groin injuries, jumped a short out route on third down and made a tumbling interception. He returned it all the way to the Cardinals 11-yard line, setting up Seattle to cut into Arizona’s 16-6 lead with still a quarter and a half to play.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Sidney Jones (23) nearly intercepts a pass by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy (12) intended for wide receiver A.J. Green (18) during the third quarter of an NFL game on Sunday afternoon at Lumen Field in Seattle. The call was later overturned and Arizona retained possession of the ball.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Sidney Jones (23) nearly intercepts a pass by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy (12) intended for wide receiver A.J. Green (18) during the third quarter of an NFL game on Sunday afternoon at Lumen Field in Seattle. The call was later overturned and Arizona retained possession of the ball.

Seahawks teammates ran off the sidelines to the end of the field to mob Jones for his huge play.

Each turnover is reviewed by NFL headquarters in New York. Officials there determined by replay review Jones had trapped the ball on the ground between his arms rather than cleanly catching McCoy’s pass.

Instead of a key interception, it was an incomplete pass. Arizona punted. The Seahawks failed to move the ball yet again on offense. And it remained a 16-6 game.

“I don’t know how in the world the way that happened, the timing of that, you could ever -- maybe you saw it better than I did. I didn’t see the replays other than on the big board, but he catches the ball,” Carroll said. “He can’t even believe that they took that catch away. (He said) ‘I caught the football.’

“I think the ball probably touched the ground. Again, you guys would know better than me, but that’s a 60-plus yard swing in that moment right there. It was a great play, and I think you had to try really hard to want to turn that over because it was called on the field. You have to have whatever it’s called, indisputable or whatever.”

Same ol’ story

Sunday was the same ‘ol for Seattle.

The offense could not sustain a drive because of being so inept on third downs, even manageable ones in this game. The Seahawks were 1 for their first 8 converting on third down.

The defense allowed more long, demoralizing scoring drives. Arizona’s first one Sunday was 16 plays, taking up more than 9 minutes of the first quarter.

Seattle allowed conversions on six of Arizona’s first 11 third downs into first downs.

That’s a losing formula. And it keeps happening.

“We have to coach better, and they have to find their ways,” Carroll said. “Russ has to find his way. We’ve got to catch the ball when we get our chances.

“It’s everything. It starts with me.”

Horrid start

The Seahawks malfunctioned on both sides of the ball to begin a must-win game. That was alarming and inexcusable.

One of Wilson’s worst throws Sunday ruined a prime chance at a touchdown.

In the second quarter with the Cardinals leading 7-0, safety Adams made one of the better plays of his two seasons with the Seahawks. He immediately read Arizona’s second-down wide-receiver screen pass outside to his right to Rondale Moore. He tackled Moore as he caught McCoy’s pass for a 5-yard loss back to the 2-yard line.

That led to Arizona punting, and Seattle getting to start its next possession at the Cardinals’ 45-yard line.

The Seahawks’ offense mostly wasted that opportunity. Two runs by Alex Collins — 11 of Seattle’s first 15 play calls were runs — set up Wilson with tons of time on a play-action pass. Lockett roamed free for a 25-yard reception to the Arizona 9-yard line.

On third and goal, right tackle Brandon Shell did his job pushing nine-sack-man Markus Golden well past the quarterback. Wilson stepped into the open space to throw, but then skipped his pass poorly short of wide-open Freddie Swain at about the 5-yard line.

Seattle settled for a 27-yard field goal by Jason Myers and still trailed, 7-3.

On the Seahawks’ first possession, Arizona’s Jones and unblocked blitzing Isaiah Simmons sacked Wilson on consecutive plays. Those were faults of the play design and call by coordinator Shane Waldron. Metcalf and Lockett, the primary receiver on each of those second- and third-down plays, had their backs to Wilson as the pressure arrived. The pass routes were too long for the lack of pass protection by Seattle’s iffy offensive line.

The Seahawks’ second drive inside the Arizona 10-yard line in the first half ended when Wilson missed a left-alone Metcalf in the middle of the field and threw high and wide to tight end Gerald Everett in the right side of the end zone. On third down, Wilson had running back Dallas open on a checkdown beneath Arizona’s dropping coverage. Wilson instead chose to force a pass to the double-covered Metcalf, who had no chance to catch the high throw in the back of the end zone.

The Seahawks settled for Myers’ second short field goal of the half and a 13-6 deficit.

The Cardinals got a field goal to end their first drive of the second half to put the Seahawks behind 16-6. Seattle’s ensuing possession ended when Wilson threw another bad pass on third and 7, behind Dallas with the running back parallel to him and a few yards to his right on a screen play. That pass is supposed to be in front of Dallas.

Michael Dickson punted for the third time, and the Seahawks remained without a touchdown and down by 10 points.

At that point, deep into the third quarter, Wilson had completed just seven of 13 passes for 106 yards.

Penny, Tre Brown injured

Rashaad Penny’s chance to start lasted one play.

Two days after announcing lead back Chris Carson was having season-ending neck surgery, the Seahawks lost their new (for the day) starter Penny to a hamstring injury after his 18-yard run on the game’s first play.

The banged-up Collins replaced him.

Penny returned to the game in the third quarter.

Carroll shook at his head at Penny getting hurt yet again.

“Something in his hammy. He felt it,” Carroll said. “We spent the rest of the first half trying to keep him warm to see if he pulled his hamstring or felt something. He kind of felt OK and got close to getting back out there, but it wasn’t quite right, so I can’t tell you what -- I don’t know about the injury. I just know what he said and and what he felt, and so we had to look after him.

“Really would have loved to see him play. We were excited to see him play today.”

Collins finished with 36 yards on 10 carries. The league’s 22nd-ranked rushing offense finished with 86 yards, 13 below their per-game average coming in.

Midway through the second quarter the Seahawks lost impressive rookie starting cornerback Tre Brown when his knee buckled while defending a third-down pass from McCoy to A.J. Green.

Carroll said Brown has a patellar tendon injury in his knee, “and those are pretty tough.”

The coach said there is no reason to say it’s a season-ending injury.

On Seattle’s first defensive possession of the game, Brown was called for a debatable pass-interference penalty defending Green at the goal line on a third down for Arizona. Defensive end Rasheem Green broke in on McCoy for one of the rare instances of pass rush for Seattle. That forced McCoy into a rather desperate heave toward the covered A.J. Green. The Cardinals’ receiver jumped and landed out of bounds as Brown walled him off.

The penalty flag from the side official bailed out a play that was doomed to fail for Arizona, and gave the Cardinals a first down.

Two plays later, McCoy pitched forward to Ertz cutting across the backfield for a 1-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead for Arizona.

The Seahawks trailed by seven points into the third quarter.