Let's start this off by saying: almost everyone is at fault for what transpired on Sunday. From the Seahawks' coaching staff to the offense, defense and even special teams, nearly every single college navy-clad person that either played or coached in this game contributed to the team's heartbreaking 33-30 loss to the Titans in some form or fashion, with very few exceptions.
However, in the wake of what happened, the blame has been solely placed on the shoulders of the defense in a fruitless attempt to identify one sole offender in Sunday's events. Again, make no mistake—there is no single guilty party here, though one stands out among the rest and it's not the defense. While the unit allowed 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and overtime, all while being gashed for 182 yards and three touchdowns by Tennessee running back Derrick Henry, it should not have been placed in that position to begin with.
Notorious for starting games slow, the Seahawks had seemingly done the hard part by jumping out to a 24-9 lead at halftime, capped off by a masterful 48-second scoring drive. The 68,585 fans in attendance, who filled the seats at Lumen Field for the first time in a regular season game since December of 2019, were energized as head coach Pete Carroll recognized their support before heading into the locker room.
Momentum was entirely in Seattle's favor. Now, all that was left was to finish, just as Carroll has preached for the last 12 years, to which the Seahawks have executed to near perfection in that time. But their performance on Sunday was the antithesis of Carroll's core philosophies; his mantra of "Can you win the game in the first quarter?" and so forth rung true.
It was an uncharacteristic meltdown of epic proportions, but one that felt eerily similar to the last time the Seahawks played a meaningful game in their home stadium. They had just one drive of five or more plays in the entire second half—their first and only drive in the third quarter. But even then, that drive had been extended by a very generous spot on a third-down, one-yard rush by running back Chris Carson, which pretty clearly looked short of the sticks. Had it been reviewed, Seattle likely would have gone three-and-out as it did for most of the second half.
As the chains moved, the Seahawks appeared lethargic and out of sorts. On 1st and 10 from their own 45-yard line, miscommunication on a called reverse left quarterback Russell Wilson confused and with no other option but to take a three-yard loss. All drive long, the offensive line broke down in both its pass protection and run blocking. This came to a head on the final play of the drive, when the unit failed to generate any push on a 3rd and 2 run by Carson. This resulted in a one-yard loss, which forced the punting unit on in what could have been four-down territory.
On the next drive, Seattle posted its lone touchdown of the second half, thanks to a broken coverage that allowed receiver Freddie Swain to waltz in for a 68-yard score. But that was just the third play of a sub two-minute drive, putting the defense back on the field following a 12-play, nearly six-minute drive from Tennessee. Two plays in, Henry erupted for his 60-yard game-changing touchdown run.
From that point forward, the Seahawks went three-and-out thrice—the lone exception being a four-play drive in the fourth quarter that ended as time expired. Those four drives amounted to just three minutes and 36 seconds of possession, compared to the Titans' 12 minutes and 16 seconds. In all, Tennessee out-possessed Seattle by 19 minutes and 51 seconds. That's just too much to ask of any defense when facing the likes of Henry and receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown.
Despite the wear and tear, the Seahawks' defense still managed to get a stop in overtime. Set up at their own 12-yard line, Wilson and company were only required to get into field goal range against one of the least talented defenses in the NFL. Instead, they went backwards and nearly lost the game on a safety before Wilson was ruled down at the half-yard line. That, of course, would be the last time they'd touch the ball—and deservingly so.
"The last drive, we just, we took a big shot and we missed by a hair on the sidelines," Carroll evaluated. "Then the second down play, that's the only three plays that I thought were really of question, that we didn't handle those three plays as well as we needed to. We wound up on the goal line backed up. So we messed that sequence up getting out of there and made it really easy for them and not getting a couple first downs there and moving the football and kick it deep, at least. We didn't get that done. So, disappointed in that sequence, but that was it."
Overall, it was a head-scratching performance that reeked of the struggles that earned former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer a trip out of town this past offseason. It was an uninspired gameplan that appeared overly reliant on explosive plays, or at least Wilson's approach made it seem that way. As was the case amidst Seattle's dysfunctional second half of the 2020 season, Wilson passed up open receivers in the intermediate game in search of something bigger and often settled for his checkdown or wound up sacked.
The offense's woes on Sunday weren't just a Wilson problem, however. New play-caller Shane Waldron got away from what made the unit so successful in Indianapolis, rarely utilizing pre-snap motion and failing to involve tight ends Gerald Everett and Will Dissly in the passing attack. Everett was targeted just twice, reeling in one reception for three yards while Dissly didn't see a single ball come his way.
"They didn't," Wilson responded when asked if the Titans did anything specific to take Everett and Dissly away. "I mean, they didn't necessarily do anything in particular."
Last week proved the Seahawks can rid themselves of the offensive woes that hounded them in 2020. But Sunday's game against the Titans looked as if nothing had changed. They lacked an identity and the killer instinct they've carried for much of Carroll's tenure in Seattle.
It's easy to dwell on the defense's second-half struggles and Jason Myers' missed extra point, but none of that would have mattered if the offense managed to sustain just one more drive than it did. From Wilson to Waldron and everyone in between, the Seahawks have to be better and they have to start now.