SEATTLE, WA - Since Pete Carroll signed on as head coach back in 2010, the Seahawks have always taken great pride in finishing games strong. As evidenced multiple times in video footage from post-game locker room speeches, he has always preached being able to win games in the fourth quarter.
But in Sunday's dreadful Week 2 defeat to the Titans, the Seahawks did the exact opposite, squandering a 14-point fourth quarter lead and eventually falling 33-30 in overtime. After seeing his team collapse in such an uncharacteristic manner, the coach's mood transitioned from jubilant to exasperated in a matter of minutes.
"I hate this. I hate having to - 24-9 at halftime, come on," Carroll somberly said in his post-game press conference. "We took care of the ball all day long, did a great job with the football and wound up plus [in takeaways] and give the game away. It had to be other really big things which happened, which were the penalties and the two hits on the quarterback, those were huge plays for them. And the out of bounds is unnecessary. They're just unnecessary things that happened. We need to be better than that. I need to be better, I need to help our guys be better than that."
Whenever a team allows 17 unanswered points in an epic meltdown as Seattle did on Sunday, there's plenty of blame to go around. After putting up 24 first half points, a Russell Wilson-lead offense produced only three first downs and six points after halftime, allowing Tennessee the opportunity to dominate time of possession and claw back into the game. Better efficiency on third downs could have made all the difference down the stretch.
But ultimately, as Carroll reiterated multiple times in his presser, the Seahawks were haunted by poor discipline coming out of halftime, primarily on the defensive side of the football. Things began to slowly unravel only a few minutes into the third quarter.
After receiving the opening kickoff of the half, the Titans quickly picked up three first downs to get past midfield into Seattle territory. Both teams started getting chippy earlier in the drive when tight end MyCole Pruitt drew the ire of safety Jamal Adams for continuing to block him into the ground after the whistle had blown. The scuffle was broken up by officials without any flags being thrown.
But with emotions running high, the Seahawks soon made the first of several killer penalties that proved to be costly. Three plays after Adams and Pruitt got into a shoving and shouting match, quarterback Ryan Tannehill found the tight end wide open on a shallow crossing route with room to run. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks eventually wrapped him up and drove him towards the sideline, only to make the ill-advised decision to throw him to the ground several steps after going out of bounds.
Already finding success moving the football, Tennessee advanced another 15 yards on the unnecessary roughness penalty down to the Seattle 14-yard line. Brooks quickly found himself on the sideline for the next few possessions, with Carroll admitting he was benched in favor of Cody Barton to teach him a lesson.
"We did so many good things and then we really hurt ourselves just too many times when you're playing a good team," Carroll commented. "The penalties were just so costly, so many first downs off penalties when we had them and really had control of the situation and it was really unfortunate that we weren't poised enough and I totally take that on myself. There was just opportunities for us to make better decisions that we didn't make."
Seattle would commit several more damaging penalties down the stretch, including a controversial taunting penalty against cornerback D.J. Reed and a roughing the passer penalty on Jamal Adams that extended Tennessee's first drive in overtime and eventually allowed them to pin the Seahawks deep in their own territory. Even on offense, a false start by Damien Lewis prevented the team from potentially going for it on 4th and 1 on their final possession of the fourth quarter.
"We can’t have those penalties. At the end of the day, we have a job to do. We have to have controlled chaos, is what I call it. It’s an even keel mindset. We can’t have those penalties in crucial situations," Adams said. "Some are ticky-tack. Like D.J. Reed on the taunting penalty. Come on, man. You’re taking the passion and the emotions out of the game of football. At the end of the day, that’s the rule, we have to play smarter. But, we definitely shot ourselves in the foot with a lot of our penalties, that led to points and extended drives."
But before the game even reached the point where the Seahawks were trying to salvage a win after losing a two-score lead, discipline issues cropped up defending the run and allowed the Titans to knot up the score in the first place.
Two plays after Brooks' late tackle was flagged, Seattle appeared to have Derrick Henry stopped in his tracks on a run to the right. But linebacker Darrell Taylor didn't hold the edge and as the All-Pro back cut back to his left, he only had Quandre Diggs to beat with tons of green in front of him and wound up racing nine yards for the touchdown to trim the deficit to eight points.
After Seattle's ensuing drive sputtered just past midfield, Tannehill went back to work, finding Pruitt on a 22-yard pitch and catch on the first play of the possession. Tennessee promptly moved into Seattle territory, but Randy Bullock missed on a 44-yard field goal. Three plays later, facing 3rd and 12, Russell Wilson found a wide open Freddie Swain against a busted coverage down the seam for a 68-yard touchdown, breathing life back into the building.
The reclaimed momentum only stayed on the home sidelines briefly, however, as King Henry struck again less than a minute later. The Titans dialed up a perfect play against the Seahawks Cover 2 fire zone blitz, crack blocking Adams inside and pitting the 245-pound freight train against cornerback Tre Flowers with tons of room to operate.
With Flowers on an island, Henry sidestepped the defender's tackle attempt and then galloped towards the sideline. Hot in pursuit, Diggs tried to trip him up around the 20-yard line, but the back threw a powerful stiff arm to drive him into the turf and found his way into the end zone again to cut Seattle's lead to 30-23.
After successfully containing Henry most of the afternoon and playing vintage "bend but don't break" defense, the dam had officially burst for the Seahawks.
"We were too aggressive on the edge," Carroll assessed. "Just got Jamal [Adams] fired up about taking a shot at something and he, the combination of how we played the edge right there, the ball bounced and he's been doing that for years, he takes off and gets on the edge and nobody can take him down. All day long we fought to not let that happen and then it finally did."
When asked what went wrong on the play, linebacker Bobby Wagner offered a similar explanation, indicating the Seahawks didn't do a good enough job setting the edge and made it far too easy for Henry to get to the corner and turn on the jets.
"I think everybody just got really aggressive when we hit our gaps, and he bounced it outside and we left a lot of space for him in the corner, which you don’t want to give," Wagner said. "Anybody by themselves with that much space is a hard to tackle. We have to make sure that we don’t leave the corner out there."
Failing to maintain gap integrity remained a prevailing theme for Seattle's gassed defense the rest of the game, as Henry finished with 182 yards and three touchdowns on the afternoon, tying Adrian Peterson for the most rushing yards by a single player against the Seahawks during the Carroll era. Adding in all of the crucial penalties that aided their opponent, self-inflicted wounds wound up being too much to overcome.
As is always the case regardless of end result, Carroll, Adams, Wagner, and the Seahawks can take some solace in the fact it's early and they can use this implosion as a learning experience. While the taste of defeat under such circumstances in front of their home crowd stings immensely, one game won't define the season and they will eagerly turn the page to begin preparations for the Vikings next weekend.
But after an embarrassing collapse of historical proportions, there's no question executing better from an assignment standpoint and playing smarter will be crucial points of emphasis moving forward. If those areas aren't cleaned up, it could be quite difficult for Seattle to keep pace in the rugged NFC West.