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Missed Opportunities Thwart Seahawks Comeback Bid in 23-20 Loss to Steelers

Down 14 points at halftime, Seattle turned in a gutsy effort in the second half to tie the game on two different occasions and eventually force overtime. But when the team needed offense in the extra period, they couldn’t muster one more scoring drive and the comeback fell just short.

After making a valiant comeback in the second half to erase a 14-point halftime deficit and force overtime, the Seahawks weren't able to cash in on two possessions in the extra period and ultimately dropped to 2-4 on the season with a 23-20 loss to the Steelers.

Making his first start since 2017 as a replacement for an injured Russell Wilson, Geno Smith completed 23 out of 32 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown to tight end Will Dissly. Alex Collins paced the offense with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown, while DK Metcalf led all receivers with six receptions for 58 yards.

Here are five quick takeaways from a devastating loss at Heinz Field:

1. A heavy dose of Collins, old school football resurrected Seattle’s lifeless offense.

Held to just six total yards in the second quarter, the Seahawks were punchless on offense for most of the first half and only advanced past midfield once on six possessions. Coming out of the break, however, after rushing only four times for 19 yards in the first two quarters, coordinator Shane Waldron ignited the offense by feeding Collins frequently. On the opening drive of the third quarter, the veteran back exploded through massive creases created by the offensive line and weaved through and around Steelers defenders, rushing for 58 yards on eight carries and capping off the possession powering into the end zone from two yards out. He wound up surpassing the 100-yard mark two drives later, becoming the first Seattle rusher since 2019 to accomplish the feat. Backed by his hard-nosed running, the team engineered four scoring drives to knot the game up at 20 and force overtime. The Seahawks finished the night with 144 rushing yards on 27 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and exposing a typically stout Steelers run defense. Unfortunately, hip and glute injuries prevented him from playing in the final period.

2. While he performed admirably, Smith wasn't quite able to deliver the goods for Seattle down the stretch.

Being a backup quarterback who hadn't started in four years, expectations needed to be tempered for Smith, who certainly wasn't expected to replace Wilson's production. But while he completed 71 percent of his passes and threw a few dimes, including threading a ball over the outstretch hands of linebacker Devin Bush in overtime for a 21-yard completion to Tyler Lockett, he only averaged 6.5 yards per attempt and took several sacks he simply couldn't afford to take in key moments. Only three plays after the completion to Lockett, with the Seahawks facing 3rd and 4, Smith held onto the football and T.J. Watt came screaming off the edge around Brandon Shell for a drive-killing sack. After Seattle forced a quick three-and-out, Smith was given another chance to lead the team on a winning drive but once again couldn't capitalize. Trying to escape the pocket on a first down scramble, Watt punched the ball out of his hands and Bush recovered the fumble at the 16-yard line, setting Chris Boswell up for a 37-yard game winning field goal.

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3. Playing like it was 2020, the Seahawks stymied the Steelers’ ground attack all night long.

One of the biggest disappointments for Seattle during the early stages of the 2021 season has been the regression defending the run, as the team finished in the top five in rushing defense a year ago only to enter Sunday's game ranked 31st in the same category. But the front seven turned in a vintage performance against standout rookie running back Najee Harris, particularly in the first half. The first-round pick out of Alabama, who shredded Denver for 125 yards a week ago, was limited to 81 yards on 24 carries and a 3.4 yards per carry average. In the first two quarters, he was bottled up with only 28 rushing yards on 13 carries for a 2.2 yards per carry average. The Steelers were able to get their ground game humming a bit late in regulation as they drove down to take a 20-17 lead with 1:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, as Harris rushed five times for 31 yards and added a 12-yard reception on the drive. But for the most part, he was rendered ineffective in easily the best performance against the run the Seahawks have turned in through six weeks.

4. Under fire, the Seahawks cornerbacks rose to the occasion and played quality football.

In the first five games of the season, the Seahawks had surrendered 300 passing yards per game and Ben Roethlisberger still threw for 229 yards while completing over 70 percent of his passes on Sunday night. But unlike previous weeks, little of that success came at the expense of the team's cornerbacks, as D.J. Reed and rookie Tre Brown played sensational games on the outside and erased several big play opportunities. Back in his comfort zone on the right side, Reed swatted away a first quarter deep ball intended for Dionte Johnson down the left sideline to eventually force the Steelers to punt for a second straight possession. Checking in for his first NFL action after being activated from injured reserve, Brown made two tackles and then displayed perfect technique to take away a deep ball to Johnson down the right sideline, getting inside position and forcing an errant overthrow on third down to lead to yet another punt. 

Reed and Brown would both come through in the clutch in the second half for Seattle as well. First, Reed produced a second pass breakup against Chase Claypool in the third quarter to force another Pittsburgh punt. Then in overtime, with Brown replacing an injured Sidney Jones earlier in the game, Brown rocketed out of his zone drop and blew up receiver Ray-Ray McCloud short of the first down marker with textbook tackling technique to give Smith and company one more shot to win the game. Thanks to the stellar play of the corners as a whole, Claypool was limited to just 17 yards on two catches and while Johnson had nine catches, he only produced 71 yards and a 7.9 yards per catch average with those opportunities.

5. With no margin for error, missed opportunities doomed the Seahawks late.

As coach Pete Carroll lamented in his post game press conference, this was a game he felt his players deserved to win. But unfortunately, there were too many plays left on the field in crucial moments to finish off the comeback and climb back to .500 in the rugged NFC West. Most notably, the Seahawks were gifted outstanding field position at the 11:37 mark in the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger fumbled and defensive end Kerry Hyder recovered the ball at the Steelers 35-yard line. Tied on the scoreboard, a 16-yard run by Collins on first down was wiped out by a holding penalty on guard Jamarco Jones. But after a 10-yard run by DeeJay Dallas got the team back to the original line of scrimmage, Smith misfired on second down and Freddie Swain was hauled down for a four-yard loss on a third down bubble screen. Out of field goal range, they were forced to punt on the next play.

Moments later, with the Steelers driving inside two minutes to play in regulation, Roethlisberger offered the Seahawks another gift, telegraphing a throw directly to safety Jamal Adams. But the All-Pro defender didn't have a beat on the football at all, allowing the pass to bounce off of his face mask and missing a prime opportunity for his first interception as a Seahawk. Boswell connected on a 52-yard field goal two plays later, which made it Seattle couldn't win the game on a Jason Myers field goal and only could settle for overtime. Adding in the sack taken by Smith early in overtime into the equation and Carroll's squad just couldn't make the plays when they absolutely needed to.