RENTON, WA - For most of the second half on Sunday, the Titans had the Seahawks' defense on their heels, pounding the rock with star running back Derrick Henry and scoring three touchdowns to come roaring back from a 15-point halftime deficit.
But with their backs against the wall to open overtime, linebacker Bobby Wagner and a resilient Seattle defense came through with a stop. In fact, Ken Norton Jr.'s group managed to overcome a costly roughing the passer penalty on safety Jamal Adams to turn Tennessee back on third down twice, putting the football back into quarterback Russell Wilson's hands needing only a field goal to win the game.
Typically under such circumstances, the Seahawks would love their odds with No. 3 at the controls. In his first nine NFL seasons, Wilson orchestrated 31 game-winning drives, second behind only Matthew Stafford, including an NFL-best five of them back in 2019.
But much to the frustration of coach Pete Carroll, game-winning drive No. 32 wasn't going to happen on this day.
"There were a couple things that didn’t allow us to function. We didn’t function as well down the stretch. That’s something I was really disappointed with," Carroll reflected on Monday.
If there was an actual consequence to Adams' penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ryan Tannehill, drawing a flag and extending the Titans drive negatively impacted starting field position for the Seahawks. A 53-yard punt by Brett Kern pinned them back at their own 13-yard line in the shadows of their own goal post.
Working from under center on first down, Wilson carried out a play fake to running back Chris Carson and immediately went into attack mode. As soon as he reached the end of his drop, the quarterback took a shot downfield to Tyler Lockett, who ran a wheel route after motioning across the formation pre-snap. The duo had found success connecting all day, as prior to that play, Lockett had eight receptions for 178 yards and a 63-yard touchdown.
However, while Lockett did manage to catch the pass from Wilson, the throw led him too far towards the sidelines and he was several feet out of bounds when he hauled it in, preventing him from executing his signature toe tap. On the next play, Wilson sailed another downfield throw over the head of DK Metcalf, setting up a pivotal 3rd and 10.
Without any receivers open and multiple pass rushers bearing down on him, Wilson tried to spin away from the rush but came dangerously close to being sacked in the end zone for a safety. Instead, officials ruled him down at the one-yard line and Michael Dickson came on to punt from the end zone, capping off a disastrous three-play drive that netted a 12-yard loss.
Four Henry rushes later, Titans kicker Randy Bullock split the uprights from 36 yards out and the Titans escaped with a signature 33-30 road win.
Considering the success Wilson had linking up with Lockett all afternoon and Metcalf's well-documented big play capabilities, Carroll didn't necessarily fault Seattle's signal caller for trying to get the ball to his two star wideouts on the first two plays. But looking back, he wishes Wilson would have taken what Tennessee's defense gave him underneath, particularly on the first down incompletion.
"The last sequence, he was really aggressive with the shots we took," Carroll elaborated. "We’d look back and say okay let’s dump the ball off because we didn’t convert on them. He was really successful at being really aggressive during the game. He was trying to just keep going, keep pushing it. I wish he would have been able to keep us moving with a couple check downs late in the game, in the overtime in particular, but we were playing with confidence. We were going after it, and he tried to take advantage of it.”
When asked about Carroll's assessment of the three-play sequence on Thursday, while Wilson didn't criticize his head coach and danced around the question to an extent, he didn't seem to agree, telling reporters, "I think that what I agree with is finding a way to win the game, whatever that is."
In Wilson's defense, defensive tackle Teair Tart slipped inside past right guard Gabe Jackson quickly after he executed the play fake. Before he had a chance to go through his progressions, the quarterback's internal clock told him to unload the football and there are far worse decisions he could have made than trying to hook up with the ever-so-reliable Lockett along the sideline.
"Ultimately, the game happened so fast. You try to get the ball to Tyler. He had 180 something yards. He’s a pretty good player," Wilson continued. "At the same time, the game happens fast. You make a decision. It was backed up and I didn’t want to get hit on the first play and get sacked on it. It’s one of those things, we were probably three or four inches off from completing it on one of those beautiful toe taps."
As for his second down misfire to Metcalf, Wilson's decision looks like an acceptable one when re-watching the play. Tennessee did a good job taking away a pair of crossing routes, tight end Will Dissly was blanketed on a curl route, and Lockett was covered well on a post route on the right side. The quarterback's best option without risking a sack by holding onto the ball too long was a back-shoulder throw to his All-Pro receiver.
Unfortunately, with neither of those passes being completed, the Seahawks found themselves in a difficult situation on third down. Knowing Wilson would have to pass, the Titans ran a well-executed twist stunt with linebacker Ola Adeniyi coming through the line untouched as the looper. There wasn't much Wilson could do aside from trying to scramble out of trouble, which he wasn't able to accomplish.
Nonetheless, Wilson has came out on top far more often than he has been on the losing end in clutch situations at the end of games. Viewed as one of the sport's premier deep ball passers, he isn't going to stop being an aggressor when the game is on the line and if a similar scenario plays out against the Vikings this Sunday, he's confident the Seahawks will prevail this time around.
"I’m not going to change my mindset. I know how to win a lot of those games. We’ve done it before. You’re not going to win every single one of them, but you believe you can. I think that’s the key with our football team is always believing that we can.”