Special team breakdowns cost Seahawks
Seattle allows Bengals to break big plays on punt and kickoff returns
Their talent level and inexperience are such that if they get whipped in one phase of the game, they're unlikely to make up for it in the other two.
So it was Sunday as the Cincinnati Bengals schooled the Seahawks on special teams and rode that to a 34-12 victory at CenturyLink Field.
The talk shows will crackle with talk about quarterbacks and the running game, but when all was said and done, the Seahawks outgained the Bengals in total yards 411-252.
But coverage breakdowns in the kicking game, especially late in the game, rendered that meaningless.
"Unfortunately, the kicking game jumped up and got in our way, a big return for a field goal and a big return for a score," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "That shocks me the way we've been playing and the way we've been growing. I don't know how that happened."
"We had an opportunity to come out on top and then fell apart," Seattle cornerback and special teams mainstay Roy Lewis said. "We've got to fix that. We have to fix that. We've got to be able to close out tighter games."
Adam Jones set up Cincinnati's first touchdown with a 63-yard punt return in the first quarter, which helped the Bengals build a 17-3 halftime lead.
The Seahawks staunched the bleeding and made a game of it in the second half, but two big returns by the Bengals' Brandon Tate ultimately sealed their doom.
Moments after Seattle scored a touchdown to make it 17-12 with 8:55 left in the fourth quarter, Tate rattled off a 45-yard kickoff return to set up a field goal.
On the ensuing possession, he returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown that made it 27-12 and sent fans sprinting for the exits.
"It took all the air out of us," Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner said of Tate's punt return. "We're thinking we're going to go out there and get this three-and -out, get this stop, and get our offense the ball back, and then that happens.
"That's why you have to win in all phases, offense, defense, and special teams," Browner said. "That's how vital special teams play is."
The defeat was reminiscent of the season-opening loss in San Francisco. In that game, Seattle battled back from a 16-0 deficit and trailed only 19-17 after scoring a touchdown with 3:56 left in the game.
But San Francisco's Ted Ginn Jr. returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and then returned a punt 55 yards for another score to top off the 49ers' 33-17 victory.
"This is the second game this year that I feel like, as a special teams unit, I felt like we lost the game," Seattle fullback and special teams co-captain Michael Robinson said Sunday. "You can't have that. The returners are too good. The players are too good in this league for you to let something like that happen."
Already this season, the Seahawks have given up three touchdowns in the kicking game. They gave up only one all last season.
Their averages are worse across the board, as well. Last season, the Seahawks yielded 22.0 yards per kickoff return and 9.3 yards per punt return.
This season those numbers are 30.8 yards on kickoffs and 13.4 yards on punts.
Seattle's returners, primarily Leon Washington, are averaging 22.4 yards on kickoffs and 12.0 yards on punt returns, with no touchdowns.
"We have got to have better play in special teams, period. We can't give up big plays in special teams," Lewis said. "Special teams has to be a force. We've had some times when we felt that we could get Leon to break free, and those were stopped.
"We can't give up plays like (Bates' returns)," Lewis said. "We can't give up that yardage in a close game like that. That's what it came down to. Ultimately, they broke one back, and that's not the way we play Seattle Seahawk football."
Carroll said he thought his team's special teams had recovered after the debacle in San Francisco and was gaining in ability and confidence.
After Sunday's performance, he will have to rethink that.
"I thought we had put those explosive, game-change plays out of our play," Carroll said. "We had been feeling great about the growth of our guys from about the third game on. That fact that it showed up again is really disturbing."
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