Seahawks’ defense falters in 4th quarter

SEATTLE — It was shaping up to be another signature performance for the Seattle Seahawks’ defense.

With the offense struggling, Seattle’s defense wasn’t just keeping the Seahawks in the game, it was making so many big plays that Seattle appeared headed to victory despite an offense that managed just three points off of four Arizona Cardinals turnovers.

In the end, however, an otherwise good day was undone by a late Arizona drive that gave the Cardinals a 17-10 victory.

After Seattle’s offense finally got going and put together its only touchdown drive of the day, giving the Seahawks a one-point lead, the defense had a chance to preserve an NFC West-clinching win with just one more stop against an offense led by Carson Palmer, who had already thrown four interceptions.

But instead of getting that final stop to preserve an ugly victory, the Seahawks allowed the Cardinals to drive 80 yards on 10 plays for the game-winning score.

“We’ve got to do better as a defense,” said cornerback Richard Sherman. “We’ve got to keep them out of that situation, and we weren’t able to do that.”

Sunday’s loss marked the second time in three games that the Seahawks have given up the lead late, also doing so in a loss at San Francisco that also could have clinched the division title. Prior to that game, it appeared the defense has made the closing-out-games struggles from 2012 a thing of the past.

Of course it would be a huge overstatement to say the defense cost the Seahawks the game by allowing the Cardinals to score late. Had the offense been anything close to functional, a game-clinching stop wouldn’t have been needed, and even after Arizona took the lead, the offense got the ball back with 2:06 left. That drive lasted only one play, however, because Russell Wilson threw an interception that, while obviously a controversial call, was a poor throw from the quarterback to cap one of his worst days as a professional.

As safety Earl Thomas put it, “It was a one-point lead, let’s not get carried away now.”

Yet Thomas and everyone else on Seattle’s defense still feels like it should be able to lead Seattle to a win, even if the lead is one point, and even if the offense isn’t clicking. ‘

“We still should have done what he had to do,” Thomas said, though he didn’t feel like this loss was the same as the one in San Francisco. “I think we learned from that San Francisco opportunity and got better, it just didn’t happen for us. We can’t harp on it.”

One reason Thomas didn’t think this was as much of a defensive letdown is because the big play wasn’t a mistake on their part like it was two weeks ago when Frank Gore busted loose for a 51-yard run that set up the winning score. Against Arizona, the biggest play was not the result of a breakdown, but rather of an opposing player simply making a great play. On Michael Floyd’s 31-yard touchdown catch, he wasn’t wide-open. Cornerback Byron Maxwell had nearly perfect coverage, but Floyd just made a great, juggling catch while falling to the ground.

“The receiver made a great top-10 play,” Thomas said. “I think Max did a great job making him make a spectacular catch, and that’s all we talk about. If we’re going to get beat, they’re going to have to be on ESPN about it.”

What was more in the control of the Seahawks’ defense, however, were the eight defensive penalties, six of which came on Arizona’s scoring drives. Sure some of the pass interference calls were debatable, but the facemask and unsportsmanlike conduct flags, those were unambiguous and avoidable.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll took exception to the holding call on Malcolm Smith that turned an incomplete pass into a Cardinals first down on that final drive, noting the flag came really late, though it appeared the official had a hard time getting the flag out of his pocket.

“Some of the penalties were up in the air, but you’ve just got to be disciplined on our end, get back to watching film, and correct whatever mistakes we made today,” safety Kam Chancellor said.

The defense wasn’t the reason the Seahawks lost Sunday. They had four interceptions, hit Carson Palmer nine times and held the Cardinals to 3.2 yards per carry on the ground. The defense carried an ineffective offense for the better part of three quarters, but next time those players say they’ll be ready to do it for an entire game if necessary.

“Those experiences are good,” said defensive end Red Bryant. “We had that same experience against the 49ers and came up short, and we had that experience today. We’ve just to build and understand that in order to achieve something, you’ve got to go through something. We’ll watch the tape, we know the type of effort it’s going to take. It’s never easy, but we’ve got to find a way under duress in tough situations, we’ve got to find a way to get those wins, and I know we will.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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