By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Lofty expectations and visions of a playoff run in head coach Pete Carroll’s third season met the harsh realities of the regular season, as the Seattle Seahawks suffered a bitter 20-16 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener for both teams.
Although Seattle turned the calendar on a new year, some of the issues that cost them games in 2011 cropped up again.
Mainly, this young team still has not figured out how to win games in the fourth quarter, even with the switch at quarterback from the much-maligned Tarvaris Jackson to rookie Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks were 0-for-4 on potential game-winning drives last season.
Make that 0-for-5.
Down four points and needing a touchdown, Wilson drove Seattle’s offense the length of the field to Arizona’s 6-yard line with 38 seconds left.
But Seattle failed to get into the end zone on four opportunities, with Wilson’s throw to Braylon Edwards on a slant route on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line sailing over the eight-year veteran’s head.
The Cardinals got the ball back on downs and took a knee.
With the loss, the Seahawks sit at the bottom of the NFC West standings at 0-1 with St. Louis, 27-23 losers at Detroit.
The Cardinals and San Francisco, 30-22 winners at Green Bay, are tied at the top of the NFC West at 1-0.
“It’s a very difficult first game to have to go home with a loss,” Carroll said. “Because we had a chance to win this football game, and we should have got out of here with that.
“But they did the things they needed to do, and they did a very good job of that.”
Wilson had a rough debut in his first NFL start, finishing 18-of-34 for 153 yards, a touchdown and an interception on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. He also turned the ball over on a backward pass to Marshawn Lynch that was ruled a fumble.
Wilson was under pressure most of the afternoon. He was sacked three times, hit another seven times and finished with a 62.5 passer rating.
“I played all right,” Wilson said. “You know, I definitely believe that I can improve and get better. There are some areas that we can all work on. That’s the focus now. Move on, learn and study the film and see where we can all get better.”
Wilson at least earned the respect of one of the Arizona players — defensive end Darnell Dockett.
“He’s only like 5-7 or so,” Dockett said. “It was just one of those things, we had to bend down to go get him. We contained him very well today, but he is going to be an athletic, dynamic quarterback in the future. Today we just got the best of him.”
Seattle opened the scoring after defensive tackle Brandon Mebane stripped Arizona running back Ryan Williams of the ball and recovered the fumble on Arizona’s 42-yard line.
However, the Seahawks stalled in the red zone after seven plays and had to settle for a Steven Hauschka 27-yard field goal, leading 3-0 midway through the first quarter.
That was a recurring theme for Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks started four drives on Arizona’s side of the field but could only muster 16 points.
The Cardinals answered with a 13-play, 77-yard drive, tying the game at 3-3 with a Jay Feely 21-yard field goal.
Arizona took a 10-3 lead with 5:58 left in the half on a LaRod Stephens-Howling 1-yard plunge up the gut of Seattle’s defense. The Cardinals pushed the lead to 13-3 after linebacker Paris Lenon recovered a backwards pass (ruled a lateral) intended for Lynch. Arizona settled for a 31-yard field goal by Feely.
Lynch, who was questionable because of back spasms, finished with 85 yards on 21 carries.
On the ensuing kickoff, Seattle kick returner Leon Washington raced 83 yards to Arizona’s 24-yard line.
Five plays later, Wilson threw the first touchdown pass of his career, a 10-yard slant route to Sidney Rice, and Seattle trailed by just a field goal at 13-10 with 7:51 left in the third quarter.
After an impressive interception by cornerback Richard Sherman in which he tapped his toes on the sideline, the Hawks tied the score at 13-13 with 5:13 left in the third quarter on a Hauschka 47-yard field goal.
Washington had another big return in the final quarter, bolting 54 yards on a punt return to once again give Seattle great field position at Arizona’s 16-yard line.
But the Seahawks failed to get the ball in the end zone, settling for a Hauschka 39-yard field goal and a 16-13 lead with just over nine minutes left.
The Cardinals promptly marched 80 yards on 11 plays, going up for good on Andre Roberts’ 6-yard touchdown reception.
The surprise was what quarterback was leading the drive — backup Kevin Kolb.
Kolb replaced starter John Skelton two plays into the drive, when the Fordham University product suffered what appeared to be a broken ankle when Mebane fell on his leg after Skelton completed a 17-yard pass to Roberts.
Skelton’s leg was placed in an air cast, and he was carted to the locker room for further evaluation.
Kolb, Arizona’s high-dollar quarterback who lost his job to Skelton this preseason, was greeted by boos from the Arizona faithful.
But he finished 6-of-8 for 66 yards on the drive.
The Seahawks now begin preparations for the team’s home opener at CenturyLink Field against Dallas on Sunday.
“We have to get back on Monday, watch film, put this behind us and move on Wednesday to Dallas,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of things we can learn from this game. We had ample opportunities to make plays, and it’s just on the players to execute.”