RENTON — Pete Carroll wanted to stay aggressive.
The coach also wanted Shaquill Griffin to “stay on top” in coverage.
Only one of those two aims happened for the Seahawks at the end of Sunday’s game. Griffin’s failure led to the touchdown that beat them, a galling loss they may still be feeling in January.
The rookie cornerback wasn’t the reason Seattle is 5-3 and one game behind Los Angeles for the NFC West lead entering Thursday night’s game at Arizona (4-4), instead of 6-2 and tied for first place.
Not after the Seahawks committed 16 penalties Sunday against the Redskins.
Not with three missed field goals by Blair Walsh, two interceptions thrown by Russell Wilson, two more dropped by Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor — and a controversial decision to be in man coverage on the Redskins’ final drive when Seattle could only lose by giving up a touchdown.
But like Walsh the day before, Griffin took the blame on Monday.
“The mistake that I made, I feel like I almost got relaxed on that play,” Griffin said at his locker, minutes before the players’ usual day-after meeting with Carroll. “I was looking for it. I couldn’t find it, you know. That was the mistake that I made. That’s something I’ve got to move on from.
“You know, he made a hell of a catch. It was a hell of a throw.
“And it sucks to see the ball game end like that. I’m definitely prideful when it comes to stuff like that. That’s stuff I try to work on because that’s something I never want to go through again, or put my team through. So, that’s something I won’t let happen again.”
Seattle’s third-round draft choice this spring was man-to-man outside with Washington’s 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson on first down from the Seahawks 39-yard line. The Seahawks had a 14-10 lead with 1:24 left in the game, so only a touchdown could beat them.
Griffin was making his third consecutive start in his eighth NFL game. He won the starting right cornerback job from veteran Jeremy Lane last month because coaches loved how Griffin was never getting beaten deep “over the top”; he was keeping receivers and plays in front of him to limit big gains. On Sunday’s fateful play, he was step for step inside Doctson for the first 17 yards, to the 22.
Then he appeared to ease up in his run. Doctson kept zooming past him.
By the time Griffin took a quick look back at his receiver, Cousins’ throw was on its way and Doctson was three yards behind him. Doctson made a brilliant catch while in a full dive parallel to the ground beyond Griffin, down to the 1-yard line.
Washington ran it in for the winning touchdown on the next play.
Seattle was in aggressive man coverage on both Griffin’s fateful play and the 31-yard pass Cousins made to begin the drive and get Washington to the Seahawks’ 39 while Michael Bennett was hitting the quarterback in the chest.
Cousins talked after the game about his coach Jay Gruden telling him to change the last pass to a deep ball outside if he saw Doctson and Griffin alone one-on-one on the outside. The quarterback changed to a left-sideline go route. Gruden, Cousins and Doctson — and Griffin, for that matter — knew Griffin did not have safety help behind him, as he would have in zone coverage.
“Shaq was in good position until about the 30-yard mark. There was a little bit of separation that occurred,” Carroll said Monday. “Little bit of separation that happens sometimes, and the guy made a great catch on a great throw.
“And both of those were exquisite throws and catches. And sometimes, that will beat (man coverage).”
Carroll said the Seahawks and defensive coordinator Kris Richard were in press man instead of a common, prevent-like zone coverage dropped further back toward the goal line because they wanted to stay aggressive. Seattle was counting on its four defensive linemen to get more pressure on Cousins while in that coverage on the final drive. The Seahawks had already gotten a season-high six sacks plus 11 hits on Cousins, including Bennett’s when the QB made his extraordinary throw to Brian Quick to start Seattle’s dooming sequence Sunday.
“Well, we could have played them differently, yeah,” Carroll said Monday. “We had had a pretty good day rushing the passer and we wanted to see if we could get after it and continue to be aggressive in that mode and that’s what happened.
“There is always choices that you guys are…I don’t want to say famous for, but, you guys…let me say this: Often the outside observations are that you play too soft and you give up to much when you are playing prevent and stuff like that. Well, we certainly weren’t doing that. There is a time to mix and that one they got us. It happened really fast. It was two plays. And bang! Bang! They were there.”
What was Griffin’s responsibility on that last pass?
“Stay on top,” Carroll said.
No need to remind Griffin of that. The rookie cornerback said he appreciated the confidence his coaches showed in him to go man-up with Doctson with the game on the line.
“Definitely,” Griffin said. “I definitely have so much confidence in myself. That’s something I take pride in.
“In a situation like that, I have to be on top. And I feel like I let the guy get behind me on the last seconds of that route. I have to play the route all the way through. That’s something I’ve got to get better at, even if the ball comes to me or not.”
Griffin had a similar response after allowing his first touchdown in the NFL on Oct. 1 against Indianapolis. Jacoby Brissett threw high into the end zone on the left sideline over Griffin, and Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief leaped over Griffin for a brilliant catch and score.
“I learned from the Colts game that I don’t want to give up touchdowns,” he said.
“And I learned from this game to finish it all the way through. I am going to continue to learn different things. I’m going to continue to go through different scenarios. But one thing about it, I never make the same mistake twice.
“So I learned through it, went through it. And it won’t happen again. … It’s something I never want to do again, is let my team down. You know, they believe in me, so I’ve got to believe in myself just as much. But, I feel like no one is perfect. It’s terrible to see that break go down, you know, in the last couple seconds of the game. But I can’t just continue to focus on that last play.
“I can’t let that play define who I am, and who I will be in the future. So I learn from it, move on from it.
“Like I said, I give myself 24 hours to think about it. After that, it’s on to the next team.”
Whether facing run or pass Thursday, Griffin says the Redskins game and his mistake will be well past him by then.
“We’ve got a long season. We’ve got a lot of things to prove and a lot of things that people expect from us,” the rookie cornerback said.
“With a quick turnaround like that, you have to have a short memory.”