JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Pragmatically — as in, for their playoff hopes — this turned out to be the best loss possible for the Seahawks.
They lost no ground in the NFC West to the Los Angeles Rams, who lost at home to Philadelphia. Seattle (8-5) remained one game behind L.A. for the division lead, with the Rams headed to CenturyLink Field this coming weekend.
“Going for first place next week!” quarterback Russell Wilson bellowed to teammates inside a steamed locker room Sunday evening.
But Seattle’s 30-24 loss to upstart Jacksonville on Sunday at roaring EverBank Stadium was plenty ugly. Especially at the end.
Too many Wilson interceptions, for a change. Three of them.
Too many injuries on defense, as usual this season. All-Pro Bobby Wagner left early in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. Pro Bowl linebacker partner K.J. Wright exited with a concussion. Both are out indefinitely.
Yet that didn’t keep All-Pro safety Earl Thomas from grousing about Seattle’s defense giving away a game to a “subpar quarterback.” The Seahawks allowed 27 of Jacksonville’s points after halftime. All came after Wagner, a candidate for NFL defensive player of the year, left the game. The Seahawks got no pressure on the Jaguars’ maligned quarterback, Blake Bortles, making him look like Tom Brady and dooming Seattle’s late comeback.
The Seahawks’ four defensive linemen did not do what they had in the previous two games to help a secondary playing without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor: pressure the quarterback. Frank Clark had the only hit on Bortles’ 27 drop backs to pass. And the Seahawks got no sacks. They’ve been reluctant to blitz much lately, instead mostly dropping seven into coverage to help the patchwork secondary.
If you hit an NFL quarterback only once, and don’t sack him at all, he’ll look like Brady. “Subpar” Bortles was 18-for-27 for 268 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 123.7.
Yet what center Justin Britt said nailed the essence of the Seahawks’ lost Sunday in chilly North Florida: “Right now, this game doesn’t matter. We have to focus on winning the NFC West.”
Earl Thomas wasn’t having much of that. The intense, All-Pro safety was in the ticked-off portion of the locker room.
Asked if it was easier to flush a loss like this immediately because the opportunity to win the division remains intact, Thomas said: “Right now, it’s not, because that was a subpar quarterback.
“You got to take advantage of that stuff. … They just out-executed us, which can’t happen. You definitely want those kinds of games back. You’ve got to take advantage of that. But, we didn’t.”
What the Seahawks did do was lose their cool once defeat was imminent.
After Leonard Fournette exploited Seattle’s depleted defense with a 13-yard run on third-and-11 to seal Jacksonville’s win, the Jaguars went into “victory formation” and had Bortles take a knee to run out the final 90 seconds. Michael Bennett dived at the back of the legs of Jaguars center Brandon Linder well after one of the kneel-down plays. Sheldon Richardson then threw a punch at Fournette’s helmet, earning an ejection. Fellow defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson also was ejected for fighting.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll ran all the way to the middle of the field at the 50-yard line during the melee. That earned him an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
“Well, we didn’t have a chance to get the ball back then. … I was trying to get our guys to not carry any further,” Carroll said. “They were trying to fight to get the ball back, and there wasn’t the chance to do it at that point. I was just trying to slow them down.
“I just tried to make a statement to our guys so we didn’t finish with any more garbage happening out there.”
Yet garbage ensued.
The disqualified Jefferson went to the Seahawks’ sideline instead of directly into the tunnel. Jaguars fans behind Seattle’s bench began yelling at Jefferson. More than one Seahawk said Jefferson was the target of racial slurs. At least one fan threw a beer on the big defensive tackle. That set Jefferson off. He bulled through a stadium security man and got to the padding of the lower deck of seats, then tried to scale it to the railing to go into the stands. A Seahawks staffer pulled him down. More drinks flew at him.
“Folks in the stands were throwing beer, were throwing soda and whatever,” Jefferson said, scoffing. “I don’t know what I am supposed to do. I am human like anybody else. I’m a man, just like the other man in the stands. I’m not going to let someone disrespect me and throw a beer on me. Just because I play football I’m still a human being. I’m still a man. I’m out there playing a game, and at the end of the day it’s a game and I’m a man. I’m not going to let someone disrespect me like that.
“What would you do?”
His coach’s reaction?
“He just kind of lost it,” Carroll said. “Somebody poured a beer on his head walking out of the stadium or something. I told him that’s pro football. They pay to get in, they can do whatever they want, I guess.”
The Seahawks trailed 27-10 with 10 minutes left and 30-17 with 4 minutes to go before Wilson’s 74-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Tyler Lockett, who simply ran down the right slot uncovered in a broken coverage. That pulled the Seahawks within 30-24 with 3:42 remaining.
Seattle’s makeshift defense got a three-and-out, and the Seahawks got the ball back with 2:39 left at their own 42. On first down Jimmy Graham allowed a pass on the right sideline to clang off his hands. On second down Wilson threw off a scramble to Doug Baldwin, who stepped out of bounds 1 yard short of the first-down marker to save time.
“In hindsight, I shouldn’t have stepped out of bounds,” Baldwin said.
The Seahawks never got closer to a first down. Wilson got sacked, then on fourth down threw incomplete for Baldwin while fellow receiver Paul Richardson got grabbed and pulled down well down the field by Jacksonville’s Aaron Colvin.
Wilson said he was going to Richardson on the play, especially after he beat Colvin off the line. But the quarterback refused to blame the officials, saying there were “10 other plays” in the game Seattle could have made.
After the incomplete pass and no call, Jacksonville took over with 2:17 to go. On third-and-11 with 1:23 left, Fournette romped off left tackle for 13 yards to end it. Thomas bemoaned the overrunning of gaps on the play. He didn’t name names, but reserve Terence Garvin was playing middle linebacker for Wagner and special-teamer D.J. Alexander was playing for Wright.
As the fourth quarter began, Thomas and rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin were the only starters still standing among the Seahawks’ starting back seven defenders.
Wilson, meanwhile, had the fourth game of his seven-year career with at least three interceptions. He finished 17-for-31 passing for 271 yards and three touchdowns, too. He also had a running back produce more than he did on the ground for just about the first time this season. Mike Davis had 66 yards on 15 carries — then injured his rib in the second half and did not return. That left the Seahawks in full-pass mode, and Jacksonville able to tilt its defense accordingly.
Yet the Seahawks kept rallying, exemplifying the “belief” Wilson said afterward is perhaps this undermanned team’s most extraordinary trait.
It was 3-0 Jacksonville at halftime. In the end, another nothing first half made Seattle’s second half too much of a task against the leaders of the AFC South.
Baldwin, the seventh-year veteran, is the team’s longest-tenured offensive player. He had this message for his teammates after this third loss in six games: “Embrace the adversity.”
“As long as I’ve been I’ve always felt … when our backs are against the wall, we play our best,” Baldwin said. “So this is another opportunity to do that, to show who we are. Not only as football players but as men.”