The Seahawks didn’t just lose to the San Diego Chargers; they lost a game by more than seven points for the first time since Week 9 of the 2011 season, so clearly a few things went wrong for the defending champs Sunday.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did say after the game that the Seahawks escaped without any injuries, but there were few other positives for Seattle. Here are five things that stood out in Seattle’s first loss of the season:
1. Philip Rivers wasn’t afraid of going after Richard Sherman, and the Chargers’ QB was really, really good.
Rivers said last week that he wouldn’t follow the Green Bay Packers’ plan of avoiding Richard Sherman all day, and sure enough the Chargers spread the ball all around the field, including to receivers being covered by Sherman. And while the Chargers never beat Sherman over the top for a big gain, Rivers was able to complete short passes in front of him and pretty much all of Seattle’s defensive backs and linebackers.
Rivers finished the game 28 for 37 for 284 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers, and was especially dangerous in the first half as the Chargers built an early lead. Rivers’ efficiency was a big reason why the Chargers went 10 of 17 on third down, and as a result enjoyed a huge time-of-possession advantage (42:15 to 17:45).
2. Antonio Gates is a tough matchup, even for Seattle’s athletic linebackers and safeties.
The Seahawks have generally fared well against top tight ends, even the most prolific pass catchers like New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, but the 34-year-old Gates, despite being—how should we put this—not the fleetest of foot, still torched the Seahawks, whether it was a linebacker or safety Kam Chancellor covering him. Gates finished the game with seven catches for 96 yards and three touchdowns, and was consistently getting open thanks to precise route-running that made up for any lack of speed.
3. As much as the Seahawks wanted to downplay it, the heat was a factor.
Pete Carroll said Friday, then again after the game that both teams had to deal with the sweltering heat in San Diego, but it clearly affected the Seahawks more, with defensive backs Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell all missing time to deal with cramping issues.
But while the heat did play into that, it’s worth noting that Seattle’s defense was on the field for a huge portion of the game, so fatigue in any weather could have been a factor, it was just magnified by the heat. And despite being gassed, the defense deserves credit for coming up with two fourth quarter stops that at least gave the offense a chance at a comeback.
4. Avoidable mistakes were very costly.
Whether it was Percy Harvin’s fumbled kick return, which set up a touchdown, or some costly penalties, the Seahawks hurt themselves on several occasions, only making the task that much tougher against a quality Chargers team that came into the game with a good game plan that was well executed.
Two penalties in particular stood out: Bruce Irvin’s late hit on Philip Rivers on third down, which turned a long-ish field goal attempt into a first down that the Chargers eventually turned into a touchdown; and J.R. Sweezy’s false start, immediately after a timeout, that turned an already tough 3rd-and-10 into 3rd-and-15. Russell Wilson scrambled for 13 yards on the next play, and while there’s no guarantee he would have gained as much had it been 3rd-and-10, it’s hard not to wonder what the Seahawks might have been able to do there with a slightly more manageable third down.
5. Pass protection might still be an issue after all.
Seattle’s pass protection, something of an issue last year, looked much improved in Week 1, with Wilson only getting sacked once and having plenty of time to operate, but on Sunday the Chargers were frequently in the backfield disrupting the offense. Wilson was sacked twice, and put up good passing number (17 for 25, 202 yards, 2 touchdowns 0 interceptions) but in the second half in particular when the Seahawks were trailing, the Chargers’ pass rush was a nuisance.