SEATTLE — Seattle’s first drive of the day was truly masterful, a thing of beauty.
The last two series also were impressive.
But in between was a long, frustrating exhibition of poor execution and self-inflicted wounds that ultimately spelled doom as the Seahawks lost to the Los Angeles Chargers 25-17 in an NFL game Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
“We’re a really good football team when we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Seattle center Justin Britt said.
“We knew that we were going to have to be on top of our game offensively, and I feel like we were,” Britt said. “But when we were, we would still kind of shoot ourselves in the foot with some bad penalties.”
Seattle received the opening kickoff and rolled down the field like a freight train. The 13-play, 75-yard drive featured the running of Chris Carson and some well-timed throws from Russell Wilson, and it consumed more than eight minutes off the clock.
It was the stuff of coach Pete Carroll’s dreams, and it felt like an extension of last week’s total domination of Detroit.
But for the next two and half quarters, Seattle’s offense went stone cold.
The Seahawks (4-4) tried to be generous with praise toward the Chargers (6-2), but it always came with a disclaimer.
“We kind of got in our own way, I felt, a lot more than that,” Carroll said when asked how the Chargers adjusted their defense after Seattle’s opening drive. “But give them credit. They did a good job.”
Seattle’s second series was ruined by a quarterback sack. The third was a standard three-and-out. A senseless offensive pass interference penalty killed the next series, and a poor throw by Wilson on a simple in route to Tyler Lockett ended the one after that.
The Seahawks produced a field goal in a two-minute drill at the end of the first half, but then it was back into the wasteland to start the second half.
Wilson badly underthrew a wide open Jaron Brown on what would have been a huge gain if not a touchdown to open the second half. Penalties and sacks ruined the next two drives, and the next series was the worst of all as Los Angeles cornerback Desmond King II intercepted Wilson and returned the ball 42 yards for a touchdown.
That made the score 25-10 with 6:44 remaining in the game, and while Seattle very nearly completed a miraculous comeback, the narrative was more about the futility in the middle of the game than it was about the near-miss at the end.
Wilson completed 26 of 39 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception, which isn’t a bad stat line for an NFL quarterback.
But he missed a handful of open receivers, and he was sacked four times, all of which disrupted drives.
As for penalties, the Seahawks had 10 of them, many at inopportune times.
In the second quarter, a needless offensive pass interference penalty by David Moore wiped out a first down inside the red zone, and the Seahawks missed a 51-yard field goal attempt. Personal foul and holding penalties on Britt and J.R. Sweezy negated other big gains.
And, perhaps most critical of all, Sweezy was called for a false start before the final play of the game, pushing Seattle back from the 1-yard line to the 6.
That took running plays off the table and allowed Los Angeles to gear up to defend the pass.
Carroll questioned the false start call on Sweezy.
“We got flinched at by the defensive lineman, and then we jumped,” Carroll said. “The officials didn’t see it that way, but you’ll see it. I don’t know if that was enough to cause the penalty to go the other way, but they flinched and drew us offside. They got it done. They won that exchange.”
There were also some penalties that might not have been called on another day by another officiating crew. In particular, the personal foul on Britt and another one on guard D.J. Fluker seemed rather innocent by NFL standards.
Britt said as much, but he also suggested that the Seahawks should have been prepared for that from the officiating crew led by first-year referee Shawn Hochuli.
“We’ve got to pay more attention to that and be more aware of what kind of refs we have,” Britt said.
“Every ref crew, they have their own tendencies,” he said. “Some will call holding more than others. Some will call the extra stuff, which, by rule, is within the rules, but what they call is what they call. They’re the ones that have the flags.”
Seattle tight end Nick Vannett agreed.
“We had a lot of false starts, a lot of ticky-tack stuff,” Vannett said. “They were calling a lot of stuff today, unfortunately. That’s just the way it goes.”
To be fair, it went both ways as the Chargers were penalized 12 times for 105 yards. But somehow those penalties seemed to be less critical to the flow of the game.
Still, if the Seahawks had been just a little sharper and a touch more consistent on offense in the middle stages of the game, the outcome might very well have been different.
And that will have to happen for the Seahawks to remain a playoff contender.
“We just didn’t play our cleanest football,” Seattle tackle Duane Brown said.
“That’s a good football team,” Brown said of the Chargers. “We’ve got a lot of good football teams the rest of the schedule. It’s not enough to just be physical. You have to be clean. You have to play smart football, so that’s what we have to work on.”