The Seattle Seahawks put up an impressive fight against the undefeated Los Angeles Rams, but quarterback Russell Wilson and the offense came up just short of finishing off the upset bid, falling 33-31 in a tightly contested matchup at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Wilson, who played efficient football in throwing for 198 yards and three touchdowns on only 21 pass attempts, positioned the Seahawks to win the game when he hit receiver Tyler Lockett in stride for a 44-yard gain to the Rams' 32-yard line with 4:28 left on the game clock. But on the ensuing three plays, tackle Germain Ifedi had a false-start penalty and the officials flagged guard D.J. Fluker for holding, driving Seattle back to the 45-yard line, leaving the team 23 yards from the first-down marker.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll didn't appreciate the penalty against Fluker, saying, "There were 62 runs in that game, lots of plays that probably warranted a penalty. But they throw it right there? That [expletive] me off and that's what I conveyed to [the officials]."
The Seahawks carved up the Rams on the ground throughout the game, with Chris Carson rushing for a career-best 116 yards on only 19 carries and Mike Davis adding 68 yards while spelling him in the backfield. In total, Seattle rushed 32 times for 190 yards and a healthy 5.9 yards per carry against a stout Rams front four featuring defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
Carroll found it "disturbing" the officials threw the flag at such a decisive moment when Seattle had played so physically the rest of the contest.
Under duress the next two plays due to being behind the sticks after the penalties, Wilson threw back-to-back incomplete passes to Lockett, leaving the Seahawks with a 4th-and-23 near midfield. Carroll indicated he never entertained the idea of sending Sebastian Janikowski in for a 63-yard field goal, which would have tied his previous career long.
Instead, Carroll opted to punt with Michael Dickson and put the game back into the hands of the Seahawks' maligned defense, which had allowed quarterback Jared Goff and the offense to easily fly up and down the field most of the afternoon.
Despite forcing Goff into two first-half interceptions, including a goal-line pick by defensive end Frank Clark, the third-year quarterback enjoyed a comfortable pocket and finished with 23 completions for 321 yards and a touchdown. Even after losing top receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp to concussions, the Rams kept rolling in the second half, scoring on three of their four drives. Running back Todd Gurley also found the end zone three times and finished with 113 yards from scrimmage, giving Los Angeles a balanced attack.
With their backs against the wall, the Seahawks' defensive front held firm on 3rd-and-1, stopping Gurley for no gain with 1:39 left in regulation. Carroll's confidence in his defense appeared to have paid off, as the Rams initially sent out their punting unit before Seattle used its third and final timeout.
Once the teams returned to the field, however, Rams head coach Sean McVay decided to get aggressive and sent the offense back out to the field. Goff picked up two yards on the subsequent play with a quarterback sneak, ultimately ending the game.
Pressed about his choice to call a timeout with the Rams' punt team already on the field, Carroll defended his decision to preserve precious time on the clock.
"[The officials] were gonna wind the clock and I think there was 33 seconds on the [play] clock and at 1:39, it would've taken us down to a minute, so it was worth the timeout to save that 33 seconds right there."
For the Seahawks, there are no moral victories coming up on the short end at home against a heavily favored divisional opponent. The loss still drops Seattle to a 2-3 record, three whole games out of first place in the NFC West.
But Carroll believes standing "toe-to-toe" with one of the best teams in football proves the Seahawks are trending in the right direction, and with tons of football left to be played, he's optimistic this loss could be a turning point for the team.
"I hope you can tell how our team has grown. The last three weeks has been really an extraordinary step forward for us," Carroll told reporters after the game. "There's a long season ahead of us and how we come out of this game and go on to the next one, it will be crucial, just as it will the next week. But there's no doubting who we are as a team and how we're trying to build this thing."
With their identity firmly established in a hard-fought losing effort, the Seahawks hope to carry momentum overseas as the team squares off against Marshawn Lynch and the Oakland Raiders across the pond in London in Week 6.