The Seattle Seahawks couldn't have possibly opened Sunday's pivotal 25-17 loss against the Los Angeles Chargers in better fashion.
Melvin Gordon rushed for 113 yards on 16 carries to the lead the Chargers, who have won five straight games and are 6-2. Philip Rivers completed 13 of 26 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sticking with the formula that has piloted the team's turnaround over the past five games, Seattle fed running back Chris Carson and used a series of quick passes to chew up the first eight minutes of clock before quarterback Russell Wilson put an exclamation point on the drive by hitting receiver Jaron Brown in the back of the end zone for the game's first score.
But after taking a 7-0 lead, little went as planned for Wilson and the Seahawks offense, as the unit was plagued by penalties, misfired passes, and an overall lack of urgency at times. Even in a game that went down to the closing seconds thanks to a valiant late rally, the Seahawks failed to capitalize on a strong overall defensive outing and missed a prime opportunity in a winnable contest against a great football team.
"We did some really good things today that kind of gave us a sense that we were gonna be able to really control the game, but not enough of 'em," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "The game kind of turned out as I felt- it just felt sloppy because of the penalties and unnecessary ones that we could avoid that just gave them free yards and we need to do a better job there."
On numerous occasions, the Seahawks found themselves moving the football effectively against a steady Chargers defense, only for the penalty bug to strike again and inevitably stall the drive.
After two possessions that finished three-and-out to start the second quarter, Seattle regained momentum when Wilson threw a beautiful spiral down the left sideline for a 42-yard gain to Doug Baldwin. Past midfield and driving, the Seahawks appeared to convert a key third down conversion three plays later on another completion to Baldwin, but receiver David Moore was flagged for offensive pass interference when he threw an arm shiver at a defensive back at the end of a hitch route.
Driven back to the Chargers 38-yard line by the penalty, Seattle couldn't move the chains on 3rd and 13 and kicker Sebastian Janikowski clanked a 52-yard field goal against the right upright, leaving the team without any points to show for the drive.
Questionable unnecessary roughness penalties against D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt also thwarted once-promising drives as the Seahawks managed only three points during the second and third quarters.
Aside from hurting themselves with penalties, Seattle also missed out on several big play chances, including a potential 61-yard touchdown pass to Brown early in the second half. Facing 3rd and 5, Wilson evaded initial pressure and stepped up in the pocket to find his receiver wide open on a deep crossing route, only to short-arm the pass into the turf.
"I didn't realize he was as deep as he was - that's on me." Wilson said after the game. "I'm looking forward to making that the next time... He did a great job of getting open, I stepped up and it was just barely too short."
After playing near-perfect football in Detroit a week earlier, Wilson struggled with accuracy at times and made a few uncharacteristically poor reads. Most notably, with his team trailing 19-10 in the fourth quarter with under seven minutes to play, he stared down Moore and cornerback Desmond King jumped the route, returning the pick 42 yards for a touchdown.
While admitting he has to play much better football after completing 26 of 39 passes for 235 yards and throwing the back-breaking pick-six, Wilson nearly brought Seattle all the way back from a 15-point deficit in the closing moments.
Following a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Vannett that cut the Chargers lead to 25-17 with under two minutes to play, Seattle's defense stood tall, as defensive tackle Jarran Reed sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to give Wilson and company one last shot to tie the game.
Without a timeout at his disposal, Wilson used two completions to Vannett and Tyler Lockett coupled with a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on defensive end Melvin Ingram to quickly steer the Seahawks past midfield. He then used his legs to scramble on the ensuing play for a 16-yard gain and a first down before spiking the football with 30 seconds still left on the game clock.
Three plays later as the clock hit triple zeros, Lockett drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback Michael Davis, giving Seattle one untimed down to finish off the miraculous comeback. Unfortunately, Moore couldn't corral Wilson's final pass of the night, as it dropped harmlessly to the turf and the Seahawks dropped to 4-4 on the season.
Despite the undesirable conclusion, Wilson loved the fight displayed by his team and maintained optimism about the Seahawks chances moving into the second half of the season.
"We didn't even play our best against one of the best teams...," Wilson stated. "We still had a chance to win the game, you know, so like I said, 1, 2, 3 plays here [on] offense, defense special teams, who knows. That game could've been a lot different."
Wilson and the Seahawks may still have the talent to push for a playoff spot and injuries to Carson and Fluker certainly made life tougher against the Chargers, but Sunday's defeat will make the road much tougher after losing a swing game that would've vastly improved their wild card positioning.
Now back at the .500 mark, Carroll's squad must clean up the penalties and improve offensive execution with an upcoming gauntlet of games versus the Rams, Packers, and Panthers that could ultimately determine the final fate of the team's season.