TAMPA, Fla. — The Seattle Seahawks defense on display during the first quarter of Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium performed much differently over the final three quarters than it did during the first 15 minutes.
After allowing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to execute two touchdown drives on their first two possessions, the unit that came into the week leading the NFL in points allowed per game (17.3) didn't surrender another score the rest of the way, generating nine consecutive stops to close the game. The impressive run of play by Seattle's defense included a safety after Tampa Bay was penalized for holding defensive end Frank Clark in the end zone, a forced fumble by defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin that was recovered by free safety Steven Terrell, and an end-zone interception from strong safety Kam Chancellor.
The uncharacteristic start, though, ultimately contributed to Seattle's 14-5 defeat, as the Seahawks offense struggled to move the football consistently, finishing 1-of-11 (nine percent) on third down and turning the ball over three times.
"We didn't play very well getting out of the chutes," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said following his team's Week 12 loss that dropped the team's record to 7-3-1 on the season, a mark that's still good for a three-game lead in the NFC West. "Two huge drives. They were executing, they did everything and they looked great. From that point on, 14 points is going to win you games, sure, we understand that. Defense played great throughout the rest of the game to keep us close."
To open the game, Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston led touchdown drives of 78 and 62 yards to stake a 14-0 lead, tossing both scores to wide receiver Mike Evans. The Buccaneers converted on their first three third-down tries, but went 1-of-8 the rest of the way. And after surrendering 140 net yards on the Buccaneers' first two offensive series, the Seahawks defense held Tampa Bay to 178 net yards on the nine possessions that followed.
"I just think we got going and our guys played like they know how to play," Carroll said of the defensive turnaround. "They played really good football and got them out of there ... things turned and guys played really aggressively and got after it and gave us a chance. That's the group that we know. But we still didn't start well. We started poorly. Didn't start the way we want to."
Added linebacker Bobby Wagner, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles: "I don't know if we changed much, we just focused up. Those plays that they got were plays that they shouldn't have got, but they were plays that we allowed them to make. That's a good team over there, if you give them an opportunity they're going to capitalize on it. After that we felt like we focused up, we felt like we made plays, and we just can't let that happen in the first quarter."
Said defensive end Cliff Avril, who had two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss: "That's not like us to go out and give up 14 points back to back like that, on long drives at that. But we made some adjustments and we played better, but obviously those points hurt us."
Strong safety Kam Chancellor, who finished with eight total tackles and a fourth-quarter interception of Winston, said the message on the defensive side of the field after the two drives that didn't go their way was, "fight until you can't fight no more."
"No matter what happens, circumstances don't matter, you've just got to keep fighting," Chancellor said. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish, so we just told each other we're going to keep digging, keep fighting and keep playing to give our offense a chance. That's all we did. We didn't allow them to score anymore, that's all we could do as a defense."
Despite the defense's impressive play over the final three quarters, the feeling in the locker room after the game was that the unit could have done even more to put the offense in more favorable field position. Credit should go to Buccaneers punter Bryan Anger, who dropped four boots inside the 20-yard-line, but the Seahawks' average starting field position was their own 17.5-yard-line, while the Buccaneers' was their own 29. Seattle had five drives start at or inside their own 20, including three inside their own 10.
"Field position was really huge," Carroll said. "They did a great job of managing their field position and keeping us backed up, particularly when we had to get going in the second half. We were ready to mount a comeback and get back in the thing, but they put us inside the 10-yard-line I think three times and just made it really difficult and were able to hold onto the field position and did a nice job of that."
Added linebacker K.J. Wright, who tallied eight tackles, including two for loss: "We've still got to put the offense in situations to be successful because they started backed up way too much. We didn't find a way to get turnovers and put them in good field position. So we've got to play much better. Even though we didn't give up points it still wasn't Seahawks defense."
The Seahawks were minus four defensive starters on Sunday against the Buccaneers, with free safety Earl Thomas (hamstring), cornerback DeShawn Shead (hamstring), defensive end Michael Bennett (knee), and Brock Coyle (foot), who's started at strongside linebacker recently, all battling injuries. Carroll said three of those players have a chance to make it back for next week's game against the Carolina Panthers, and while their absences weren't used as an excuse for Tampa Bay's early-game success, the level of familiarity the group brings will be a welcome addition when ready.
"You want the guys that you're familiar with out there, but you've got to work on who you're with throughout the week and find a way to get a win," said Wright. "We miss those guys, but when they come back we'll be ready to roll."
Photos of Seahawks fans at Seattle's Week 12 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.