KANSAS CITY, Mo.—The Seahawks lost the Chiefs on Saturday, their fifth defeat in their last six games, but instead of doom and gloom in the postgame locker room, there was quiet resolve to get things right.
There is also, with two games remaining, hope.
Yes, the Seahawks lost 24-10 on Saturday to one of the best teams in the NFL, but in that performance, and in the second half in particular, there were enough positives for the Seahawks to head into their final two games, both of which are at home, believing they can still finish strong and make the playoffs.
After the game, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he talked to his team about "how it felt like to play in this setting against a great team like this and how our guys sensed what we were able and capable of doing. I didn't want them to miss that. Because we were able to do it all, we could stop them, we could run the football, and we could protect and we could throw it. We could do all of those things. This team needs to stay in touch with what we are capable of doing. Because we're not quite there yet. But it's there for us. And they can feel it. It's there in truth. All of the numbers, except for third-down numbers, shows you that we played a lot better than what the score looks like."
And to Carroll's point, a lot that happened beyond the final score did show that the Seahawks can hang with just about anybody, and that they may be improving in some critical facets of the game that have been a problem in recent losses. Mot notably, the Seahawks defense that has struggled of late, particularly against the run, had arguably is best game in over a month when you consider the opponent. And while the offense got off to a sluggish start, the second half was considerably better, thanks in no small part to Kenneth's Walker III's best game since Seattle's Week 9 win in Arizona.
"In the second half we played our ass off, and that was a Super Bowl-caliber team we played," said receiver DK Metcalf, who went over 1,000 yards for the second time in four seasons with an 81-yard game on Saturday. "So just fix the mistakes and continue to build off of what we did in the second half."
While giving up 24 points might not seem all that impressive on the surface, there was a lot that went well for the Seahawks defense while facing a Chiefs offense that ranks first in the NFL in total yards, passing yards and scoring. The Seahawks forced four three and outs and six punts, and were only the fifth team this season to hold Kansas City to 24 or fewer points. The Chiefs 297 total yards were a season low, and their 14 first downs were their third lowest total of the season. The Seahawks also held Kansas City to 77 rushing yards and a 3.5 yards-per-carry average, with no runs of more than 8 yards, a big improvement from recent games, doing so without starting nose tackle Al Woods and his backup, Bryan Mone, as well as starting safety Ryan Neal.
"We played with these guys," Carroll said. "That is a terrific football team, and we know it. The defense held their own with these guys. They kept their running game down. They were able to get the third down wins that we needed. There were a lot of three and outs. It made a big difference and gave us the chance to be in the game."
Said safety and defensive co-captain Quandre Diggs, "I think we played good. It's another opportunity to compete against a really, really good offense and a really good team. For the most part, we played pretty well. There are a lot of things we can clean up, a lot of simple things to clean up. We have to keep pressing and pushing to get better. At the end of day, no matter whose opportunity it is to get those shots to go out and play, we have to be ready to go when it's your shot."
But while the defense for the most part held its own, the offense struggled to get going in the first half, picking up only one first down until late in the second quarter when they drove for a field goal. In the second half the offense improved quite a bit, with Walker leading the way, but several promising drives came up empty, with the Seahawks turning the ball over on downs twice in Chiefs territory, and with Geno Smith throwing an interception on an end-zone pass intended for Marquise Goodwin. While that was Seattle's only turnover, it was a costly one—a touchdown there would have made it a one-score game, and the Chiefs answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive that all but put the game out of reach—and it continued a trend of losing the turnover battle that Carroll would really like to see change. Heading into the bye week, the Seahawks were plus four in turnover differential, but since then are minus three, including seven turnovers in four games.
Between the turnover and a 2-for-14 day on third down, the offense just couldn't get enough done despite some promising second-half drives and a big second half from Walker.
"We have to be more efficient," Carroll said. "We were not efficient on third down. We need to be more consistent on offense. The last couple of weeks, defense has really started to step it up and that is what we need. It is everything. We need to do a little bit better everywhere. We didn't get the football today We are minus one the last couple of weeks. It has been that in the last stretch five out of six it has been the football. We threw plus five or six at one point. We have worked our way back out of that. That tells the story as much as anything too. There are efficiency things we have to be better at too. We have to take care of the football and get the football. That is how the game works."
But again, there were signs of improvement that give the Seahawks confidence heading into their Week 17 game against the Jets, which at this point is a must-win for Seattle to make the playoffs. Most notably, Kenneth Walker rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries in the second half after allowing gaining 16 yards on nine carries in the first half, and his 107 yards were his most since Week 9.
"I believe I was just decisive," Walker said. "The O-line did a great job the whole game, it was just up to me to be decisive on what hole to hit, and in the second half everything started to open up."
And if the Seahawks can run the ball similarly over the next two games, it will bode very well for their chances of success.
"It is so important," Carroll said of getting Walker going. "He is such a good player and our guys up front blocked their tails off today. You can see how we run the football. I think we ran it 11 times in the first half to nothing. We just didn't get anything going. We were just determined enough to go back out in the second half and make them find out if we were going to run it or not. We did. The guys up front did well. Blocks at the line of scrimmage were very efficient. That is who we want to be."
Of course, the Seahawks' hope despite the final score isn't only about what they saw on the field, it's also about the playoff picture in the NFC. At 7-8, the Seahawks are outside of a playoff spot right now, but with Washington losing to San Francisco, the Giants losing to Minnesota and with Detroit losing to Carolina, the Seahawks' playoff hopes are strong if they can take care of business the next two weeks.
"Heck, you have an opportunity to go to the playoffs still," Diggs said. "This is what you want at the beginning of the year. Nobody ever thought we would be in this position, anyways, to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs. For us, we want to fight, and we want to give ourselves those options. We want to finish 2-0 and finish strong. That's what it's all about. We haven't played this last quarter of the season like we wanted to, but we have a shot still. For us, we just have to take advantage of that."
Said defensive end Quinton Jefferson, "It's not deflating, because everything is still in our hands. We got to go win these next two. We know we still got a complete game to play on both sides.
"We just got to keep going and control what we can control. And that's coming out and having a great week of preparation and stacking together another great game. That's all we can control. If we win this next one, we give ourselves a shot. We got to keep going."
Added Smith, "We're right in the middle of the playoff race and we have two games at home, what more could you ask for. The vibe is that we don't want to lose any games. We had a tough stretch but that's in the past. That has to be in the past. We have to evaluate this stuff really hard but we look forward to these next two games. Obviously, it starts with one. You have to focus on that one and then you can move on to the next."