MUNICH—It took a while for the Seahawks to get going on both sides of the ball.
While Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense were rolling early, the Seahawks couldn't convert on third down, punting on all five of their first half possessions, resulting in a two-touchdown halftime deficit.
Yet as the Seahawks so often have done under Pete Carroll, they didn't let a bad start spiral out of control, and found themselves in a one-score game with plenty of time remaining thanks to some second-half stops on defense and two Geno Smith-led touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
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In the end, however, Seattle's comeback bid fell short, with Tampa Bay hanging on to win 21-16 in what was an incredible atmosphere at Allianz Arena.
The Seahawks are still in pretty good shape heading into their bye with a 6-4 record and the lead in the NFC West, but they also know that a subpar performance, combined with some really good play by the Buccaneers, cost them a chance to win a fifth straight game.
"This feels like a real opportunity missed," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Coming here in this beautiful setting, all the buildup, and everything that the game could have been it was in hype. The fans were extraordinary, and everything about this whole trip has been great. So the opportunity to win a game here would have been one to really cherish, and I'm sure that (the Buccaneers) will.
"They played a really good football game. Tampa Bay did what they wanted to do, particularly early in the game they were able to keep us off balance. We have not been like that for a while. So we had to regroup, particularly I don't think we converted a third down in the first half and didn't run the ball at all. So we came back to mixing things and doing things right and getting some momentum kind of a feel that was different. So you could feel the comeback was happening."
As Carroll noted, two obvious factors in deciding the game were third down and the running games. The Seahawks started the game 0-for-7 on third down before finally converting one, and they finished 1-for-9, while Tampa Bay went 10-for-15, with the last non-conversion being a kneel down on the last play of the game.
"We didn't function well at all on either side," Carroll said. "It was 1-for-9 or something and like 10-for-15 or something on the other side. That spells what happened in the game, our inability to function there. Some change-up looks. We got late with a couple situations and didn't get exactly the way we wanted to get it lined up on offense.
"Defensively they threw and caught it in spectacular fashion. Their guys making the plays, they've got great receivers, and they showed it tonight. They came through with guys hanging all over them with some terrific throws, and they kept converting, and that was the difference in the game."
The Seahawks also managed only 39 rushing yards, with 22 of those coming from Geno Smith, and mostly stuck to throwing the ball in the second half while playing from behind. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, rushed for 161 yards, 100 yards better than their league-worst per-game average coming into the week. And what was the most painful to see for Carroll was the way Tampa Bay did to Seattle what the Seahawks have done so many times in recent games, which was close out a victory with the running game, keeping the Seahawks from even getting a shot at a go-ahead drive.
"I was really disappointed," Carroll said of the run defense. "They have not been running the ball very consistently, so coming into the game, we were hoping we could just keep it under wraps and be able to deploy for the throwing game. They did better than we thought they would. They finished running the ball in the fourth quarter, which kills me. That last drive, to not get the ball back and get our chance again, that's just not the way we expect to play or the way we ever want to put it out there. So that's unfortunate. But give them credit. They mixed it well. I think the way they mixed their play passes with Tom, as they've always done, it's nothing new. We've seen it a million times. That was really effective to keep us a little bit off balance within the run game.
While that inability to get a final stop is what ultimately ended Seattle's hopes, there was another big moment late in the third quarter that could have changed the direction of the game. After the Buccaneers did the Seahawks favor with trick play that backfired—Leonard Fournette was intercepted by Tariq Woolen after he tried to throw a pass to Tom Brady—the Seahawks responded by driving deep into Tampa Bay territory, but on second-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Geno Smith tried to run but couldn't find an opening, and as Devin White brought Smith down, he also knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble. So instead of making it 14-10 or even 14-6, the Seahawks gave the ball up, and Tampa Bay responded with a long drive to make it 21-3.
"Obviously I've got to protect the football," Smith said. "That can never happen. Guy made a great play as I was going down, but if I don't turn it over in the red zone, I think it's a different game."
Yet just as he did last week after an interception in Arizona, Smith responded to that adversity well, leading two touchdown drives that both ended on great throws for touchdowns, one to Tyler Lockett, and another to Marquise Goodwin on fourth down that was a spectacular play for both players.
"That second half, to me is an example of truly who we are," said Smith, who finished the game 23 for 33 for 275 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 115.1 passer rating. "I don't think that first half really is who we are. We couldn't get anything going. But we really fought back in the second half. That's a team that won a Super Bowl two years ago. They have a lot of great players, great quarterback, great coaches, and they're also fighting for their season. So we knew they were going to come out playing intense. Unfortunately for us, it just took us too long to get going."
And while that slow start ultimately kept the Seahawks from winning for the fifth straight week, Carroll liked the way his team battled back, even if he was also disappointed in the end result.
"That's exactly what we would expect from our guys and this team and the leadership of this team, that we would get back in it," he said. "We took it all the way 'til there was a couple plays that happened there, I think early in the fourth quarter, that changed it. They converted on—we had Tom [Brady] in the backfield, he gets out and throws the ball, and they make a big third down win. There were a couple plays like that that really changed the rhythm of the comeback that we were in. Like I said, it's unfortunate. The team, we talked about how important it is to realize that we were right back in this game and that we weren't out of it, and we never thought that, and we didn't show that. That is the same kind of mentality that's going to help us finish this season and do something special with this year.
"We don't think anything changes in that regard. Just on this night, they did a better job than we did."
Check out some of the best action shots from Seahawks vs. Buccaneers at Allianz Arena in Munich on November 13, 2022. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.