SEATTLE - For the second time in as many games, the Seahawks played well for three quarters and had a lead to show for it, but for the second time in as many games, the Seahawks were also unable to finish. The result was a 27-23 Carolina Panthers victory that dropped the Seahawks to 2-4 despite holding a fourth-quarter lead in all four of those losses.
"We're a team that has tremendous expectations," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "To be where we are right now, it puts us in a position of tremendous adversity. It calls on you (to do) a lot of stuff, but it calls on us to believe in the guys in the locker room and believe in what we're doing and hang together until we get things right. A very difficult loss to come back-to-back in the last two games. Those are very difficult, and they make it a very challenging situation. We're going to do everything we can to hang together, we're going to do everything we can to play for one another and do the things we know how to do that are important when you're trying to build a really good team, and we've got to win. We have to find ways to win."
The Seahawks have hardly been perfect this season, but they have played well enough to have a fourth-quarter lead in every game. Yet in three road losses before this, and now at home against the Panthers, Seattle, a team that preaches the importance of the finish, was out-executed late in the game.
"(Carolina) did a great job to finish the game again," Carroll said. "I said the same thing last week, but this is the truth. It's a fantastic job of them finishing the game. It didn't have to go that way. I know you guys don't want to hear it, but we have six games we should have won, and we know that. That's how close they are. Unfortunately, we're challenged by this, so what we do about it is what's important. It's not what happened; it's how we're going to handle it. We'll find out. These guys will hang, and they'll work together to bring a really good effort again next Thursday. We'll see where we are once we get cranking. It is very challenging."
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's game:
1. There was confusion on Carolina's go-ahead touchdown.
If you're curious how tight end Greg Olsen, who is Cam Newton's favorite target, was so open on the 26-yard touchdown that decided the game, it turns out it was because not everyone on defense was on the same page.
"We made a mistake," Carroll said. "We made a mistake on the calls. Guys got confused on the signal. It was unfortunate, obviously, and they get an easy play."
Carroll didn't go into a ton of detail on what happened specifically, but said some players didn't get the right call, adding, "We'll talk it through and figure it out. I know enough to know they weren't on the same page."
Safety Earl Thomas noted that members of the secondary, "played different defenses," and said Richard Sherman got the right call, while he and safety Kam Chancellor were in Cover 3 when that wasn't the call.
2. The Seahawks are confident they will stick together despite some adversity.
As tough as the recent results have been for the Seahawks to stomach, Carroll and his players are confident that this isn't a team that will fall apart and have players turning on each other.
"We've been through too much together," Carroll said. "We've got tremendous leadership, guys that really care, not just about the game of football, but about one another. With all of the history that we've had, ain't nothing over, it has just been really hard. We have to see if our play can make it better."
Long after the game had ended and the locker room had mostly cleared out, Seattle's starting defensive backs had a long, quiet conversation, presumably trying to identify and fix some of the things that went wrong Sunday. It wasn't a scene of yelling or finger-pointing, but rather one of a team that is still together and trying to get things right moving forward.
Carroll's message to the team, quarterback Russell Wilson said, was "more than anything, to stay together. I know that maybe seems obvious, but it's tough when you have so many competitors, so many people that all we care about is doing the best we can, and trying to win for each other. It's easy to go the other way, but we're not going to allow that to happen. We're going to pull together, we're going to do as much as we can for each other, for this organization, for the fans; all we can do. That's our focus. We choose to believe."
3. Despite improvement last week, the offensive line isn't set in stone.
Carroll, offensive line coach Tom Cable and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were all happy about some of the growth they saw out of their line last week in Cincinnati, but that doesn't mean they aren't still looking for ways to get even better. On Sunday, that meant starting Patrick Lewis at center for the first time this season instead of Drew Nowak, who won the job out of camp.
"Really, just for the sake of competition, we thought that Patrick deserved a chance to show what he can do," Carroll said. "He has played, I think he started four games last year and I think we won them all, so we didn't have any problem with him playing. I think Drew opened up the door of opportunity for him, by continuing to learn and work at his craft."
Carroll wasn't ready to say what will happen going forward, but Lewis getting a start five games into the year is a good reminder that the competition is always on for the Seahawks.
"Tom thought it was worth the competitive opportunity for Patrick to get a shot," Carroll said. "We'll look at the film and figure out what that means for next week."
4. It was another day of mixed results on special teams.
Richard Sherman has in the past campaigned for both Brandon Browner and Bobby Wagner to be named Pro Bowlers in seasons in which they eventually would earn that honor, and last week Sherman said that this year he'll back the candidacy of kicker Steven Hauschka.
A few days later, Hauschka made Sherman look good, making all three of his field goal attempts to improve to 14 for 14 this season, while also kicking all six of his kickoffs deep enough to result in touchbacks. Hauschka's 50-yard field goal was his fourth of 50-plus this season, topping his previous best of three 50-plus yard kicks in 2013.
Yet it wasn't all positive when it came to special teams play, most notably because of the lack of a return game. After scoring twice on returns early this season, rookie Tyler Lockett didn't have much room to run Sunday, gaining 27 yards on two kick returns and 28 yards on four punt returns.
"He had a fantastic day, yeah," Carroll said. "Jonny (Ryan) punted the ball well, too, and had the big punt to change the field position late. Those guys are doing a great job. Unfortunately, we're not getting anything out of the returns right now. That's something where teams are doing a nice job, and we have to do better, because we have a great threat back there and it's kind of gone quiet for us in both phases. We have to improve there."
5. Ricardo Lockette made the most of his limited opportunities.
One of the most exciting plays of the day for Seattle was the result, in part at least, of how infrequently Ricardo Lockette is targeted as a receiver. The way Lockette tells it, when he is in the game, teams usually look for the run, so when Marshawn Lynch took a pitch from Wilson, it was hardly a surprise that Carolina's defense crashed towards the line of scrimmage. Lynch then tossed the ball back to Wilson, however, and Wilson took a shot deep to Lockette, who hauled in a leaping grab over free safety Kurt Coleman, the only player still in coverage.
"When I'm in the game, I'm usually run-blocking," Lockette said. "Usually a lot of teams come down and play the run when they see me or Chris Matthews in the game. They came down at the right time, and we capitalized on that decision."
Even with most of the Carolina defense selling out to stop the run, Coleman was in good position on Lockette, but the receiver made a great play to go over Coleman for the ball.
"In my mind, I just said, 'I know I'm going to catch it,'" Lockette said. "It doesn't really come my way a lot so I try to take advantage of every opportunity that I get."
- Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was held out of Sunday's game with a pectoral strain, but Carroll said the hope is that they can get Wagner back this week.
"He could have gone out there and played, played kind of hampered, and that wasn't the right decision," Carroll said. "The decision was to hold him out and hope he can make it for the Thursday game."
With Wagner out, K.J. Wright played middle linebacker with Kevin Pierre-Louis starting at Wright's usual weakside linebacker spot. Those two led the team in tackles with 12 and 11, respectively.
No other injuries were reported by Carroll after the game.
- Bruce Irvin recorded two more sacks on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, giving him seven in four games against Carolina, postseason included.
- Both of Seattle's safeties recorded an interception, giving the Seahawks yet another curious result in which they won the turnover battle but lost the game. Carolina had just three turnovers this season before Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor intercepted Newton Sunday. Chancellor finished with 10 tackles, while Thomas had four passes defensed, as well as his second interception in as many games to double his 2014 interception total.
"There are so many plays today that guys made today in the secondary," Carroll said. "Earl and Kam made some fantastic plays today."
The Seahawks versus Panthers game ended 27-23 at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. Take a look at the game action photos from the game.