When Bobby Wagner scooped up a fumble forced by Michael Bennett and raced for the end zone to give the Seahawks a 24-7 lead over the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals, it seemed as if the Seahawks were well on their way to a 3-2 record and their most impressive victory of the season.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
In a finish to the game that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll described as baffling, Seattle failed to execute down the stretch, and the Bengals scored 17 unanswered points to send the game to overtime, where they would win on a 42-yard field goal.
Cincinnati's 17-point comeback was the largest Seattle has allowed under Carroll, and marked the third time this season Seattle has lost a game it led in the fourth quarter.
"It's difficult to come out of this game like this after playing so well and doing probably the best job we've done this year for three quarters against a really good team in a really tough situation and all of that," Carroll said. "Then to let them get back in the game—they did fantastic job down the stretch to get this win, all of the right plays and execution on their end of it—it's really difficult to leave here not winning.
"I've got to look right at me. When you look across the board, to not finish like we need to on defense, offense and special teams, that's right at the top, it starts with me. We have to find our way to execute the way we need to to get off the field, execute the way we need to to make those first downs, run the clock and win this thing. It's just unfortunate, because it was such a terrific day of running the football, and all of the things we did on defense after the first drive to hang so long, and then to let these guys get back into the game, and they took over. It was a great job by them. There were a lot of good things today, but it doesn't feel right getting out of here like this. Hand it to the Bengals, they did a very good job."
The Seahawks' inability to, as Carroll put it, "finish like we need to" leads our five takeaways from a 27-24 overtime loss.
1. The Seahawks didn't finish.
"It's all about the finish." That has long been a key philosophy for Carroll, who over the past few seasons have seen his Seahawks routinely put teams away late in games, outplaying opponents on both sides of the ball. But on Sunday it was the Bengals, not the Seahawks, who were the better fourth-quarter team, outscoring Seattle 17-0 to send the game to overtime. After Cincinnati drove 84 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession, the Seahawks forced five punts and had two takeaways on the Bengals' next seven possessions. In the fourth quarter, however, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton led the offense on three scoring drives to send the game to overtime.
Offensively, the Seahawks punted on six straight possessions to end the game following Thomas Rawls' 69-yard touchdown run.
"The baffling part is we played so well for three quarters, we did so many good things, and (Cincinnati) is on fire," Carroll said. "They showed it in the first drive, and we handled it all, we put it in place, and we just need to finish the game so we get the win.
"We're clear about this, we know what we're trying to get done and how we want to do it and our language and all of that. What's startling is it's not happening. We've had to be terrific in this mode for years to do what we've done, and there are three games here that are basically the same story line at the end. We can fix that and we can change the season around, and that's what we plan to do."
Players seemed equally baffled and upset about the way they finished the game.
"That's what makes it worse," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "… We pride ourselves on finishing games, and not being able to finish and giving up 17 points in the fourth quarter, it's tough for us. We've just got to make corrections and just continue getting better.
Added safety Earl Thomas: "It's very, very tough, especially when you leave a game scratching your head like, 'what just happened?' I've got to watch the film and see what happened, but we've got to step on their throat when we've got them down."
2. The breakdowns came in all three phases.
When Carroll said the loss "starts with me," it was because the issues that cost the Seahawks were so widespread. Yes, the defense allowed 17 fourth-quarter points, but the offense wasn't converting on third down, meaning the defense had to be on the field for much of the fourth quarter.
"We didn't execute, in the fourth quarter especially," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "We had opportunities and we didn't capitalize. It starts with me it goes from there. We've just got to find ways to continue to convert. We left the defense out there too long. The defense was lights out all day until that fourth quarter, but that's our fault as an offense."
The Seahawks also struggled on special teams at times, including on a fourth-quarter punt Adam Jones returned 35 yards to give the Bengals a short field they would turn into a touchdown.
"When there's a not a specific area to direct your focus on, and everybody kind of doesn't get it done to finish like we need to, then I've got to make sure that I'm doing it right and that I'm calling on them to do the right things," Carroll said. "It begins here.
"It's all about outlasting them and doing it right longer, and for some reason that didn't happen."
3. The offensive line took a step in the right direction.
Before everything went south for the Seahawks late in the game, the most notable part of Sunday's performance might have been how much improvement the offensive line was showing. Through three quarters, Seattle's oft-criticized line had helped pave the way for 178 rushing yards and Russell Wilson had been sacked twice, and one of those was him running out of bounds for a 1-yard loss.
"I thought the line did a great job," Wilson said. "A couple of the sacks were on me more than anything. They fought today against a very good defense. They've been taking some criticism, but those guys, man, they fight. I wouldn't want to play with anybody else. Those guys fight as hard as they can every play."
But, keeping with the theme of the game, the line was unable to help the offense finish strong after such an encouraging first three quarters.
"It's something we pride ourselves in doing as a team," left tackle Russell Okung said of finishing. "And today we weren't able to do that, and Cincinnati got the best of us. I hate that part, because we've always prided ourselves on finishing, and we weren't able to do that.
"It's very rare that we see a team outlast us, and that's something they were able to do. Hat's off to a really good defense and a really good team. They were able to outlast us today… We've got to finish in the fourth quarter. That's where the great teams separate from the others."
Added Carroll: "Without question, the line of scrimmage was much better all day long. That's a good solid front they have too, and I thought we were wearing on them… When you run for 200 yards in this league, you're doing something. But we needed one more first down. One more first down and there's not enough time left for them, unfortunately that didn't happen."
4. The defense was really good for three quarters.
It's odd to see the Seahawks allow 17 points in a quarter. But it's especially crazy that it happened Sunday after the defense had played so well against the explosive Bengals offense for three quarters.
After Dalton and his offense marched down the field on their first possession, the defense made a few adjustments, cleaned things up, and started looking like the best version of itself. Following that 86-yard drive on the opening possession, the Bengals gained just 130 more yards before the start of the fourth quarter. The Seahawks also had their first interception of the season, with Thomas picking Dalton off in the red zone, scored a touchdown thanks to Bennett and Wagner, and they sacked Dalton four times, which was double the total the Bengals had allowed in their first four games.
"We played three quarters of great football, we just didn't finish," Thomas said.
5. Having Richard Sherman shadow A.J. Green paid off for Seattle.
On Cincinnati's first two possessions, Dalton connected with A.J. Green for gains of 8, 14 and 22 yards, with the Pro Bowl receiver doing most of his damage when he was on the left side of the field across from Cary Williams. Green also had what appeared to be a 72-yard touchdown down the left sideline, but it was called back because of a holding penalty. For the rest of the game, Richard Sherman spent most of his afternoon shadowing Green, who had only three catches for 34 yards after those first two possessions.
"I think it did pay off," Carroll said. "Richard did a great job. Cary bounced back and finished the game after a hard start."
Photos from another thriller in Cincinnati this time ending in a 27-24 overtime loss against the Bengals.