Dreaming big, Seahawks’ opener turns into a nightmare: ‘Got punched in the chin’

SEATTLE — What does a nightmare start to the season look like for the Seattle Seahawks? Look no further than the final minutes of their stunning shellacking at the hands of the rival Los Angeles Rams.

When it was time for the offense to move the chains and stay on the field, they faltered. When it was time for the defense to get a stop, they struggled. When it was time for the Seahawks to remain composed late in the fight, they folded.

Mentally and physically, the Seahawks were the worst version of themselves, and the Rams, led by a coach who is seemingly always at his best against Pete Carroll’s team, made them pay for it.  Carroll is now 4-8 in the regular season (in addition to a playoff loss) against Sean McVay’s Rams since December 2017. This loss, a 30-13 drubbing at Lumen Field, was the second-worst defeat in that span.

There was a shared sentiment among Seattle’s star players that the Rams — a team undergoing a rebuild — wanted this game more than the Seahawks.

“It just looked like they were playing harder,” Seattle quarterback Geno Smith said. “That’s why they won.”

The Seahawks (0-1) led by six at halftime despite their final drive of the second quarter ending with a missed field goal. The Rams (1-0) found a new gear in the second half and scored 23 straight points. The Seahawks’ offense never crossed midfield on four meaningful possessions after the break, managing just one first down.

Carroll always wants his team to have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. Instead, his club collapsed in the final 15 minutes.

The Rams faced third-and-11 from Seattle’s 13-yard line, leading 17-13 with 11 minutes remaining. A stop would have kept it a one-score game. Cornerback Riq Woolen delivered just that when he deflected an end zone pass from Matthew Stafford to Puka Nacua. One problem: Cornerback Tre Brown was flagged for illegal use of hands on the opposite side of the field. The Rams scored a touchdown four plays later, taking a 24-13 lead.

A two-score deficit in the fourth quarter doesn’t qualify as insurmountable, but the Seahawks made it feel that way by not executing on either side of the ball. After Los Angeles took that 11-point lead, Seattle went three-and-out after gaining just 2 yards. The Rams countered with a nine-play scoring drive, ending with a field goal.

But a 27-13 hole is still something the Seahawks felt they could overcome. However, after an 8-yard gain on first down to kick off the ensuing drive, DK Metcalf was flagged between plays for taunting with 4:35 remaining. A second-and-2 quickly became second-and-17. Smith was sacked on the next two plays.

While the Rams were on the field trying to milk the clock, Metcalf had to be pulled away from arguing with a sideline official. Meanwhile, on the field, safety Quandre Diggs was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Two plays later, nose tackle Jarran Reed was flagged for encroachment. Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones drew the same flag three plays after that.

“We lost our minds a little bit,” Carroll said. “That shows you the frustration based on the expectations that we were gonna be better and not be in that situation. I don’t like seeing us like that — that looks terrible.”

At that point, Lumen Field was quieter than a funeral service, with fans filing for the exits as their Seahawks were imploding.

“It sucks. It really does,” Smith said. “I hate losing.”

Smith said he hopes losing in this manner is a wake-up call for his team.

“It better be,” said Smith, who completed 16 of 26 passes for just 112 yards and one score. “We don’t lose at home. We can’t do that, let alone in this fashion. For a lot of guys around here, including myself, we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror, point the finger at ourselves and figure out how to get better.”

Seattle’s offense converted its first two third-down attempts — an out route to Tyler Lockett on third-and-1, then a scramble drill to Metcalf for 28 yards on third-and-2 — then went without a successful conversion the rest of the game. Smith’s next six third-down dropbacks resulted in incompletions (with one drop). His final dropback, on third-and-26 after Metcalf’s penalty, resulted in a sack.

“It wasn’t good, if we’re being real,” tight end Noah Fant, who wasn’t targeted Sunday, said of the third-down offense. “We’ve gotta be better. We’ve gotta complete passes. Not to be negative about it, but we hold ourselves to a high standard, and that wasn’t it.”

Seattle was 2 of 9 on third down, a hit rate of 22 percent. That’s more than 17 percentage points worse than last year, when Seattle ranked 20th league-wide.

“That was a big disappointment,” said Smith. “We didn’t execute.”

Seattle’s defense was just as bad on the most important down of the game.

The Rams converted 11 of 17 third downs (65 percent), and that’s including a third-and-7 run on their final possession after the game was decided. Seattle ranked 27th in third-down defense last season (42.3 percent). On Sunday, Matthew Stafford completed 8 of 12 attempts for 122 yards on third down. He threw for seven first downs and wasn’t sacked.

What happened?

“Vet quarterback who was just making plays,” safety Julian Love said. “But we’ve gotta be stickier in coverage and be more effective.”

Stafford lit Seattle’s secondary up for 334 yards and recorded seven explosive completions (16 or more yards). Seattle’s back end — which featured a rotation at left cornerback with Tre Brown and Michael Jackson, Coby Bryant starting at nickel and Artie Burns at dime — certainly deserves a great deal of blame. The Rams were without Cooper Kupp (hamstring), and yet receivers Tutu Atwell and Puke Nacua combined for 16 catches and 238 yards.

“They had a good game, hats off to those guys,” Diggs said. “We’ve got to be better on the back end, and we will be.”

The front line was equally culpable. Stafford had 39 dropbacks. He was hit twice — once by Bryant and again by Reed. He wasn’t pressured on only six of 39 dropbacks, according to TruMedia.

“We didn’t get home,” said outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu. “We left them guys (the back end) out there to dry today. The ball was coming out fast; we knew that (would happen) going into the game, and we could have affected it other ways by getting our hands up, getting batted passes. The pass rush definitely didn’t get it done. It starts with myself.”

Any hope of a late-game rally was halted when Metcalf shoved former Seahawks cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to the ground after a run play late in the fourth quarter. Witherspoon was shaken up on the play. Metcalf said he heard smack talk from the Rams’ sideline afterward, which prompted him to bark back. He was then flagged for taunting.

“I let that get to me, and I retaliated,” said Metcalf, who had three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half. “Second man always gets called. I’ve just gotta be better in that aspect.”

On the next series, with Seattle down two touchdowns, Diggs was flagged for unnecessary roughness for shoving receiver Ben Skowronek.

“He flopped,” Diggs said. “It is what it is — I’ve got to be smarter. But at the end of the day, he flopped.”

The same could be said about the Seahawks, a club that expects to contend for a division crown and ultimately a championship this season. Yet nearly everything they emphasized in the offseason — except for the run defense, which held the Rams running backs to 81 yards on 37 attempts, an average of 2.2 yards per tote — was out of the whack in the first game.

A new weapon in Jaxon Smith-Njigba was supposed to fix the offensive woes on third down, and in the red zone. Paying Jones, re-signing Reed and adding Love was supposed to help get the defense off the field on third down. Situational football was at the forefront of Seattle’s mind all offseason, but when it was time to deliver, the team squandered the opportunity, resulting in a beatdown that will, once again, leave Seattle’s leadership searching for solutions.

“We got punched in the chin,” Diggs said. “We’ll see how we come out and fight next week.”

(Photo of DK Metcalf: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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