Whatever illness the 49ers had while playing in Seattle last Sunday, the Seahawks must have caught it and brought it along with them to Denver. The diagnosis: turnovers and missed opportunities.
On the first drive of the game, it looked like the Hawks were ready to shake their road-losing ways of the past as they got out of the gates quickly. Converting on three different third and long attempts, they ate up six minutes of clock on a drive down to the one-yard line as Deon Butler was stopped just short of the end zone.
That’s precisely when the game went into the tank. Although they bounced back from the new starting right guard’s false start when Justin Forsett ran nearly untouched into the end zone, the play was called back by an unnecessary (and questionable) holding penalty called on Sean Locklear. Now back on the 16-yard-line, Matt Hasselbeck threw into double coverage, and Champ Bailey came away with the interception and take away any opportunity for a score.
Despite the turnover, the offense looked very effective against the Denver defense, so the next question that Seahawks fans wanted answered is if last week’s defensive effort was for real. On the first possession of the Broncos, it appeared to be the case. Denver was able to move the chains twice, but was stopped well short of midfield.
Then rookie corner Walter Thurmond, with his first opportunity to return a punt, muffed it at the 13-yard line and the Broncos recovered. Three plays later, the Broncos were in for the score.
After the Seahawks’ second possession was stymied by another false start penalty, Denver continued with their momentum and hit two big pass plays and drove down just short of the goal line. It looked as though Seattle would do what they did against San Francisco and stand them up at the goal line, but a move to bring in a pass defense on 3rd and 1 allowed the Broncos to run right up the middle to go up 14-0.
If there was one thing Seattle had going in the first half, it was their running game. It helped put them in position to get their first points on the board on the subsequent drive, but came away with nothing after Hasselbeck was intercepted for a second time. After a 90-yard drive the defense was able to hold them to only a field goal to keep the halftime score at 17-0.
In the second half, the two best moments of the game (outside of the two touchdowns they were able to put on the board), were two long plays by Golden Tate. After being inactive for the first game, he showed his playmaking ability on the Broncos second punt of the game. Breaking a few tackles, he was able to break up the sideline for 63-yard return. He followed that up with a 52-yard gain on Seattle’s next possession to get them near the red zone.
After a touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu after Tate’s return, it looked as though Seattle may have the opportunity to get back into the game. And they would have had a great opportunity to do so, if not for a questionable pass interference call on Marcus Trufant that nullified what would have been a three-and-out. Two plays later, Knowshon Moreno went 45 yards on a screen pass that set up a score that would put the game out of reach.
One thing that’s great about Coach Carroll is the guy coaches with emotion. It may have been the “correct” decision to kick a field goal to bring the game within two scores rather than go for it on 4th and 2, but a touchdown there would have been what the team needed to get momentum rolling in their favor again. He went all in at that point, and unfortunately the team crapped out.
After this 31-14 loss, where Matt coughed the ball up three times, it’s likely the calls for Hasselbeck to sit and Whitehurst to start will begin. Sure, he made a couple bad throws, but Seattle still has the best quarterback in the division. With 14 games left to go in the season, it’s not the time to put in a quarterback who has never thrown a pass in the regular season. If you have Sam Bradford on the bench, then maybe the question comes up a few more games into the year, but not if you have a guy that couldn’t do better than third string for the Chargers last year.
Just as things would have gone very differently for Seattle last week if the 49ers would have come away with 21 points instead of 6 on those first three drives, this game could have gone differently if Seattle had scored first and not given Denver the easy opportunity for a score after the muffed punt.
For Seahawks fans, it’s certainly not start worth freaking out about a loss that most probably had chalked up as one when the schedule was released. So Denver keeps their 11-game winning streak alive in home openers, and Seattle is still leading the division. If you’re feeling bad about a 17-point beatdown, just check the Cardinals box score. Maybe getting beat by 34 will start Cardinals fans calling for Max Hall to replace Derek Anderson.
The Rams even had the perfect opportunity to pull into a three-way tie for the division lead with a win against the Raiders and couldn’t pull that off. But at least they kept it close, losing only 16-14. The fact is, if the Cardinals are the competition that Seattle must contend with to win the division, one has to think the chances are still pretty good.
Next week, however, the Cardinals may have the advantage by taking on Oakland at home while Seattle gets the Chargers. But San Francisco will go on the road to play the undefeated Chiefs (it’s been five years since that’s been said going into week three for Kansas City, but it feels a lot longer than that). With a road game in Atlanta the following week and Philadelphia at home in week five, the Niners are going to need that game against the Chiefs if they have any hope of staying alive for a chance in the West.