The Seahawks traveled to Tampa Bay to square off against the Buccaneers, who were fresh from a win in Kansas City. Michael Bennett, DeShawn Shead and Earl Thomas were all missing in this game due to injury. Recently waived defensive tackle Sealver Siliga suited up to play for the Bucs. Three rookies started on the offensive line for Seattle in this game. With Justin Britt out due to an ankle issue, Joey Hunt started at center for the ‘Hawks, and communication problems seemed to be found everywhere you looked. It showed up in the stats sheet, with Tampa Bay totaling 6.0 sacks on Russell Wilson.
With the Bucs bringing pressure on just about every play, Wilson’s improvisation skills were desperately needed, and he finished the game with 80 rushing yards (season high). It also turned into two interceptions, with plaster coverage down field making for little throwing windows. Wilson would go 17 for 33 and only amass 151 passing yards on the day. He wouldn’t throw a single touchdown, or get the offense close enough to run it in either (Thomas Rawls looked good in spurts running the football, but ended the day with 38 yards on 12 carries). The only offensive points came from a Stephen Hauschka FG in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay forced two fumbles, one that Wilson recovered after Noah Spence punched it out during a sack, and another by Lavonte David when tackling Jimmy Graham, which David returned for 53 yards. This wiped out over three minutes of play ,the drive accumulating over thirty yards of scrimmage, including a first down conversion by Graham.
Steven Terrell (in relief of Earl Thomas) teamed up with Atyba Rubin and Cliff Avril to scoop up a fumble forced by the aforementioned two when Doug Martin tried running up the middle around mid field. The defense allowed Martin to tally 87 yards on the ground, and 5 receiving yards. They also conceded 104 yards and the two scores to Mike Evans, but slowed down Cameron Brate, holding him to just 49 total yards. Cecil Shorts, their wideout speedster, was held to only 1 reception for 6 yards, after a pair of incomplete passes (1 deep and 1 short) threatened to give the Buccaneers better field positions.
What is noticeable and worth talking about, is that there were no recorded sacks for the ‘Hawks defense in this game. Try as they might, they were unable to close in on Winston, who eluded coverage time and time again on scramble plays. His 12 yards rushing for the game are a deceiving stat when you consider that Winston went 21 for 28 and 220 passing yards. Lateral movement accounted for his ability to find players down the field. For what it’s worth, the defense did rack up five tackles for a combined loss of 11 yards. When they needed big stops, they again bailed out the ‘Hawks.
The Bucs were hurt big time by penalties (7 for 68 yards), with a Safety early in the second quarter giving Seattle its first points of the game. They also had a touchdown nullified on Cameron Brate due to illegal use of hands to the face by a Tampa Bay O-lineman. Seattle had a low amount of penalties (2-27), with one of them being a chop block by Joey Hunt. Seattle (on offense) was abysmal on third down, converting only 1 of 11 third downs, and 1 for 1 fourth down conversion deep in the fourth quarter. On defense, they only allowed Tampa Bay to convert 4 of 11 third downs.
Ultimately, this game was gut wrenching for ‘Hawks fans to watch, with the Bucs drawing blood on two separate first quarter drives resulting in touchdowns to Mike Evans, one of which was the result of a questionable offensive pass interference non-call. Kam Chancellor picked off Winston in the end zone with just over 4:00 to go. Even with a significant number of defensive players sitting out of this game, the ‘Hawks defense held the Bucs to only 14 points (though if the Bucs kicker didn’t miss a field goal, it could have been 17). They adjusted well for the majority of the game, but overall watched the offense flame out on repeated drives.
It reminded fans a lot of the first game that Seattle played against the Rams this year, and even a little bit of the Sunday Night Football between the Cardinals that resulted in a tie. Frustrating, but the ‘Hawks were fortunate that all of the teams in the NFC West lost this week, keeping the three game lead for the division crown solidified. A surging Dallas Cowboys teams threaten to clinch the #1 seed in the NFC, and a host of teams are now beginning their late season pushes (Lions, Falcons, Giants). Seattle has the slimmest of margins available to try and clinch the #2 seed and a first round bye with five games to go.
After the game, head coach Pete Carroll said that: “It was a really good showing by Tampa Bay today, and they beat us up front… We had a number of chances to get back in the game, and they just didn’t open up the door for us. We did not play like we play, and it starts right with me.” He later remarked that “The defense played great throughout the rest of the game to keep us close, a couple turnovers were huge, because we gave them the ball three times today.”
Next, the ‘Hawks host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night Football. The Panthers may not currently represent a playoff threat to Seattle at 4-7, but likely view this game as a must win to keep their hopes alive for a wild card spot, and will bring out the big guns. In their last game (a last seconds loss to the Oakland Raiders), Cam Newton brought the Panthers to within a FG of tying, leading to 25 points in the third and fourth quarters combined.
This Panthers team will take on the role of many teams that Seattle will face over the next few weeks, with a road trip to Green Bay as well; that teams may see themselves as spoiler hopefuls. Michael Bennett, DeShawn Shead and Earl Thomas are all expected to suit up and play this week, which is a huge gain for a defense that could use the ability to buy Wilson and the offense a little breathing room. Sunday Night Football starts at 8:30 on NBC.