Pete Carroll: Not converting third downs ruined Seahawks’ game plan in playoff loss at Dallas
Russell Wilson stood on the sideline just like his coach, Pete Carroll, did: hands on both their hips, staring blankly.
They and the Seahawks lost their running game. They lost their pass protection.
They even lost their 40-year-old kicker, leaving them with a rookie punter from Australia as their kicker for points.
Eventually they lost their lead, and then their season.
Two pass-interference penalties on third down, by otherwise brilliant K.J. Wright then on Justin Coleman, extended Dallas’ 11-play drive to the clinching touchdown with 2:08 remaining, and the Seahawks season ended with their 24-22 loss to the Cowboys Saturday night in the NFC wild-card playoff game at AT&T Stadium.
“Put it back on us,” strong safety Bradley McDougald said of Seattle’s defense giving Dallas the clinching drive.
Defensive end Frank Clark agreed with that cold truth.
“The teams that win it all, the teams that go far in these playoffs are the teams that stay consistent,” Clark said. “They are the teams that do the little things the best. Unfortunately, we weren’t that team tonight. We let a few runs get out of line towards the end of the game… I think gave them, what, another 40 yards in field position or something.
“At the end of the day, we couldn’t stop them when we needed to. Those are recipes for disaster.
“I feel like we didn’t do our job.”
Wilson (18 for 27, 233 yards, one touchdown) threw to J.D. McKissic on fourth down with 1:18 left for a touchdown to end a final frantic drive, then Chris Carson ran in a two-point conversion to cut Dallas’ lead to two. But punter Michael Dickson, forced into all kicking by Sebastian Janikowski’s thigh injury at the end of the first half, tried to drop kick an onside kick to where no Cowboys were. But Dallas wide receiver Cole Beasley ran over to catch the ball.
That secured the second playoff win in eight years for Dallas (11-6). Carroll said the plan was for Dickson to kick it shorter, more behind Beasley.
One of many Seahawks regrets Saturday night deep in the heart—and happiness—of Texas.
Carson, Seattle’s 1,100-yard rusher this season, gained just 20 on 13 carries and the night. The Seahawks’ NFL-leading rushing offense (160 yards on the ground per game in the regular season) churned out just 73, on 24 carries (3 yards per rush). That was the second-lowest total this season; Seattle had 64 yards rushing way back in the dark ages of 2018, week one’s loss at Denver when the misguided Seahawks were throwing it 73 percent of time in an 0-2 start.
“We weren’t expecting to run the ball as bad as we did,” Carson said.
No, it did not at all go according to plan for the Seahawks (10-7). They exit in the first round after seeing its six-game winning streak in the wild-card round end.
“This game didn’t go the way we had anticipated, and most of our games have been different from this one,” Carroll said. “It just didn’t come out the way we planned.
“Credit to them.”
Dallas took the lead with 12 1/2 minutes left after a 34-yard catch and run by October acquisition Amari Cooper, from midfield to the Seattle 16-yard line in a way-too-soft hole in Seattle’s zone coverage between cornerback Shaquill Griffin and safety Bradley McDougald. Ezekiel Elliott eventually ran it in from the 1 to put the Cowboys ahead 17-14.
The Seahawks’ offense could not re-take the lead, punting on consecutive three-and-out drives. The second one came after right guard D.J. Fluker, returning from injury, was called for unnecessary roughness long after a catch by Doug Baldwin ended. That created a second-and-22 and ruined the possession.
The two massive Seahawks mistakes gave Dallas the drive to the clinching score, and used most of the remaining game time --Wright arrived early on an arriving pass on third-and-8 for a 6-yard pass-interference foul and automatic first down for the Cowboys.
“I should have let go a little early. I knew I grabbed him,” Wright said. “I should have let go a little early.
“Those calls down the stretch really hurt us.”
Then on the next third down, nickel defensive back Coleman grabbed Dallas wide receiver Beasley as Beasley was heading up the field on a double move. That was another interference penalty and Dallas first down.
Later on third-and-14, Prescott took off on what appeared to be a designed quarterback draw. His leaping, twisting run up the middle past three Seahawks got Dallas to the 1. Seattle used its final time out with 2:14 left. Prescott pushed in on a 1-yard QB sneak, and the Seahawks trailed by two scores with 2:08 to play.
Seattle appeared to grab the momentum late in the third quarter after rookie Rashaad Penny broke free down the right side on a 28-yard run. The Seahawks had 26 yards total on the ground into the third quarter before Penny’s romp. Seattle didn’t score on that drive, but the flip in field position became complete when Dickson expertly plopped a punt just short of the goal line that special-teams captain Neiko Thorpe batted back into the field to pin Dallas at its own 1-yard line.
The Seahawks’ defense held on three plays, and in the trade of punts Seattle got the ball at the Dallas 44. On fourth-and-6 from the 40, Wilson lofted a ball down the left sideline to his favorite clutch target, Baldwin. Baldwin made a ridiculous catch leaping then tapped the tops of both green-cleated toes inside the sideline like a ballet dancer.
Given the stakes, it was one of the best catches of Baldwin’s eight-year, Pro Bowl career.
The Seahawks converted that into Wilson’s 4-yard touchdown run keeping on a read-option play around right end. They went for 2, because of, again, not having a kicker. Mike Davis ran in the conversion, the Seattle sideline exploded, and the Seahawks led 14-10 going into the fourth quarter.
Very little of this playoff game went as the last three months of Seattle’s regular season had, or how the Seahawks planned it. The Seahawks, unable to run like they were designed to, were consistently in third-and-long, and Dallas’ pass rush was teeing off on Wilson, pressing him into wild, rushed throws that ended fruitless drives.
Yet the Seahawks took a 6-3 lead with 1:43 left in the first half, after Wilson’s third big pass of the half, the second to Lockett, got Janikowski in position for the go-ahead field goal from 39 yards.
But the defense, stout most of the half, let down on third-and-1 from the Dallas 34 with 1:03 left in the half. The Seahawks bunched inside to stop Elliott’s designed run there. Elliott saw that and bounced the run outside right, past contain cornerback Shaquill Griffin and everyone else for a 44-yard gain down the right sideline.
Then Griffin had perfect position to defend Prescott’s second-and-11 pass to wide receiver Michael Gallup outside right in the end zone with :28 seconds remaining. But Griffin didn’t turn his head to find the ball until after it went over his helmet and into Gallup’s arms for the go-ahead touchdown.
Lockett tried to single-footedly get more points. He returned the ensuing kickoff from 3 yards inside his own end zone 52 yards, across midfield. That gave Seattle 16 seconds to get into position for Janikowski to try a 57-yard field goal. He pulled it wide right. Then the 40-year-old had to be helped off the field by teammates and a team doctor after grabbing his left leg. He walked tentatively and at one point used the Gatorade table behind the Seahawks’ bench to steady himself.
The Seahawks announced he had a thigh injury and was questionable to kick in the second half. Dickson, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in his debut year, was practicing field goals on the field out of Wilson’s hold just before the second half began.
Through the disappointing end—and aren’t they all, unless it’s after winning the Super Bowl?—the ever-positive Carroll saw light where most around the league and Pacific Northwest saw the darkness of season-ending defeat.
“They’ve done stuff no one thought they could do,” Carroll said of his remade, rebounding team. “I mean, nobody thought we were going to be here.
“So we are way ahead of expectations—not that that means anything to me.”