By Chris Cluff
The Seahawks keep finding new ways to lose on the road, and now they might lose their starting cornerbacks as well.
Leon Washington’s 98-yard kick return for a touchdown offset a bad call by the officials that led to a touchdown by Miami, but the Seahawks were soundly beaten up front on both sides of the ball. Seattle lost for the fifth time in six road games as the Dolphins kicked a 43-yard field goal on the final play for a 24-21 win Sunday.
After the game, word came out that cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are facing four-game suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Browner, a Pro Bowl player in 2011, and Sherman, who leads the Hawks with four interceptions this season, reportedly are appealing their suspensions. They will continue to play until those appeals are heard.
Meanwhile, the Hawks dropped yet another winnable road game and fell to 6-5 overall as they head to Chicago for a significant NFC game next week.
The Seahawks lost the game on the ground. They ran for just 96 yards — their second fewest of the season — on 27 carries while giving up 189 yards on 28 attempts to Miami.
The Dolphins also got a gift from the officials, who nullified an end zone interception by Bobby Wagner by calling roughing the passer on Earl Thomas. Thomas landed on Ryan Tannehill after leaping to try to bat down the pass. It would have been the deciding call of the game if Washington had not wiped it out by returning the ensuing kick for a touchdown.
It still was a huge call because the Seahawks should have had the ball at the Miami 20-yard line with 8:13 left and leading 14-7. It’s possible the result would have been the same, but you never know.
“I think there was a real questionable call on the interception,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters. “It just looked wrong. That was a very big call in this game. We get the turnover, and then we don’t get it. That’s a very big call to make when the guy wasn’t intending to hit the quarterback. Earl (Thomas) tried to block the pass and came down on the quarterback.”
Russell Wilson played very well, but he got no help from the running game and the Hawks were able to sustain two scoring drives.
Wilson completed 21 of 27 passes for 224 yards and two scores as he continued to take big steps forward in his rookie year.
But penalties and ineffectual running killed the offense.
They went three-and-out on their first four drives. The first was killed by a flag for illegal substitution, which resulted in a third-and-18. The second fizzled with an incompletion to Doug Baldwin. The third started with a false start on tight Evan Moore and a run for minus-5 yards by Marshawn Lynch. The fourth netted two yards on the first two runs by Lynch.
The Hawks finally got it going in the second quarter, which they finished with an 80-yard touchdown drive. The big play was a pass from Wilson to Golden Tate, who dived over cornerback R.J. Stanford for a 32-yard gain to the Miami 5. Two plays, later, Wilson bought time to find tight end Anthony McCoy for a 3-yard TD pass.
Wilson took the Hawks on a 12-play touchdown drive early in the third quarter. He overcame two penalties on the offensive line, hitting Robert Turbin for an 18-yard gain and running for 20 to set up his 4-yard scoring pass to Michael Robinson. That put Seattle up 14-7.
Early in the fourth quarter, Baldwin dropped a third-down pass around midfield, which set up Miami for its controversial tying touchdown drive.
On their last possession, starting at 5:13, the Hawks moved to midfield again, but a horrible series of downs doomed them as Turbin lost a yard, Lynch lost 6 yards on a checkdown pass and Wilson was sacked. The offensive line completely failed in that series, and the Dolphins finished with a 65-yard drive for the winning field goal in the final 1:23.
The nullified interception was the key play on this side of the ball, and that flag never should have been thrown.
“We had an interception on that play. They definitely can’t slow the game like that for us and take the game like that from us,” Thomas told reporters, per The News Tribune. “It was a tough loss, but the refs definitely need to get out of the way when it’s a crucial situation like that. They control the game, and that was a great example right there.”
That controversial play aside, the Hawks continued to have big problems stopping the run. For the third time in five games, the Hawks were gashed on the ground.
Worse, the defense let a rookie quarterback beat it. Tannehill — whom the Seahawks seemed to like very much in the weeks leading up to the draft — had his second-best game of the season. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards, a touchdown and one interception (since the second pick was waved off by referee Clete Blakeman).
The Hawks had a horrible time stopping Reggie Bush, Pete Carroll’s one-time USC star, and Daniel Thomas. Bush ran for 87 yards on 14 carries and Thomas gained 60 yards on just nine runs. Bush scored on a 21-yard run in the first quarter and Thomas tied it at 14-14 with a 3-yard run in the fourth quarter after the bogus call against Thomas.
Miami outgained Seattle in yards, 435-312, and converted 4 of 9 third downs.
But worst of all, Tannehill moved his team to 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Hawks’ defense completely melted down. The Hawks blew coverages all over the field and simply could not stop Bush and Thomas in what might have been the worst performance of the season — even worse than the Detroit debacle.
This was the fifth time in six games the defense had been gashed by a hot passer (Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford) or running game (Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Bush/Thomas). The Hawks have lost three of those five.
Add in the report about Browner and Sherman being suspended, and this one was a complete fail.
Washington tied the NFL record with his eighth kick return for a touchdown, and he credited the coaches with preaching aggressiveness on the return units during the bye week. That might have been the only good thing that happened during the bye week.
Jon Ryan continued his masterful season, pinning the Dolphins inside the 20 on six of his seven punts. Too bad the defense wasted his effort, too.
Carroll took blame for this game, saying he wrongly trusted his young players too much by giving them the entire week off.
“I screwed it up. And that’s just the way it is,” Carroll told reporters, per The News Tribune. “I can tell these guys played hard and they wanted to play right. But we made too many mistakes, and that’s just not doing the job the right way.
“I gave them a bunch of time off, and maybe we’re too young to do that. … We played hard, but we played really sloppy. It kills me to have to tell you that, but that’s what it is.”
He obviously feels like they lost focus — but that has been happening on defense for a month now.
Coordinator Gus Bradley, who previously had been touted as a future candidate to run his own team, has looked very overmatched in the last few weeks. He is as much to blame for last-second losses to Detroit and Miami as his players; they have looked completely lost at times.
On offense, Darrell Bevell couldn’t find a way to fix the running game, and that meant the offense couldn’t save the defense.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.