By Dave Thomas
Wins on the road are oftentimes hard to come by in the NFL; such was the case Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.
After holding a sizable lead going into the fourth quarter, the Seattle Seahawks watched as Cincinnati ran off 20 unanswered points to remain unbeaten in a 27-24 overtime victory. So much for winning a big game on the road.
While Seattle (2-3) is far from being eliminated from any NFC playoff contention, the Seahawks are clearly nowhere near the level of play that got them to a pair of consecutive NFC Championships the last two years.
As it stands now, Seattle would be a clear underdog against Green Bay (5-0), with Arizona (4-1) and Atlanta (5-0) likely being favored if they were to meet tomorrow. On the plus side, there is still time to work on the problems that are hampering this edition of the Seahawks from being a really good team right now.
While the Bengals are certainly not the most dominating or intimidating defense in the AFC, they are obviously stout enough to get the job done and remain unbeaten. Seattle was able to move the ball on Sunday, as starting running back Thomas Rawls (replacing the injured Marshawn Lynch, who sat out his second straight contest with a hamstring injury) finished his afternoon with 169 yards and one TD on the ground.
Meantime, quarterback Russell Wilson did not post any staggering numbers, finishing 15-of-23 for 213 yards, one TD, one interception and four sacks. While Wilson is still one of the better signal callers in the league, the 2015 edition has just not been as forceful or fearful to opposing defenses through five games.
Once again, Seattle’s offensive line had its challenges in keeping Cincinnati defenders out of the backfield. On the receiving end, Doug Baldwin led the way with three catches for 70 yards, while tight end Jimmy Graham also hauled-in three balls. Still once again, Graham needs to be more productive week after week in order for Seattle to improve its odds of winning.
Holding Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense to a mere seven points through three quarters should give the defense a very upbeat grade, yes? It would have, had Seattle’s ‘D’ not given up 20 unanswered points over the next 15 minutes-plus. In the past, Seattle’s defense would all but smother opponents and leave them gasping for breath. When you watch this year’s edition, other than a convincing 26-0 shutout at home over struggling Chicago, the Seahawks have not exactly been shutting down opposing offenses left and right.
While safety Kam Chancellor continues to be a force (11 total tackles versus Cincinnati) since returning a few weeks ago from a holdout, Seattle’s ‘D’ couldn’t seal the deal against Dalton and Co. The “Red Rifle” finished his afternoon passing for 331 yards and a pair of scores. In the O.T. session, Dalton got the Bengals into position to win it, then kicker Mike Nugent got a lucky bounce off the upright to keep Cincinnati perfect on the season. Before getting to the extra session, Dalton moved the home down the field and Nugent hit a game-tying field goal with 0:03 remaining. For Seattle, this isn’t the same defense that would have put its opponents out of their misery and lock down the victory as recently as a season or two ago.
Special Teams: (B-)
Kicker Steven Hauschka continues to be Mr. Reliable for the Seahawks, hitting on all three of his extra points and adding a 24-yard field goal in the loss. A highlight film waiting to happen, rookie kick returner Tyler Lockett had a rather quiet day, returning one kick and a pair of punts.
While head coach Pete Carroll can’t put pressure on opposing quarterbacks or make tackles in the open field (he probably would suit up if allowed given his energy level), the buck stops with him. No, members of the Seahawks and probably the die-hard fans who truly follow the team are not ready to write-off this season by any means, but there are obvious concerns. Is Carroll getting the most out of his starting 11 on both sides of the ball? Do Carroll and his staff have the answers to fix issues on the offensive line? Will injuries to starting running back Marshawn Lynch ultimately mean that Carroll needs to give Rawls more carries and limit Lynch to what he can do until (and if) he is fully 100 percent healthy?
No, the issues Carroll currently has with the Seahawks are not on the scale of issues he had at USC years back when the roof caved in there, but sitting at 2-3 and trailing NFC West rival Arizona (two games) and NFC leaders Atlanta and Green Bay (both 5-0) this early in the season is certainly reason for concern in the Pacific Northwest.
With Cincinnati in the rear-view mirror, Seattle now turns its attention to another unbeaten, the NFC South’s Carolina Panthers (4-0) next Sunday at home.
Seattle, which knocked Carolina out of the NFC playoffs a season ago, will be facing a team playing with confidence, something the Seahawks might certainly be lacking now.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.