INDIANAPOLIS — For once, the Seahawks were wide-eyed for an early kickoff in the Eastern time zone. It was merely the first clue that this would be a game of uncharacteristic madness.
Ten minutes into the game, the Seahawks led the Indianapolis Colts 12-0. Normally, they don’t shed their pajamas until the second quarter of a 10 a.m. Pacific time game. Considering their infamous, slow-starting woes away from CenturyLink Field, the score might as well have been 22-0.
“It sure felt like a lot more than 12 points,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said.
Then, within about seven minutes, Indianapolis had taken the lead.
And for the rest of the game, the Seahawks traveled the most frustrating route possible to their first loss of the season. The Colts beat them 34-28 at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday behind Luck’s incredible playmaking and T.Y. Hilton’s impressive speed, not to mention the Seahawks’ imbalanced performance.
So the Seahawks, the greatest 4-0 team in franchise history (OK, the only one), won’t go undefeated this season. The 1972 Miami Dolphins can throw away Seattle’s voodoo doll. Indianapolis beat the Seahawks at their own resilient game, recovering from the early deficit and thriving in the fourth quarter one week after the Seahawks had rallied in even more dramatic fashion against Houston.
The Seahawks aren’t invincible, after all. At times, when they can’t capitalize on their own greatness, they can be insufferable.
Some familiar bugaboos caught up with them in this game. Third-down inefficiency on offense and defense. Poor offensive-line protection. Penalties. Stalled drives. The defense’s inability to hold a fourth quarter lead. Throw in some uncommon special-teams adventures, and it led to a game that alternated between thrilling and exasperating.
The Seahawks could’ve put this game away early and won by 20 points. In the first half, they outgained the Colts, 267-117. But the Seahawks led only 19-17 at halftime. As the game progressed, Indianapolis’ talent showed itself, and the Seahawks’ mistakes suffocated them.
“The game was there to be had for us a number of different ways,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
It could’ve been had via the early blowout. That 12-0 lead could’ve been 17-0 if officials had ruled Jeron Johnson’s end-zone recovery of Jermaine Kearse’s blocked punt a touchdown instead of a safety. Then the Seahawks’ secondary, the famous Legion of Boom, allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass from Luck to Hilton because of a busted coverage involving cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas. Later, Delano Howell returned Steven Hauschka’s blocked field-goal attempt 61 yards for a touchdown to give the Colts a 14-12 lead.
It could’ve been had via finishing off drives. Despite shaky pass protection, the Seahawks moved the ball consistently. They rushed for a season-high 218 yards, with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson each amassing 102 yards. But the offense settled for two touchdowns and four Hauschka field goals. The Seahawks continue to see too many drives stalled because of ill-timed negative plays. They were also just 2 of 12 on third down. Wilson, who completed only 15 of 31 passes for 210 yards, also missed several throws, including a sure touchdown to Golden Tate.
“I’ve got to complete that, whatever it takes,” Wilson said. “When we have a chance to separate the game, we need to make sure we do that. We’ve got to find a way to get more touchdowns. Once we do that, a game like that won’t even be close.”
It could’ve been had via the defense slamming the door shut. After struggling in this area last season, the Seahawks defense had played its best in clutch situations during the first four games. Not this time, though. Luck, who threw for 229 yards, made huge throws. Hilton, who had 140 receiving yards and two touchdowns, was a problem all game. And in the fourth quarter, Reggie Wayne played like a well-established star. The Seahawks had been limiting opponents to just a 33.3 percent success rate on third down. The Colts converted 7 of 12 third-down plays, 58.3 percent. If they weren’t beating the Seahawks in man-to-man situations, the Colts were taking advantage of some questionable pass-interference calls.
“I don’t believe we beat ourselves most of the time,” linebacker K.J. Wright said of the defense. “They definitely came out ready to play and beat us in some key situations. They handled their business today.”
But for a young Seahawks team, the close loss provided plenty of lessons. They’re still playing with an incomplete roster because of injuries. Tight end Zach Miller missed the game with a hamstring injury, adding to the pass-protection woes of a team already missing three starters on the offensive line. Still, after taking that early lead, the Seahawks didn’t require a superhuman effort to finish the game. They needed to be solid. They needed to be themselves. Instead, they were a mistake-prone mess.
They’re taking it well, at least.
“We still have our confidence, our swagger and all that,” Thomas said.
They should still have it. They’re 4-1 despite playing three tough road games already and playing three teams that made the playoffs in 2012. They split the toughest back-to-back road games they’ll play all season. In the big picture, they didn’t lose much by dropping this game.
But, oh, what they could’ve gained.
If excellence is their aspiration, the Seahawks left much to be desired-and corrected.