ST. LOUIS — Golden Tate knew he’d screwed up. The Seahawks receiver’s taunting bye-bye wave to Rams safety Rodney McLeod on the way to a third-quarter touchdown set Seattle’s kickoff team 15 yards back during a one-score game. So Tate went to apologize to that kickoff unit, which had to work that much harder, running at full-speed, in what is indisputably the most dangerous play in football when the ball is returnable.
“Yeah, he apologized, and the next time he does that he’s going to run down on kickoff and cover it too,” said Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, smiling in the moments after yet another Seahawks win. “Wait till you score, dude. Wait till you cross the goal line. But he knew it. He knew he made a mistake.”
Tate should know something else, readily apparent after Seattle’s 14-9 Monday night victory in St. Louis: The Seahawks are not that good. Despite being 7-1, they’re not good enough to give up 15 yards on a kickoff and keep a 3-4 team led by a second-string quarterback from scoring (after a holding penalty the Rams began at the 22 instead of the 12 and eventually kicked a field goal). They’re not good enough to keep their own second-year quarterback off the ground long enough for him to make a second and third passing read. And surprisingly, they’re not good enough to avoid getting gouged by fifth-round rookie running back Zac Stacy for 134 yards on 26 carries—a wake-up call in the midst of a winning start if there ever was one.
In a primetime football game played before a stadium filled to just 60 percent capacity, with a World Series going on six blocks away and as many visiting fans in the building as home supporters, the strangest sight was the supposed top team in the NFC getting pushed around.
Stacy’s exploits left Seattle’s defensive line core of Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Brandon Mebane huffing and puffing long after the final whistle, the last group to de-pad in a corner of the visitors locker room reserved for big men.
“They just kicked our ass, bottom line,” Bryant said flatly. “Looking at them on tape, we really didn’t feel like they could rush for 200 yards today. It was a total surprise.
“We were still able to get the win, but we do pride ourselves on not letting teams run the ball. We’ve got to watch the tape and see exactly what was allowing them to hit those creases.”
In lieu of film study, Bryant and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner offered some instant analysis: Seattle lagged in its gap discipline, and Stacy had the patience to take advantage of it, rushing for more yards in one game than Rams great Steven Jackson did against the Seahawks in any game over nine seasons. But that doesn’t explain how or why Sam Bradford understudy Kellen Clemens was able to convert passes of 18 and 21 yards into the heart of Seattle’s defensive—its Legion of Boom backfield—on the way to 1st-and-goal at the six yard line with a chance to put Seattle away in the final minute. That ship sailed for St. Louis when Clemens’ final pass from the 1 fell flat.
Of course, the Rams were only in that position because their vastly underrated defensive line was able to sack Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson seven times. Blame goes to a host of injuries. There’s the absence of wide receiver Percy Harvin, who was expected to debut this week after offseason hip surgery but is still day-to-day. His presence might have discouraged St. Louis from stacking the box and sending extra rushers at Wilson.
But more than that, fingers point to a patchwork offensive line, missing tackle starters Breno Giacomini—expected to return soon from knee surgery last month—and Russell Okung, on the short-term IR after tearing a toe ligament. In their absence, Marshawn Lynch had just 23 yards on eight carries and Rams ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long each logged three sacks while lining up across from left tackle Paul McQuistan and right tackle Michael Bowie. With Long and Quinn coming off the edge unperturbed for long stretches, it was easy to forget which team had six wins and which had three.
It’s been this way for a while now, with McQuistan and Bowie allowing a combined 39 sacks, hits and hurries in their 10 starts, according to Pro Football Focus. The result: Wilson has had less time to throw than any other quarterback in the NFL.
Bowie, the lumbering seventh-round rookie listed at 332 pounds, looked helpless against the speed rush of Long, yet he put an oddly lenient grade on his own play: “I gave up one sack in the last series of the game, so I guess that’s a win,” he said. “My performance was alright.”
Seattle’s final offensive possession ended in Long sacking Wilson on third and 7, and the Seahawks punting to the Rams 3. Then the Rams marched 96 yards on Seattle’s vaunted defense, coming within one yard of an upset. That’s far from alright if the Seahawks still fancy themselves Super Bowl contenders.