LANDOVER, Md. – On what would be the only drive of the Seattle Seahawks’ first overtime game in 357 days, the Washington Redskins had Seattle’s defensive unit right where they wanted it. Three different times.
All three opportunities left the Redskins’ offense on the verge of disaster, and yet Washington couldn’t have possibly imagined a better position.
The offense that had already converted 10 of 15 third-down chances just kept on doing it, eventually driving 55 yards to set up Nick Novak’s game-winning, 39-yard field goal in the Seahawks’ 20-17 loss.
“That’s crucial in the NFL. You have to get off the field on third downs,” cornerback Kelly Herndon said. “If you don’t get off on third downs, it can break the morale of the defense.”
While there were plenty of storylines that led to the end of Seattle’s two-game winning streak – the most notable would be Josh Brown’s two missed field goals, one of which hit the left upright at the end of regulation – the inability to stop the Redskins on third downs was really what led to the Seahawks’ demise.
“It’s a momentum-breaker when that happens,” defensive end Grant Wistrom said afterward, “and it’s all our own faults.”
Just how bad was Seattle’s defense when it had the Redskins’ backs against the wall?
Of Washington’s 352 yards of offense Sunday, 154 came on third downs – including all 61 yards in overtime. (And that doesn’t even include the two third downs that were converted because of Seahawks penalties.)
The Redskins (3-0) averaged 8.5 yards on third downs, as compared to 3.4 yards per play on first and second downs. They converted 72 percent of their third-down opportunities (13 of 18) and gained 10 or more yards on nine of them.
And yet the Seahawks (2-2) still found themselves, amazingly, in position to win the game.
Herndon’s interception with 49 seconds remaining in regulation gave Brown a chance to atone for his 47-yard miss in the third quarter. The Seahawks took over at the Washington 33-yard line, ran two plays to move the ball to the 29, then called timeout with just one second left on the clock and sent Brown onto the field.
His potential game-winner, also from 47 yards out, had plenty of distance but hooked and bounced off the left upright.
“It was just one of those days,” Brown said. “Sometimes it’s hard to explain what’s going on out there. … It’s unfamiliar territory. It’s hard to know how to react in this situation.”
Using hindsight, reporters asked Holmgren whether he could have tried to get closer, perhaps even throwing a pass to put the Seahawks in better position to hit the game-winner.
“I was not going to throw the ball,” Holmgren said, “for safety’s sake.”
That Seattle was even in that position seemed unlikely midway through the third quarter, when the Seahawks fell behind 14-3.
A Shaun Alexander touchdown, followed by a 40-yard field goal from Washington’s Novak, left the Seahawks trailing 17-10 as the final quarter began. It stayed that way right up to the final 83 seconds of regulation, when Seattle put together a 14-play, 91-yard drive that tied the score at 17 on Darrell Jackson’s 6-yard touchdown reception with 1:23 remaining.
“It took everything out of us,” Hasselbeck said. “We were just physically, emotionally exhausted after getting down there. Our defense did a good job of giving us another chance.”
That came 34 seconds later, when Herndon corralled a Mark Brunell pass that had bounced off the fingertips of running back Clinton Portis. Herndon’s interception came with just 49 seconds left in regulation and left the Seahawks in prime position at the Washington 33-yard line.
But the Seahawks, who have now lost nine times in a row when trailing after three quarters, couldn’t pull off the rare comeback. Brown’s miss as time expired gave the Redskins’ offense a chance to put together their own game-winning drive.
After winning the overtime coin toss, Washington elected to receive but immediately struggled to move the ball. An incomplete pass and a Portis run for no gain left the Redskins with a third-and-10 from their own 23-yard line. Santana Moss made a nice catch in the seam of the Seahawks’ zone defense for a 13-yard reception.
Three plays later, Washington had another third-and-long, this time needing nine yards from their own 37-yard line. Seahawks defensive end Bryce Fisher had a shot at Brunell in the backfield, but the 35-year-old Redskins quarterback slipped free and scrambled 18 yards for another first down.
The next two plays saw Washington stall again, leading to yet another third-and-10. This time, Brunell hit Moss at the Seattle 31-yard line. Moss slipped past Seahawks cornerback Andre Dyson and ran all the way to the 15. After a 2-yard loss and a Washington penalty, the Redskins lined up for the game-winner on second-and-17.
Novak left no doubt, nailing the 39-yard kick.
“I think we can put this game squarely on the defense,” Wistrom said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Especially on third downs.
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