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Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks defense struggles in 39-32 loss to the Saints

New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill scrambles past the Seattle Seahawks defense for a touchdown during the second quarter on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022 in New Orleans.  (Jennifer Buchanan/Seattle Times)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

NEW ORLEANS – On the rare occasion that Taysom Hill wasn’t running through the Seahawks on Sunday he was passing over them. He even recovered a fumble that didn’t count on a punt that was supposed to be but wasn’t.

“I mean it’s simple,” said Seattle safety Ryan Neal of Hill, whose position officially reads tight end, but who on Sunday mostly just spelled the end for the Seahawks, even if he was usually playing quarterback. “Everybody in the stadium knew he was going to get the ball.”

Still, the Seahawks could do nothing about it as Hill ran for three touchdowns and threw for another as the New Orleans Saints beat the Seahawks 39-32. He worked as a complementary quarterback to starter Andy Dalton, usually out of the wildcat formation.

The jack-of-all-trades Hill even fell on the ball after Seattle punter Michael Dickson inexplicably took off with it late in the second quarter from the Seahawks’ 21 – Dickson was ruled down at the 13 before he fumbled the ball away on a play in which coach Pete Carroll said he expected Dickson to kick.

Carroll called the play, which came with the score tied at 10, a “rollout” punt, designed in part to try to mitigate the Saints rush.

“We’re supposed to kick the football there,” Carroll said. But Carroll said when Dickson saw some Saints converging on him he decided to run instead of risking a blocked kick.

“We’re just changing the launch point,” Carroll said. “We’ve been working on it for a long time. And we went with it there and it got really cloudy in the field like we don’t expect it to and he felt like he had to tuck up and he was hesitant to kick the ball where all the people were as he saw it, so he took off.”

The Saints needed just two plays to turn the gift into a touchdown, a sequence that too aptly symbolized a day of wasted opportunities for the Seahawks, who also saw running back Rashaad Penny go down with an ankle injury in the third quarter that could cost him most, if not all, of the rest of the season.

The NFL Network reported that Penny suffered a fractured tibia, something the team did not immediately confirm, and that he may need surgery.

“Breaks my heart,” Carroll said.

And the loss of Penny, who had overcome several major injuries earlier in his career to become one of the best running backs in the NFL, almost seemed to overshadow the loss on the field itself.

But in terms of Seattle’s season, the defeat was equally gut-wrenching as the game seemed there for the taking for most of its 60 minutes.

Quarterback Geno Smith, who turns 32 this week, again showed that his play to start the season has not been a fluke, throwing for three touchdowns, two on perfectly-executed passes to Tyler Lockett, and no interceptions.

With the Saints seeming on the verge of blowing out the Seahawks in the fourth quarter, Smith hit Lockett for a 40-yard TD to bring Seattle within 31-25.

A few minutes later, Penny’s replacement, rookie Kenneth Walker III, cut back through a huge hole to race almost untouched for a 69-yard TD that put Seattle ahead 32-31 with 6:54 left.

But the Saints needed only 92 seconds to answer, with Hill taking a direct snap on a third-and-1 and breaking a tackle by Seattle Pro Bowl safety Quandre Diggs and racing 60 yards for a TD of his own to put the Saints back ahead.

“We’ve just got to make the tackles when we get there,” Carroll said, adding that the Seahawks had expected that the Saints might use Hill substantially.

“There was any surprise in that regard,” Carroll said. “The surprise was that we didn’t get him down.”

A Seattle offense that had scored on six of its 12 possessions before that couldn’t respond, and the Saints ran out the clock.

And with that, the Seahawks fell to 2-3 with another game in which they displayed an offense good enough to win but a defense it may not be able to overcome.

The Seahawks have now allowed 111 points in the last three games – almost half as many as the 231 Seattle allowed when it won the Super Bowl in 2013.

“You can’t give up 39 points,” Neal said. “We got away with one last week (a 48-45 win over Detroit), but that’s not the case every week. These teams are too good. The defense has got to step up.”

The defense, though, has been saying that for the last four weeks, and nothing has changed.

The Seahawks coaches shook a few things up to try to fix things, notably inserting Neal into the starting lineup at safety in place of Josh Jones.

But nothing really worked.

Seattle did force two turnovers of a Saints team that came into the game leading the NFL in turnovers with 11. But otherwise, Seattle’s defense was usually powerless to stop the Saints from marching wherever they wanted to go.

“It’s just no more excuses,” Neal said. “There’s no more playing around. It’s just we got to go to work and we got to iron it out. And if guys don’t want to get it done, they’ll find somebody else to do it. So it’s just at that point now. Hey, no more excuses. We got to go to practice, we got to get this (stuff) right and we got to fix it because we can’t go a season doing that.”

Despite that, the Seahawks might still have found a way to win if not for a handful of other mistakes, such as Dickson’s ill-fated run, a holding penalty that Carroll thought was dubious on rookie left tackle Charles Cross that negated an apparent Smith-to-DK Metcalf touchdown pass late in the third quarter, or a fumble by Metcalf on the first play of the second half that led to a Saints TD.

“We had our chances and we had all kinds of opportunities to get this done,” Carroll said. “And there were too many things that went wrong that gave them another opportunity here and there and we made it too easy on them.”

And now it just gets harder for the Seahawks, whose only solace was that the Rams and Cardinals also lost, leaving each tied for second – or last, depending on how you want to view it – behind the 3-2 49ers, who suddenly look like the class of the NFC West.

For the Seahawks defense, it’s simply back to the drawing board.