ARLINGTON, Texas – Just when the Seahawks offense regained its identity, the defense is again left searching for one.
In spoiling the best offensive game of the season, the Seahawks defense never forced a punt and allowed a team-record-tying 33 first downs as well as 412 yards as the Dallas Cowboys scored 14 points in the final 11:23 to rally for a 41-35 win Thursday night.
It was Seattle’s third straight defeat and fourth in five games – and maybe its most disappointing in years given how well the offense played and how the Seahawks held the lead for much of the second half against a Dallas team that hadn’t trailed at home all season and has now won 14 straight at home.
Seattle’s offense failed on three fourth downs in the fourth quarter as the scales finally tipped Dallas’ way.
Seattle is now 6-6 after a 5-2 start, and could fall into third place in the NFC West if the Rams can beat Cleveland on Sunday.
The Seahawks must rebound from yet another disheartening and soul-searching defeat to play at San Francisco on Dec. 10 and host the Eagles on Dec. 18 – teams that are a combined 18-4.
Seattle never punted, tying a team mark set a year ago at Detroit, as the Seahawks busted out of a four-game offensive slump.
But asked to score time and again when the Seattle defense couldn’t stop the Cowboys, the Seahawks offense finally faltered, failing on three fourth downs in the final 4:37.
First, Zach Charbonnet was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 46 with 4:37 left and Seattle ahead 35-30.
Dallas drove easily for the go-ahead TD and a 38-35 lead.
The Seahawks were again stopped on fourth down when a Smith pass went over the head of Jaxon Smith-Njigba with 3:11 left, giving the Cowboys the ball at the Seattle 49.
The Seahawks forced a Dallas field goal to make it 41-35, and got the ball back at their own 25 with 1:43 left and no timeouts.
They moved to midfield where with 1:11 left they faced a fourth-and-3. But Micah Parsons – kept in check much of the night – burst over the right side to force Smith into a hurried incompletion, and that was that.
The sordid ending spoiled what had been maybe Smith’s best game of the season as he completed 23 of 41 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns – all to DK Metcalf, which tied a career high for Metcalf.
After Dallas cut the lead to 35-30 early in the fourth quarter, Seattle moved to the 46 and decided to go for it on fourth-and-1.
But a run by Charbonnet had no chance as DeMarcus Lawrence burst through to make a stop for no gain.
Dallas took over at its own 46 with 7:04 remaining.
Dak Prescott completed passes of 10, 16, 7 and 6 yards before running 8 yards to the Seattle 7.
The Cowboys were called for a delay of game turning second-and-1 into second-and-6.
On the next play, Prescott hit tight end Jake Ferguson for a TD in the front corner of the end zone to make it 36-35 and gave Dallas its first lead since the second quarter.
The Cowboys got the two-pointer on a Prescott pass to Brandin Cooks to make it 38-35 with 4:37 left.
Smith got Seattle’s ensuing drive started with an 18-yard pass to Smith-Njigba. But after a 6-yard run by DeeJay Dallas – playing because Charbonnet was out with a knee injury – two passes went incomplete.
A fourth-down pass from the 49 went far over the head of Smith-Njigba, with Smith possibly thinking he was going to take the route deeper than he did.
The Cowboys had a chance to sew up the game.
Facing a third-and-4 at the Seattle 14 with 1:52 left and the Seahawks with no timeouts remaining, the Cowboys decided to go for the kill, with Prescott throwing into the end zone to Lamb. But the ball went over Lamb’s head and Dallas had to settle for Aubrey’s fourth field goal of the game, this one from 32 yards out, to make it 41-35 with 1:43 left.
Seattle moved to midfield with 1:18 left. But two passes went incomplete, and on fourth down, Micah Parsons burst over the right side to force a hurried pass from Smith that fell incomplete to end one of the most frantic games in recent Seattle memory.
The teams were called for a combined 19 penalties for 257 yards, the most in the NFL this season.
After a week in which Carroll said the Seahawks needed to find ways to “maximize” their offense talent, what Seattle apparently decided was the way to accomplish that was to attack the Cowboys with deep shots.
On paper, that seemed a risky strategy given that the Cowboys entered the game with what was the second-ranked pass defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed, and tied for fourth in sacks with 47.
But Seattle’s strategy became clear on the third play of the game when on a third-and-8, Smith hit Metcalf on a skinny post. Metcalf caught the ball at about the Seattle 43 over the outstretched hand of DaRon Bland, and then sprinted untouched the rest of the way for a TD that put Seattle up 7-3.
In what was a dizzying first half, the Cowboys responded with a field goal and a touchdown sandwiched around Myers’ miss.
That put the Cowboys ahead 17-7 with 11:37 to play in the first half, and what many expected to be an easy Dallas win appeared in the offing.
But the Seahawks offense just kept rolling.
Two defensive pass interference penalties – one a 40-yarder drawn by Tyler Lockett – got Seattle to the 1 where Charbonnet plowed in to make it 17-14.
Getting the ball back with 1:30 left and no timeouts, the Seahawks weren’t timid. After two third-down pass conversions got the ball to the 30, Smith threw it deep to Smith-Njigba, who appeared to catch the ball in the end zone as he was interfered with by Bland.
The catch was overturned, but the penalty gave Seattle the ball at the 1 – but with only 7 seconds remaining and no timeouts.
Keeping with the aggressive tone of the night, the Seahawks appeared to give no second thought to going for the TD.
And typifying a game in which almost every other play seemed to draw some type of discussion from the officials, Seattle appeared to have the TD on a Smith pass to Noah Fant. But, Dallas was given a timeout as the ball was snapped.
No matter, on the next snap Smith hit Metcalf for the TD to make it 21-20 at the half.
Seattle then got the ball to start the second half and used a face mask penalty on Dallas plus two completions from Smith to Metcalf of 13 and 10 yards to set up a third-and-goal at the 5. Seattle then spread the field, and when Smith found no one immediately open he burst through a big hole and easily into the end zone to make it 28-20, Seattle scoring 14 points without Dallas having taken a snap.