Emotions run hot on defense before Seahawks prevail over Falcons

Oct 16, 2016, 7:56 PM | Updated: 8:00 pm
Richard Sherman was noticeably upset on the sideline after Julio Jones scored in the third quarter....
Richard Sherman was noticeably upset on the sideline after Julio Jones scored in the third quarter. (AP)

For three quarters on Sunday, the Seahawks showed why their defense has been the NFL’s best over the past four years.

They held the league’s top-ranked offense to a total of three points in the first half and didn’t let the Falcons cross midfield in the final quarter.

But sandwiched in between that opening statement and closing argument was a third quarter in which Seattle’s defense was at its absolute worst. The Seahawks allowed three touchdowns, blew two coverages and watched All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman blow his top after a miscommunication led to a 36-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones.

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By the time Seattle regrouped to not only reclaim the lead but hold off the Falcons on one final possession, the question wasn’t so much what happened during Sunday’s game but how meaningful it will be going forward.

“We’re emotional,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s an emotional team, emotional guys and we ride that emotion. I’m not surprised when we get that hot.

“We’ve got to control it better, so we don’t get in the way of what’s coming up, but that’s what these guys are like.”

It was as confusing a game as the Seahawks have ever played under Carroll, and that’s saying something given just how confounding this team has been.

On one hand, the Seahawks came back to beat the league’s best offense despite not only playing without safety Kam Chancellor and defensive lineman Frank Clark, who were inactive, and losing Michael Bennett to a knee injury in the second half.

On the other, Seattle saw a 14-point halftime lead turn into a seven-point deficit in just 15 minutes as seemingly the entire defense spent 5 minutes trying to reel Sherman’s emotions in, at one point dancing around him in unison even as Sherman remained flat-footed in what was as surreal a sideline scene as you’ll find in the NFL.

“We just play so hot that the emotion part of it also has to be dealt with,” Carroll said, “and we did. We dealt with it.”

It took some time. Seattle allowed a touchdown on each of Atlanta’s next two possessions. The Falcons gained 252 yards in the period as Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan passed for 220 yards.

And then the Seahawks went from melting down on the sidelines to locking down Atlanta. The Falcons didn’t cross midfield on any of their final three possessions of the game, including the final drive when Atlanta got the ball back with 1:57 left at its own 25 and didn’t complete a pass on the final drive.

“We got it done,” Carroll said, “put it in the right place and went to work and finished with an extraordinary burst at the end to win the game.”

That’s one interpretation. Another is that Seattle proved surprisingly fragile in their first game this season against a quality quarterback, and there may be fault lines running from the players on up to the play calling.

The explanation for what sparked Sherman’s anger was pretty straightforward. He was frustrated by a miscommunication with Kelcie McCray, the backup strong safety that was starting in place of the injured Kam Chancellor. There was an adjustment that was implemented by defensive coordinator Kris Richard and was to be called at the line of scrimmage. That adjustment wasn’t made properly, and the Seahawks suffered a similar miscommunication on the play that resulted in the Falcons’ third touchdown of the quarter.

Sherman was very understated after the game, and while he never clarified who he was mad at, it was evident afterward he remained bothered by the pair of third-quarter plays.

“We should have never gave them the points,” Sherman said. “We could have stopped them. We could have held them to nothing. They scored on blown coverages.”

Arguments happen on football teams. Even on the sidelines. Especially on the sidelines. And in his sixth season in the NFL, it’s not like Sherman is going to go off the deep end. Chancellor, the captain of the defense, said Seattle will be better for what happened on the sideline. Though he wasn’t playing in the game, Chancellor was active in trying to get the defense to regroup on the sideline.

“Those moments like that make us stronger, make us closer,” Chancellor said, “make us love each other even more and make us want to play for each other even more. That’s all it is, man. Brothers.

“When you’re real brothers and you’re connected like that, sometimes you get into little scuffles. You can handle it differently and not even let those happen, but sometimes it happens and it makes you stronger.”

This is a defense that isn’t just good. It’s great. That was evident on Sunday. Atlanta had gained at least 176 yards in the first half of each of its first five regular-season games, and the Falcons had just 86 at halftime and were held to a total of 24 yards on their three fourth-quarter possessions.

However, the third quarter may turn out to be the most important moment in this Seahawks’ season. Whether it’s for better or for worse remains to be seen, however.

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Emotions run hot on defense before Seahawks prevail over Falcons