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Seahawks’ defense uneven in first outing without Richard Sherman

The Seahawks' defense allowed the Falcons to convert nine-of-14 on third down Monday. (AP)

The Seahawks’ heartbreaking 34-31 loss to the Falcons marked two firsts for Seattle: it was the first Monday Night football loss under head coach Pete Carroll, and it was also the first time since 2011 that Seattle’s defense played without All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 10.

O’Neil: Wilson’s one-man show isn’t enough for Seahawks in loss

The Seahawks were down two starting members of their defensive backfield, as Kam Chancellor also sat out with a neck injury, and a concussion forced rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin out in the first quarter. The result was uneven – Seattle held the Falcons to just 89 yards on the ground and got a crucial third-down stop late in the fourth quarter, but also allowed Atlanta to convert nine of its 14 third downs (67 percent of their attempts).

Safety Bradley McDougald called the Falcons’ third down conversions – irony not intended – an Achilles heel for the defense.

“There were a lot of self-forced errors that extended their drives,” McDougald told reporters postgame. “Whether it was holding or hands to the face… and they did make a couple plays on their own, but that was definitely our Achilles heel tonight. We definitely needed to get off the field.”

Cornerback Jeremy Lane, who started in place of Sherman, also lamented the team’s struggles to stop Atlanta in pivotal moments.

“(It’s) exactly what I was saying tonight on the sideline,” Lane said. “I don’t really know what really happened, that’s what film’s for, but I just felt that third down kind of hurt us tonight. We couldn’t really get off the field, and that played a big part.”

It was an uphill battle for the defense from the first quarter. Atlanta went up 14-0 eight minutes in and never surrendered the lead. The Falcons capitalized on two turnovers from Seattle’s offense – one an interception of a pass from Russell Wilson; the other a fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown.

Head coach Pete Carroll said those turnovers, and Seattle’s inability to replicate the Falcons’ success on third down, were critical mistakes – though coaching decisions certainly contributed.

“For them, that was the difference,” Carroll said. “They were able to convert. We really controlled the running game pretty well. I think they were 12 for 16, or something like that… it was a good night for them. We just have to get off the field. We had a number of opportunities to get that done. We weren’t able to get to the quarterback like we thought we would… I thought that was a critical aspect of the game, was their third down ability.”

The Seahawks’ offense, for comparison, was 5 for 12 (42 percent) on third down.

Still, Lane and McDougald remain optimistic that the team can smooth out their mistakes and find a way to make up for the loss of longtime stars.

“You can never replace a guy like Richard Sherman or Kam,” Lane said, “but all we can do is just try to go up and get in and do our best and next guy step up. Like I said, for the guys to be out there today for their first time, think they did pretty well.”