Seahawks' near-comeback results in another close loss to Rams

LOS ANGELES -- Seattle Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown stood outside the visitors locker room lamenting another close loss in a season that is threatening to become defined by them.

"It sucks, man," the veteran said. "It hurts."

Minutes earlier and a few feet away, a fired-up Pete Carroll stepped up to a podium and began his news conference by stating that he loved what he had just seen from his team.

"That kind of fight, that kind of battling, will take you a long ways," the coach said.

This was the wide range of emotions from the Seahawks after their 36-31 loss to the Rams on Sunday, and you can understand why. It drops them to 4-5 and makes their road to a potential playoff spot that much tougher, especially with two more difficult matchups before their schedule eases up. It also provides more evidence that the gap between Seattle and the top of the NFL's pecking order isn't as big as it seemed.

The Seahawks were right there Sunday, just like they were the last time they played the Rams -- a two-point defeat in October -- and just like they always seem to be. At one point this week, they were listed as 10-point underdogs, the most their opponent has been favored by since 2011. That was Carroll's second season and the year before Russell Wilson arrived.

Yet they led 7-0 after scoring another opening-drive touchdown, 14-7 after finding the end zone on their second possession and 21-20 in the third quarter following Wilson's second of three TD passes. They had a chance to win when they took over with 84 seconds left and down five. Wilson led a final drive that reached the Rams' 35 before it ended with a fourth-down pass that sailed over Tyler Lockett's head.

The Seahawks kept it that close with the help of a whopping 273 yards rushing yards, their first time over 200 since Week 13 of the 2016 season. That came despite not having top tailback Chris Carson or right guard D.J. Fluker, two of the biggest reasons why Seattle's running game had gotten on a roll. It stayed on that roll Sunday, with first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny (102 yards, touchdown) and Mike Davis (58 yards) picking up the slack. Wilson went for 92 yards, running more often and more effectively than he has all season.

"That's just a statement about the guys running the football up front," Carroll said. "It doesn't matter who's up there, who's running it."

If only they could have kept the Rams from answering every punch the Seahawks gave.

The Rams beat the Seahawks like they did in the first meeting and like their top-ranked offense has been beating everyone else this season: with big plays. But unlike that 33-31 game in October, it wasn't missed tackles that did Seattle in this time as much as it was allowing Rams receivers to run open between defenders deep down the field. One especially costly instance of that came when Jared Goff connected with Robert Woods for 35 yards on a third-and-15 play, the second time in as many weeks Seattle has allowed a long completion on that down and distance. This one set up a go-ahead touchdown.

"No team should ever convert on third-and-15," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "That's an area we've got to do better at."

With Goff finding holes in Seattle's pass defense and Todd Gurley continually finding room to run, Seattle badly needed a takeaway that never came. It was the second straight week in which the Seahawks failed to force a turnover, something their defense was living off during the team's 4-3 start.

"Without the turnovers, it's a really difficult team to beat," Carroll said.

The Rams got theirs when Dante Fowler Jr. beat Brown off the edge for a strip sack late in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles recovered at Seattle's 9-yard line to set up a touchdown that made it a two-score game. It was one of four sacks for the Rams, as they pressured Wilson on 61.1 percent of his dropbacks, the highest pressure rate of his career and the third-highest for any quarterback in one game in the past 10 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Near-misses are becoming the theme of the Seahawks' season. All five of their losses have come by eight points or fewer. In the first Rams game, it was a pair of penalties that pushed Seattle out of range for what would have been the go-ahead field-goal try. Last week against the Chargers, it was a pass into the end zone that David Moore couldn't corral after it was tipped right before hitting his hands. And on Sunday, it was one final drive that came up short.

It's unfamiliar territory for a team that, during its height, was usually the one making enough plays down the stretch to win.

"Last game we played them, we were within 5 yards of a field goal to win the game, and this game, we come down to one drive, fourth down," Brown said. "It sucks, and we've had a few games like that this year. We've just got to make a couple more plays, man. It hurts."

Said Wagner: "I’ve been here for a while now, and we have a lot of these games where we pull it out. And to kind of be on the opposite side, it sucks. But I have the confidence that we can flip that around.”

They need to. The Seahawks are now looking up at four teams in the wild-card standings two weeks after they were sitting in the sixth playoff spot following their win over Detroit. They play two of those teams over the next two weeks, hosting Green Bay (4-4-1) on Thursday before making a cross-country trip to play the Panthers (6-3) in Charlotte. Four of their final five games will be in Seattle.

The Seahawks can't afford any more near-misses, any more lost ground. They need actual victories, not moral ones. But the way they played Sunday should be good enough to beat most of the teams on their remaining schedule, even if it wasn't good enough to beat the Rams on Sunday. Carroll, more optimistic than usual following a loss, seemed to be taking that outlook.

"We just have to stay alive," he said. "We've got to keep going and keep this going as we finish the year. A lot of games coming up at home. We've got to make a surge here and see what we can do, and I like our chances. I don't care who it is or where it is. We can go on the road. These guys don't care about playing on the road. It doesn't even matter at all. That's a great characteristic of a team that has a chance to do something."