SEATTLE -- With the game tied 20-20 late in the third quarter Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks kept their offense on the field on fourth-and-2, intent on going for it from the Atlanta Falcons' 7-yard line. But then they didn't.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll saw something he didn't like, called a timeout and decided to kick a chip-shot field goal instead. The resulting 23-20 lead quickly vanished, giving way to a disappointing 27-23 loss at Lumen Field.
"They were a little out of whack on the field because of what happened on the play before," Carroll said about his change of heart. "I'll leave it at that."
With Carroll declining to go into detail other than to say his offense wasn't ready on fourth down -- a comment quarterback Geno Smith later backed up -- what's left unanswered is why he didn't send them back onto the field after the timeout. They had been in no-huddle mode on that drive and perhaps felt that the advantage they had in going for it was eliminated once the stoppage allowed Atlanta's defense to catch its breath and change personnel.
Either way, a three-point lead didn't seem like enough given how badly Seattle's defense was getting gashed, and it wasn’t. On the ensuing possession, the Falcons drove 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and a four-point lead that they held onto when Smith and Seattle's resurgent offense botched a final opportunity for the winning touchdown.
All of which is to say that there were plenty of reasons the Seahawks fell to 1-2 on Sunday.
But whether right or wrong, Carroll's decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-2 put a lot of faith in a defense that hasn't earned it. Certainly not last week in a 27-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers and not on Sunday, when, by that point, the Falcons had scored on four of five possessions (excluding one that began with five seconds left in the first half).
"We stunk it up on defense," said safety Quandre Diggs, Seattle's defensive co-captain.
By the time it was over, Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota had completed six passes of at least 20 yards and receiver-turned-running back Cordarrelle Patterson had amassed 141 rushing yards on only 17 attempts. One of the Falcons' four conversions on seven third-down tries was a 26-yard completion on third-and-19, when, according to Carroll, an unnamed defender failed to drop to the appropriate depth for that situation.
"We can't give up the rushing yards we're giving up," Carroll said. "It's too much. I have a lot of respect for their run game because I have a lot of respect for the way they do it, and [Patterson]. He was, I think, the difference today for them."
Another egg laid by the Seahawks' defense wasted what was mostly a nice bounce-back for an offense that had gone its previous six quarters without scoring, dating to halftime of the season-opening win against the Denver Broncos. Smith and Co. snapped that streak right away, driving for a field goal on the opening possession and scoring on four of their five first-half drives.
One of the issues during their scoring drought was the absence of a deep passing game. Smith entered Week 3 with the league's best completion percentage by a wide margin and the 10th-best Total QBR but an average of only 5.22 air yards per attempt, which ranked 32nd among qualifying quarterbacks.
Smith wasn't airing it out Russell Wilson-style Sunday but found some success beyond short and intermediate throws. Two came early via a 36-yard completion to Colby Parkinson that set up an 18-yard touchdown to fellow tight end Will Dissly. Later in the first half, Smith hit receiver Marquise Goodwin for 23 yards on another fourth-and-2 play, then hit a leaping DK Metcalf in the end zone on the next play for an 18-yard score.
"We were in a really good groove, running the football, spreading the ball out," Dissly said of an offense that gained 420 yards. "You have to give credit to the O-Line for getting s--- done early. And then Geno was hitting his spots. He played a really good game and guys responded."
Smith finished 32-of-44 with two touchdown passes and his late interception. His 325 passing yards were the third-most of his career and his most since 2014. The Seahawks went 9 of 17 on third down and got more than 100 yards on the ground from the trio of Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Walker III and DeeJay Dallas.
"We did all kinds of things today in the passing game," Carroll said. "I thought it was really, really well-orchestrated. We threw for over 300, big completion percentage and a really good conversion rate. That was a really good look at us on third down today and coming through. Geno had to run one as well, but he did his stuff and the receivers came through. That's something we can really continue to build on."
The next step for Smith and Seattle's offense: finishing off a close victory. They couldn't do it in three tries last season while Smith was filling in for Wilson nor could they Sunday, even when a gift of a turnover -- a Falcons fumble on a botched exchange -- gave them the ball back at their 37 with over five minutes left.
Smith was in position to deliver his signature win when he drove Seattle to the Atlanta 24. Then came a false start penalty on left guard Damien Lewis, a 10-yard sack that Smith shouldn't have taken and an interception on fourth-and-18.
"I think we saw some real bright spots," Carroll said. "I thought you saw us get better today, but it wasn't good enough for winning. That's what really counts."