Takeaways from Seahawks 34-31 loss to Falcons

Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks

SEATTLE -- It's been a rare occurrence in Pete Carroll's tenure as head coach when significant errors in game management have cost the Seahawks a chance to win a football game.

Carroll's decision to try a fake field goal before halftime and a wasted challenge in the fourth quarter that cost Seattle a timeout may have been just enough to tilt the scales in the direction of the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

The failed fake left three points on the board before halftime. The wasted challenge on an incompletion thrown to Doug Baldwin left Seattle with zero timeouts for their final possession instead of at least one stoppage to help the offense move the ball down the field.

Of course, there's no guarantee that the game plays out exactly the same way if those decisions were handled a different way, but given the circumstances of the 34-31 loss, the errors are glaring.

And with the loss to the Falcons, the Seahawks currently find themselves outside of the playoff picture with just six weeks remaining in the regular season and difficult matchups with Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Dallas and the Los Angeles Rams still on the schedule.

Here are four takeaways from Monday night's loss to the Falcons:

1. Timing, situation were the issues with the fake field goal try.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a fake field goal attempt. There's even nothing inherently wrong with the specific fake field goal Seattle tried against the Falcons with seven seconds remaining in the second quarter.

What is wrong was that the risk/reward ratio for such a call in that instance was severely weighted in a negative direction before the play was even snapped. With seven seconds left in the first half and Seattle trailing 24-17, Blair Walsh set up for a 35-yard field goal try.

Instead, the Seahawks ran a fake involving a shovel pass from Jon Ryan to Luke Willson that was blown up in the backfield by Grady Jarrett.

"It was something we saw that we wanted to do," Carroll said. "It was a terrific opportunity right where we wanted it. The defensive tackle made a better play. He wasn't supposed to be there.

From the kicker's vantage point, Jarrett lined up on the left side of long snapper Tyler Ott. When the ball was snapped, Jarrett jumped over a gap and came through the line over the right side of Ott. With guard Mark Glowinski pulling to kick out the cornerback on the end of the line, Jarrett had a free shot at tight end Luke Willson as he was catching the pass from Jon Ryan. 

"It was kind of a look that we were waiting for," Willson said. "It's something that they've done all year. I don't know why, but for this game they changed it up and it was a first time thing for them so obviously it didn't work."

The play absolutely had a chance to work. Outside of Jarrett, the play was blocked perfectly with Glowinski making his block on the edge, Ethan Pocic and Nick Vannett sealing an alley toward the end zone for Willson to romp through. But you can't take Jarrett out of the picture and he did wreck the whole play.

The issue is that with seven seconds left in the half, too many things could go wrong. The play could have worked, Willson could have been stopped short of the goal line and the quarter expires without a chance to get the kick off on the next play. Willson could have fumbled and given Atlanta a run back opportunity to end the half and double their lead.

"We knew exactly what was going on," Carroll said. "We figured we were going to break it and it was a matter of giving ourselves another shot. If we score, we keep it, and if not we get out of bounds.

"That was being aggressive and going for it and trying to get a touchdown there."

The only way the play gets the payoff to be successful is with a touchdown. It didn't happen and the three points left on the board came back to haunt the Seahawks.

2. Falcons were far too successful on third down offensively against Seattle's tattered secondary.

The Falcons didn't put up prolific offensive numbers against Seattle on Monday night, but one area where they made a big difference was converting third downs to prolong possessions. 

Atlanta converted 9-of-14 chances on third down in the game, including converting 8-of-10 chances through the first three quarters. The majority of the conversions came against man-to-man coverage from the Seahawks.

"A couple times penalties and he scrambled for a couple third downs," cornerback Byron Maxwell said. "Julio made some plays but that's going to happen. We just got to get off the field. Penalties hurt. The one big one when he ran, that was big too."

Seattle did get three stops on third downs in the fourth quarter, but all three of Atlanta's touchdown drives were sustained by at least one third down conversion of at least five yards.

"It was critical," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "It allowed them to stay on the field, it allowed them to make plays when they needed to. We had to do a better job of getting off the field and getting the offense the ball back. They just did a good job. We hurt ourselves a couple times with penalties on third down, but you've got to give them credit. They did a good job."

It didn't help that Shaquill Griffin was knocked out of the game with a concussion after just two defensive plays, which forced Maxwell into full-time duty in his first game back with Seattle. However, Jeremy Lane was perhaps the prime target Atlanta attacked in various man-to-man situations.

The Falcons only managed 279 yards of total offense and Matt Ryan was held to under 200 yards passing for the first time in 64 games when the Seahawks kept him under 200 yards in Nov. 2013 as well.

Atlanta's rushing game was fairly benign, the passing attack didn't create explosive plays like Houston did last month either, but the inability to get off the field was the biggest problem the defense had on Monday night.

3. Russell Wilson's two turnovers overshadow an otherwise solid outing.

Russell Wilson continues to show how special a player he can be on a weekly basis with his ability to run, throw and create something miraculous out of something seemingly disastrous. However, his two early turnovers were critical for a team clearly not at its full strength.

After Atlanta quickly jumped out to a 7-0 lead, Wilson was intercepted by Desmond Trufant on a ball thrown way behind receiver Tyler Lockett. The interception set up another Atlanta touchdown on a 2-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Mohammed Sanu to give the Falcons an early 14-0 cushion.

After Wilson and Jimmy Graham connected on a 4-yard touchdown to get Seattle on the board late in the first quarter, Wilson fumbled while being sacked by Takkarist McKinley. The loose ball was picked up and returned for a 10-yard touchdown by Adrian Clayborn to again extend the Falcons advantage to 14 points.

For an offense struggling to find a running game and a defense playing without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the secondary, it put Seattle at a significant disadvantage.

Wilson played stellar for most of the rest of the game. He had 258 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interceptions and led Seattle in rushing with 86 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. But with the margin for error almost completely gone for the Seahawks due to injuries, every mistake Wilson makes is amplified. Losing the football on a fumble and missing a receiver for an interception are two instances that hurt Seattle on Monday night.

4. Tyler Lockett has best return night of the season.

Lockett hasn't seemed to truly be back to his pre-injury form all season. While still plenty healthy enough to play and contribute, that extra burst just hasn't seemed to be there most of the year.

But Lockett looked as close to his old self as he has all season on Monday night. Lockett averaged 39.4 yards per kickoff return against the Falcons, including a 57-yard return on his first chance of the night. He only had one return all night that went for less than 37 yards.

"It was great to see that," Carroll said. "... We know Lockett's a terrific returner. It's just been like the lid's been on it all year long so to get him a chance tonight was great. He was pretty much controlling the field for us. It was a great job by him."

Lockett also caught four passes for 37 yards, but it was his contributions in the return game that helped Seattle's offense get started. The Seahawks' average drive start was at their 36-yard line, 11 yards ahead of the touchback threshold of the 25.

Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 20: Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll throws a flag to challenge an incomplete pass call, but the call is upheld in the fourth quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field on November 20, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. The Atlanta Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks, 34-31. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images)

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