From the Sidelines

Perhaps Carroll loves his club because there’s still so much potential growth on the horizon, the team at 5-5, alone in first place of the NFC West and still having yet to hit its stride. Six games remain for the Seahawks to do just that.

The Superdome was a land of opportunities on Sunday.

The Seahawks just happened to miss most of them.

Whether because of the top-caliber competition or old-fashioned mistakes — and sometimes both — Seattle couldn’t put it together in a 34-19 loss to the Saints on Sunday. But it’s not like they weren’t trying. In all three phases of the game, no matter how much effort the Seahawks put in, the breaks and bounces just wouldn’t go their way, and the final score showed it.

“We had all kinds of chances,” Coach Pete Carroll, shaking his head, said in the locker room after the game.

The ever-positive coach, though, brought light to the result. Carroll lauded his players for their toughness and effort, which kept the Seahawks in relative striking distance until the final few minutes.

“I love the way you fought,” Carroll told his players following the defeat. “We battled so hard. I love this team and what we have in this room.”

Perhaps Carroll loves his club because there’s still so much potential growth on the horizon, the team at 5-5, alone in first place of the NFC West and still having yet to hit its stride. Six games remain for the Seahawks to do just that.

“We’re still growing,” Carroll said during Saturday night’s team meeting, Sunday’s game serving as another key lesson in the season-long development. “We’re still facing the challenges.”

The matchup in New Orleans was one of those challenges — and boy was it a challenge. Carroll called the Saints “the real deal” because they are defending Super Bowl champions and have “great players, great coaches and a great stadium.”

Too bad the Seahawks couldn’t manufacture enough of pretty much everything to rise up and overcome that challenge.

From back-breaking bad breaks to shot-in-the-foot plays, Seattle oftentimes found itself in a hole that was ultimately too deep to climb out of. Let’s count the ways and play a little game of “what if?”:

Once again, the Seahawks struggled scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. Both Seattle and New Orleans scored five times on Sunday — but the Saints scored five touchdowns while the Seahawks reached the end zone just once, kicking three-pointers the other four times. Say you score touchdowns on just half of those four field goals, you’re looking at eight more points and a one-touchdown game during the fourth quarter.
Marshawn Lynch’s two fumbles in the second half, stalling two momentum-gaining drives in Saints territory. Remove the fumbles, and the Seahawks could be looking at two more touchdowns — or at least two more field goals, and a one-possession game at the end of the fourth.
With the Seahawks down 21-13 near the end of the first half, the defense had apparently held the Saints on third down with 1:27 remaining, setting up a last-minute drive for the Seattle offense to close the gap. But a roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end Raheem Brock gave New Orleans a first down, which it capitalized on to score a touchdown three plays later. Instead of — at the very minimum — a single-digit halftime deficit, the Seahawks faced a 27-16 disadvantage at the break.
The bad breaks continued after intermission. On the first play of the second half, safety Earl Thomas broke up a short pass over the middle, which could have been intercepted by several Seahawks as it flew high into the air. Instead, New Orleans scored a touchdown on the drive, pushing the score to 34-16. An interception would’ve put Seattle near the red zone and would’ve resulted in a 14- or 10-point turnaround.
Yet another occurrence happened after the Seahawks had closed the gap to 15 points during the fourth quarter. Kicker Olindo Mare hit a beautiful onside kick, New Orleans fumbled it and Lawyer Milloy recovered it cleanly, giving the Seahawks the ball with 5:26 remaining and plenty of momentum in their favor. Or so they thought. Milloy had stepped out of bounds, making his recovery an illegal touching penalty and sapping all good-feeling the Seattle bench was gaining.
As many breaks that went against the Seahawks, mistakes became a theme as well. Seattle had five more penalties and 55 more penalty yards than New Orleans in the game.
The Seahawks defense struggled mightily against the New Orleans offense on do-or-die third downs. The Saints converted 11 of 15 third downs, three of which were 3rd-and-10 or longer.
On an afternoon when Matt Hasselbeck (32-for-44, 366 yards) went nose-to-nose with Pro Bowler Drew Brees (29-for-43, 382 yards), the Seahawks couldn’t get much else pieced together. The breaks just weren’t going their direction.

“We’re so much better than the way we’re playing,” Carroll said at halftime, but could’ve said postgame as well. “We’ve got to play football and not give them anything.”

They know they didn’t live up to expectations, but that’s the exciting thing — they’ve got so much room to improve during the homestretch of the 2010 season.

So where do they go from here? Fortunately for the Seahawks, home.

Four of the final six contests are at Qwest Field, a boon for a team that has hit bust in three of its last four games.

“We get to go home now and we’ve got to play good football,” Carroll told his team. “We’re going to go home and get rolling, because there’s no doubt we can.”

Now Seattle heads back for two straight games at Qwest with a one-game lead in the NFC West.

“We’ve got to own first place,” Carroll told his players, beckoning their attention to the final six contests.

So the Seahawks, encouraged by the fight and effort they showed on Sunday in New Orleans and armed with the hard lessons learned through the season’s first 10 games, move forward into the final portion of the 2010 campaign. There’s room to grow, and the Seahawks know it — and are heartened by it.

“Stay together, stay tight,” Carroll said to conclude his postgame address. “We’re still getting better.”