- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2020

LANDOVER — Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll marveled at Washington’s defensive line. After his team’s 20-15 victory at FedEx Field, Carroll praised the speed at which the line played and the talent up front.

“They have four No.1s,” Carroll said. “They’re hauling [expletive] at you.”

Despite the praise and another solid performance from the defense as a whole, the unit was unable to overcome a slow start that proved costly in the loss. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson went without being sacked and the Seahawks rushed for 181 yards on 26 carries as Washington’s four-game winning streak was snapped.

The Seahawks scored 10 points less than their season total (30.5), but their 20-3 lead was too much for Washington to overcome. With quarterback Dwayne Haskins filling for an injured Alex Smith, the defense could hardly afford any lapses. But that’s what happened, especially when Seahawks running back Carlos Hyde broke free for a 50-yard touchdown just after halftime.

“I feel like we hurt ourselves more than anything,” Washington defensive tackle Daron Payne said. “Coming out slow with a couple big plays.”

Added coach Ron Rivera: “When you go and look at it — we’ll see it on tape (Monday) — there were some missed chances. We had some plays that we could’ve made that could have impacted the game.”

Last week, Washington was getting national recognition for its defense. NFL Network analyst Kyle Brandt called the team’s defensive line one of the three “most fearsome” in the sport. ESPN’s Dominique Foxworth said Washington could possibly compete for a Super Bowl next season thanks to the strength of the defense.

Seattle, though, represented a real test for Washington. The Seahawks were the team’s first opponent since Week 5 — a one-sided loss to the Los Angeles Rams — with a top-10 offense. Entering Sunday’s game, the Seahawks were third in points and sixth in total yards per game.

Wilson, especially, figured to be a challenge. The 32-year-old was an MVP candidate earlier this season for good reason. Despite his 5-foot-11 stature, Wilson has one of the best pocket presences in football — and his ability to extend plays outside of the pocket makes him a nightmare for most defenses.

Earlier this season, Washington struggled against mobile quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, and, to a lesser extent, Daniel Jones. All three had scrambled out of the pocket and torched Washington on long runs. Asked about stopping Wilson on Friday, Rivera said he believed Washington was a better, more disciplined team than earlier in the year.

But on Sunday, Wilson’s mobility gave Washington fits. He escaped for a 38-yard run and his ability to keep plays alive resulted in a 10-yard touchdown for Seattle on third-and-7. On the latter, Rivera said he wished the defense had “bowed their necks” to force a field goal.

Washington’s defense, too, had to adapt as the unit was missing a pair of starting linebackers. The team was without Cole Holcomb (concussion) and Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle). Shaun Dion Hamilton and fifth-rounder Khaleke Hudson got the start instead. Rivera said he thought the linebackers got “more and more comfortable” throughout the game.

The entire unit buckled down after Hyde’s touchdown. For the rest of the game, Washington allowed just 52 yards — and even forced a turnover that resulted in the offense scoring a touchdown. With 11:24 left, Wilson’s pass was tipped — well, blocked — by pass-rusher Montez Sweat and grabbed by Payne to give Washington the ball at the team’s 36-yard line.

Later, Washington’s defense forced a three-and-out that gave the team the ball back with under six minutes left for a chance to get the go-ahead score.

“We made things happen,” Rivera said. “We had an opportunity to win and we didn’t. That’s the disappointing part.”

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