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Originally published October 19, 2014 at 5:01 PM | Page modified October 20, 2014 at 1:12 PM

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Special teams breakdowns doom Seahawks against Rams

If a truth emerged from Seattle’s 28-26 loss Sunday against the Rams, the players inside the Seahawks’ locker room had no trouble finding it. “Special teams killed us all day,” safety Earl Thomas said.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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ST. LOUIS — If a truth emerged from Seattle’s 28-26 loss Sunday against the Rams, the players inside the Seahawks’ locker room had no trouble finding it.

“Special teams killed us all day,” said safety Earl Thomas, who plays on kickoff coverage.

Linebacker Mike Morgan, one of Seattle’s leaders on special teams, agreed.

“We didn’t play to our standard, I’ll tell you that,” Morgan said. “Special teams gave up a lot of big plays. It just wasn’t good enough.”

In fact, it could be argued that the biggest plays of the game happened on special teams, a phase in which the Seahawks are usually solid. But the Rams burned Seattle time and again with deception, trickery and just pure execution.

The Rams returned a kickoff 75 yards in the first quarter, which led to their first touchdown. They pulled off a perfect sleight of hand on a punt-return touchdown in the second quarter. And they completed a pass on a fake punt deep in their territory that helped them run out the clock in the fourth quarter.

The Seahawks keep a list of special-teams goals on a board inside their locker room, and it’s likely that list won’t feature many check marks this week.

“We were flat in all phases of special teams,” said Thomas. “We didn’t help. I’m pretty sure we didn’t reach any goals.”

The Seahawks knew the Rams are an aggressive team on special teams, and they knew St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher is willing to roll the dice.

They even knew something was amiss when the Rams took the field to punt with just less than three minutes left in the game.

The Seahawks didn’t know exactly what rabbit the Rams had up their sleeve, but Seahawks defensive back DeShawn Shead said the Seahawks were on “high alert.”

Still, St. Louis punter and former Bothell High School quarterback Johnny Hekker completed an 18-yard pass to Benny Cunningham.

“A very gutsy play by Jeff, the way he’s done it in the past,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We prepared for it, and they came up with a couple of good things against us.”

Carroll added: “We didn’t think they would do it in that situation. It is one that we have covered like crazy lots of times.”

The Rams’ punt return for a touchdown happened courtesy of some trickery. Tavon Austin, St. Louis’ speedy returner, was deep to receive the punt. With the punt in the air, he floated to one side of the field and set up like he was going to field the ball.

But Seahawks punter Jon Ryan actually had kicked the ball to the other side of the field, and Stedman Bailey, one of St. Louis’ gunners, peeled off his block and fielded the punt over his shoulder, far away from all but one of Seattle’s defenders. The rest of Seattle’s coverage team had zeroed in on Austin, leaving Bailey fairly alone to score down the other sideline on a 90-yard return.

Fisher said he had seen the Bears run a similar play with Devin Hester six or seven years ago and kept it in his back pocket.

Carroll said Ryan punted the ball to the correct spot. The problem was that Seattle’s coverage team focused on Austin instead of trusting where Ryan was supposed to punt the ball.

“We should have known where we were kicking that ball,” Morgan said. “He kicked it to the right spot. We got caught looking at the returner. I was the only one over there and I had two defenders on me. I tried to turn it back but nobody was there. Just bad football.”

One of Seattle’s coaches in the press box thought they saw Austin signal for a fair catch, which would have nullified the return, and Carroll immediately protested with the officials.

“I think it was when he was falling down he kind of flailed his arms and we were trying to get a call out of that,” Carroll said.

The Seahawks’ special teams played a key role in repeatedly pinning Washington deep two weeks ago, and they were a big reason Seattle had a chance to beat Dallas late in the fourth quarter a week ago.

But the normally sound unit broke against the Rams.

“We knew what we were getting ourselves into coming into the game,” Thomas said. “We just didn’t make the plays.”

Three not-so-special moments
The Seahawks had some costly breakdowns on special teams Sunday:
Time of gamePlayResult
19:01 left in first quarterBenny Cunningham runs kickoff back 75 yardsSets up short drive, first Rams touchdown
27:24 left in second quarterRams fake out Seahawks on Jon Ryan puntStedman Bailey is left alone on 90-yard punt return touchdown
32:53 left in fourth quarterRams run fake punt from own 18-yard linePunter Johnny Hekker completes 18-yard pass to Cunningham


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