This one was over almost before it started.
Missing key players on both sides of the ball -- including free safety Earl Thomas, cornerback DeShawn Shead and center Justin Britt -- the Seattle Seahawks traveled to the Gulf Coast to take on quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receiver Mike Evans and the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a squad coming off an impressive road win over Kansas City last week.
Winston and Evans came out on fire, all but putting away the Seahawks in the first quarter, then holding on for the 14-5 victory.
"I thought that was a really good showing by Tampa Bay," head coach Pete Carroll said after the game. "They outplayed us."
The loss dropped Seattle to 7-3-1 on the season, but with the Arizona Cardinals' loss to Atlanta, the Seahawks still hold a three-game lead in the NFC West with five games left to play.
The Seahawks will return home to regroup, (hopefully) get healthy and prepare for next weeks' Sunday night matchup with the Carolina Panthers, but before we turn the page on this one, here are our quick takeaways:
1. Early third-down conversion fuel Tampa's hot start
Tampa Bay embarked on an long journey down the field in its opening drive, moving 78 yards in 14 plays for the game's opening score after a possession that took nearly half of the first quarter.
The drive hinged on a huge third-down conversion, when facing third-and-12 from the Tampa Bay 44-yard line, Winston threw a perfect pass to the 6-foot-5 Evans over an outstretched Bobby Wagner for a 26-yard gain to extend the drive. Seven plays later, Winston found Evans in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown that made the score 7-0.
After a three-and-out from Seattle, the Bucs again faced another key third down early in the game, with running back Doug Martin going 10 yards on a screen pass on third-and-8 from the Tampa Bay 40. Winston then completed back to back passes to tight end Cameron Brate and Evans for 27 and 23 yards, respectively -- the second for Evans' second touchdown of the game, which victimized Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman made the score 14-0.
The 14-point deficit with three minutes left in the first quarter was the Seahawks' largest of the season, and though Seattle didn't allow Tampa Bay back into the red zone until the fourth quarter, the hold proved too deep to climb out of.
"They did everything, and they looked great," Carroll said of Tampa's first two drives. "From that point on, 14 points is going to win you games. We understand that. Defense played great the rest of the game to keep us close."
2. Young line whipped
If the Buccaneers offense got of to a scintillating start, the Seahawks attack was stone cold in large part to their offensive line.
With sixth-round pick Joey Hunt making his first career start at center in place of an injured Justin Britt, the Seahawks featured three rookies on the first-team unit -- Hunt, right guard Germain Ifedi and left tackle George Fant. The inexperience showed, as the line allowed four sacks in the first half, the most the team had given up in an entire game since their Week 9 win over Buffalo.
Fant, the undrafted rookie who played only one year of college football at Western Kentucky, was repeatedly victimized by Tampa Bay rookie Noah Spence, who beat Fant for 1.5 sacks. First-round pick Ifedi struggled mightily against four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, allowing 1.5 sacks.
Third-year right tackle Garry Gilliam, the starting unit's most senior member on Sunday, apparently didn't fare any better in Seattle's coaches' eyes, as he was replaced by swing tackle Bradley Sowell early in the first half.
Tampa Bay ended the contest with six sacks, the most given up by Seattle this season, and 11 hits on Wilson.
"They rushed the heck out of us," Carroll said. "It wasn't any one situation at all. They did a really nice job and we didn't protect like we need to."
3. Wilson's legs > Wilson's arm
Seattle's offense was dreadful on Sunday, compiling 245 net yards, including just 118 through the air. The Seahawks didn't convert the first of their 11 third-down opportunities until just over two minutes remaining in the second half.
It's hard to take away any positives from such a performance, but if there was one to be had, it was Wilson -- not for one of the worst passing games in his career, but for his ability to run the ball. Running for his life for much of the game, the fifth-year pro rushed for a season-high 80 yards on eight carries, easily surpassing his previous high of 16 set in Week 1.
"I was able to get some big runs in there, but I don't care about the stats," Wilson said. "I want to win."
Wilson's efficiency on the ground helped make up for an unremarkable game from Thomas Rawls, who managed just 38 yards on 12 carries despite doing well to evade tacklers in the backfield on many of his carries.
Wilson looks fully recovered from the ankle and knee injuries that hobbled him early in the season, but if the line isn't able to play better than it did on Sunday, the Seahawks will have to face the real possibility of Wilson getting banged up yet again.
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