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Originally published September 9, 2012 at 9:31 PM | Page modified September 9, 2012 at 10:35 PM

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Seahawks' fourth-quarter failures familiar, costly

Seattle must learn to close out games better to avoid the problems that cost the team several wins in 2011.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just like you expected, the 2012 Seahawks debuted in the same fashion they ended last season.

Yep, they came up Russell Wilson in the fourth quarter — short.

Late-game execution is the least-discussed aspect of the way 2011 concluded. It's glossed over because the dominant storyline is far more uplifting. The Seahawks closed the year with a 5-3 record, finding strength in a formidable defense and rugged run game. But they also lost their final two games with oh-so-close disappointment, and overall, six of their nine losses a year ago were decided late in the fourth quarter.

On Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, where they lost an overtime heartbreaker to end 2011, the Seahawks did it again in a 20-16 loss to Arizona, even with a new quarterback and a more polished team. They've done enough to earn a platinum broken record for their fourth-quarter woes.

And so Pete Carroll's first year of big expectations starts with a major bugaboo. The Seahawks lost despite knocking the Cardinals' starting quarterback, John Skelton, out of the game with 8:18 remaining and while holding a 16-13 lead. They lost despite running seven plays inside the red zone in the final 52 seconds. They lost despite having first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, despite a spirited comeback from a 13-3 deficit and despite receiving an extra timeout on the final drive because replacement referee Bruce Hermansen got confused.

"I thought this was a really indicative game of the league," Carroll said. "The margin is just so slight."

For the Seahawks, that slight margin will be the difference between a third straight losing season and a playoff appearance. The NFL is legislated for parity, and every team must win its share of close games to be successful. The Seahawks might be an exaggerated example because the grind-it-out style they employ dictates low-scoring, tight games.

In this season opener, they were as close as Wilson's bullet to Doug Baldwin in the end zone with 47 seconds remaining. But a diving, fully-extended Baldwin couldn't hold onto the pass. On Arizona's drive for the go-ahead touchdown, they were as close as an iffy pass-interference call on cornerback Richard Sherman from likely thwarting danger.

"Too close," said wide receiver Sidney Rice, who had four receptions, including a 10-yard catch in the third quarter that accounted for the Seahawks' only touchdown. "As close as you can get. We had ample opportunity."

Close won't fulfill increased expectations, however.

This was neither the ending nor the performance the Seahawks had hoped for to start the year. They had become a trendy playoff pick. Wilson, a 5-foot-11 rookie quarterback, made national headlines after winning the Seahawks' well-publicized competition. If you closed your eyes and absorbed all the optimism, it would probably make you levitate. Well, now you've been reintroduced to gravity.

Splat.

The end was bitter, but the Seahawks weren't sharp the entire game, particularly on offense. Wilson, under pressure all afternoon, completed only 18 of 34 passes for 153 yards and was sacked three times. When he had time, receivers had trouble getting open. The offensive play-calling was suspect, and the team produced only 254 total yards. The Seahawks also committed 13 of the 23 penalties in this flag-flogged affair.

If not for a defense that got progressively stingier and stellar special-teams play, the Seahawks wouldn't have been in a position to win at the end. Leon Washington was fantastic in the second half, returning a kickoff 83 yards to set up the Seahawks' only touchdown and returning a punt 52 yards that lead to Steven Hauschka's 39-yard field goal, which gave the Seahawks a 16-13 lead.

The Seahawks defense held Arizona to just 253 yards, only 99 in the second half. But after Brandon Mebane fell on Skelton's right ankle in the fourth quarter and forced him to leave on a cart, the "D" allowed Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals' $21-million backup quarterback, to finish an 80-yard drive. Kolb was 6 of 8 for 66 yards, including the game-winning touchdown pass to Andre Roberts with 4:59 remaining. An elite defense can't give up a touchdown with the Cardinals reeling.

"They just got in a rhythm at the end," safety Earl Thomas said. "We didn't get it done, and we've got to communicate better."

They've got to finish, period. Perhaps this was merely an early-season lesson. Perhaps Wilson needed this experience to spur his development. Or perhaps the Seahawks are living dangerously depending on a rookie quarterback to break them of their bad habits in the clutch.

It's the end of 2011 all over again, the good and the bad. After one week, the bad has established itself as a resilient burden.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.

First career starts
How Russell Wilson's first start compares to some famous Seahawks quarterbacks.
Player Date Passing TD Int.
Russell Wilson Sept. 9, 2012 18-34, 153 yds 1 1
Matt Hasselbeck Sept. 9, 2001 20-34, 178 yds 0 2
Jon Kitna Dec. 14, 1997 23-37, 283 yds 1 2
Dave Krieg Dec. 6, 1981 20-26, 264 yds 2 3
Jim Zorn Sept. 12, 1976 17-37, 292 yds 2 2

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