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Originally published Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 8:49 PM

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Seahawks' defensive breakdown was weeks in the making

As far as collapses go, this one was clearly a foreseeable catastrophe, given the number of starters missing from the Seahawks defense and just how much time that unit has spent on the field this season.

Seattle Times staff reporter

OAKLAND, Calif. — Seattle's defense functioned like a life preserver for the first two-and-a-half quarters.

It was the only reason the Seahawks stayed afloat in Sunday's game at Oakland. The offense went the first 27 minutes of the game without a first down, kicker Olindo Mare missed his first two field-goal attempts, and receiver Mike Williams dropped a third-quarter pass on the doorstep of the end zone. Despite all that, Seattle trailed just 13-3 midway through the third quarter.

"The score was relatively low for all that was happening," safety Lawyer Milloy said.

That's when the defense reached its breaking point — the Raiders broke the game open by scoring 20 points and gaining 290 yards over the final quarter-and-a-half.

As far as collapses go, this one was clearly a foreseeable catastrophe, given the number of starters missing from the Seahawks defense and just how much time that unit has spent on the field this season.

Seattle came into this game with defensive tackle Brandon Mebane inactive for the third consecutive contest because of a calf injury, and cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Walter Thurmond also out with injuries. Defensive end Red Bryant suffered a potentially serious knee injury in the second quarter, taking away another starter.

And still Seattle's defense kept the team in the game.

"The defense gave us a chance by just hanging," coach Pete Carroll said.

That's nothing new. The defense did the same during the season opener against San Francisco when the Seahawks offense not only went 20 minutes without a first down, but quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted on his first pass attempt.

The defense has provided a booster seat, generating nine of the 12 turnovers Seattle has benefited from at home.

But depleted by injuries and left on the field too long, that Seahawks defense finally snapped midway through the third quarter Sunday.

The Raiders gained more than 50 yards on three plays, all of them in the final 22 minutes.

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"They big-played us," Carroll said. "Down after down, we did all right, but they had explosive plays on us that got all their yardage going."

Sometimes it was fluky, like the pass from Jason Campbell that ricocheted off Darrius Heyward-Bey's knee to Jacoby Ford's hands and finally to Michael Bush for a 55-yard completion.

Sometimes it was just adept play-calling, like the 51-yard gain on a screen pass to former Washington Husky Marcel Reece.

Sometimes it was misdirection, like the flip to Darren McFadden that gained 20 yards off right tackle.

And when it was all over, the Seahawks had given up 545 yards, the most in eight years.

The statistics will say this is the game Seattle's defense showed its warts, but the reality is that after two months of carrying a disproportionate weight for the team's success, the defense finally — and foreseeably — suffered a breakdown.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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