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Originally published September 11, 2011 at 8:04 PM | Page modified September 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM

Steve Kelley

Scuffling special teams cost Seahawks

Leon Washington, the Seahawks' special teams co-captain, was angry at and surprised by the performance of his guys in Sunday's season-opening 33-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It was his unit that broke down. It was his team that committed penalties and robbed the offense of field position.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Do the fairweather fans here watch the games before commenting? The defense was great... Read more
quotes Offense: D Defense: B Special Teams: CLUELESS And T-Joke didn't realize the field... Read more
quotes Wow blaming this loss on the Special Teams would seem like the obvious thing to do... Read more

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SAN FRANCISCO — "Blame it on me," Leon Washington said, being much too self-critical. "It's on me."

Washington, the Seahawks' special teams co-captain and a premier kick returner, was angry at and surprised by the performance of his guys in Sunday's season-opening 33-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

It was his unit that broke down. It was his team that committed penalties and robbed the offense of field position.

The special teams were scorched twice by returns from Ted Ginn late in the game when the momentum had profoundly swung toward the Seahawks.

This was one the Seahawks could have won, maybe even should have won. It was a rare, winnable game in the brutal early part of their schedule.

"Mike Rob (Michael Robinson) and me are the special-teams captains, and I can tell you, that's not us," Washington said, dressing quickly and beginning to pull his suitcase toward the team's bus. "We had a bunch of flags in our return game and our coverage game didn't cover well at all.

"That's not us. We win games because of special teams. We don't lose them."

The Seahawks had come from a 16-0 halftime deficit and trailed only 19-17 with 3:56 to go, when Ginn fielded Steven Hauschka's kickoff 2 yards deep in the end zone.

Quickly Ginn cut to the right and found a drag racer's gear that only the great returners have. He outran the Seahawks' coverage for a 102-yard touchdown.

"There's no excuse for a guy running a kickoff back for a touchdown," Seahawks safety and special-teamer Atari Bigby said.

A minute later, Ginn took a punt, roared up the middle and ran undeniably into the end zone for a 55-yard score.

"We don't have any excuses," Earl Thomas said. "You're supposed to do what you're coached to do and if you do, things will be all right. We can't let a game like this slip through our fingers, especially when the momentum had shifted to us. It's hard enough winning road games as it is. We had a chance to win the ballgame and we didn't do it."

The special teams' failure was shocking. Brilliant special teams play was one of the Seahawks' signatures last season. Washington's two kick returns against San Diego won an early-season home game against the Chargers.

If this season's special teams had played with the abandon of last season's special teams, the Hawks would be 1-0 heading into angry Pittsburgh next Sunday.

In part, the collapse of the special teams could be blamed on the lockout. New players in strange places still are getting to know each other. And partly it could be blamed on injuries. Co-captain Robinson left the game early with a sprained ankle.

But after the game, Washington wasn't in an excuse-making mood.

"If we're looking for an excuse, put it on me and Mike Rob," Washington said. "Just say Leon Washington and Mike Rob let the team down because we didn't perform well on special teams and we didn't hold our guys accountable.

"Our special-team unit is really good. This is not who we are. I don't really know what happened, if guys got tired or didn't focus enough, but the effort wasn't there."

Ginn's two touchdowns were just the most dramatic examples of the Seahawks' foundering special teams. The breakdowns were everywhere.

Washington misplayed the game's first punt. Malcolm Smith was called for holding on a second-quarter kickoff.

Both Matt McCoy and Justin Forsett were flagged on a third-quarter punt return that forced the Seahawks to start a drive at their 15. And Bigby was called for an illegal block above the waist on the next punt return.

"One thing that we take pride in is effort," Washington said. "I want to take a look on the film to see if we had maximum effort, because it seemed like nobody could make a play when we had to make a play.

"A lot of guys went down and we had to fill in a bunch of spots. I had to go on the kick-coverage team, but we didn't do well at all. Guys didn't do their jobs and that's very disappointing. We don't have to change anything. We just have to go out and give a better effort."

Sunday's effort cost the Hawks a game that will haunt them for the next four months. This was a win that wiggled off the hook.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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