Larry Stone: With gut-wrenching loss to Cardinals, the Seahawks have reached their first moment of truth in 2020

©The Seattle Times

More than once this season, the prevailing sentiment after a heart-stopping Seahawks game has been: How in the world did they win that one?

On Sunday night, the take-away was precisely the opposite: How the heck did they lose it?

But maybe there should be a different conclusion, once you get past the sheer statistical improbability of the Seahawks blowing a 10-point halftime lead, which had never happened in the Russell Wilson era, and squandering a 10-point lead with under three minutes remaining in regulation, which hadn’t happened to anyone in the NFL in the previous 255 such games.

Not to mention the psychological shock of seeing Russell Wilson, the Crown Prince of Clutch, throwing three increasingly damaging interceptions and failing to convert two chances in overtime.

But maybe instead we should be wondering how this kind of outcome hadn’t happened earlier. Not in such a gruesome manner, to be sure. But the Seahawks have been giving broad hints of the vulnerabilities that could, and would, eventually rear their ugly headlines. This was a game that highlighted the flaws that had been whitewashed, or shoved into a dark corner, by the miracles of previous games.

So now, after this gut-punch of a 37-34 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks have reached their first moment of truth in 2020.

Before this point, it had been all accolades and praise. Now we’ll see how they handle their first taste of adversity — and they were served a giant, unsavory helping. It was the worst kind of loss, when victory seemed so certain at times and yet was snatched away, by virtue of their mistakes and with a finish that left them absolutely stunned.

We’ll see how the players handle it, and we’ll see how the front office reacts. Because if this doesn’t reveal the urgency for Seattle to acquire a pass rusher before the Nov. 3 NFL trade deadline (also known as election day), nothing will.

It’s hard to fathom, but the Seahawks didn’t have one quarterback hit on 48 dropbacks by Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. He’s obviously a diabolically difficult QB to bring down because of his elite quickness, but it’s not just this game in which this was an issue. The Seahawks’ ineffectual pass rush is the most glaring weakness of a defense that has yet to show it is anywhere close to championship caliber.

In recent days, the Cardinals have traded for linebacker Markus Golden from the New York Giants to compensate for the loss of sack-king Chandler Jones for the season. And the Ravens acquired Yannick Ngakoue from the Vikings to augment their rush.

I’m sure general manager John Schneider is scouring the rosters of teams that are already out of the playoff chase. It will be a challenging endeavor because of limited salary-cap space and the fact that the Seahawks have depleted their supply of draft picks to offer in deals. But Schneider has shown creativity in making deals; he has always been aggressive in situations like this. And the situation, when it comes to rushing the passer, is dire.

A loss like this was bound to happen eventually, of course, especially for a team that has been living as dangerously close to the edge. Yet until the very end, I felt Wilson would still find a way to finish off the win, because that’s what he does. But no one is infallible — not even Wilson, who was harsh on himself over the interceptions.

“I thought we played a great game except for those three plays, and those were my fault,” he said via Zoom after the game.

But it’s a dangerous formula to rely on Wilson’s ongoing magic to pull them through every crisis. It seemed he may have been trying to force things that weren’t there, and it was jarring to see the ball float into the hands of Cardinals defenders.

“We usually win games like this,” Wilson said. “That’s the reality. We usually win these close matchups. We’ve done it for years. Our confidence and our vision in who we’re going to be and who we are doesn’t change.”

The Seahawks have preached unwavering belief as the secret sauce that will help them prevail in tense times. But once they fail to prevail, as was the case Sunday, the challenge will be in re-establishing that mindset.

Or maybe it’s less about “belief” and more about simply not having players on defense capable of shutting down opponents. And when a team, after six games, remains on pace to give up more yards than any in NFL history, you have to scrutinize the schemes of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who has seen the defense rise to the occasion at crucial times this season to save victories, says he’s confident they can turn things around in the remaining 10 games.

“We have a lot of talent in our locker room,” he said. “We have a lot of guys coming back. We have the ability to improve. We just have to make our minds up. That’s it. No more talking. No more saying what we’re going to do; we have to go show it. So at this point I don’t have no words for you. It’s either we do it, or we don’t.”

It took seven weeks, but the moment of truth for the Seahawks has arrived.

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©2020 The Seattle Times