LOS ANGELES — In any other year — on any other ankles — Russell Wilson might have pulled off this one, too.
The relentless quarterback came within 35 yards in the final minute of another comeback victory Sunday. But between the Seahawks’ new, sputtering line and Wilson playing on a sprained ankle, he can’t mask all of Seattle’s offensive ills. Not every week.
And not this week in a 9-3 loss to the Rams at a packed, roaring LA Memorial Coliseum.
Wilson’s 53-yard strike down the left side to Tyler Lockett, who had spent most of the final three quarters on the sideline with a knee injury, got Seattle from its own 12 to the Rams 35 in the final minute. It felt like a repeat of Wilson’s 86-yard drive for the winning score the previous week against Miami.
“I thought I should have kept my knees up so I could have broken the tackle (for the winning touchdown),” Lockett said, even though one of those knees was sprained.
“I thought we still had a chance.”
But on third down, Christine Michael tried to bull through two Rams for a first down at the Los Angeles 25. Safety Mark Barron knocked the ball from Michael. Linebacker Alec Ogletree recovered the fumble. And the Seahawks lost their first game of the young season.
“We know we are better than this,” tight end Jimmy Graham said outside his sweltering locker room, following his three catches for 42 of Seattle’s 306 yards.
Magic Johnson, the city’s mayor, Olympic hero Greg Louganis and the pregame-playing Red Hot Chili Peppers turned out among 91,046 for the NFL’s first regular-season game in this city since 1994.
They saw the fewest points by the Seahawks in five years — and the Rams beat Seattle for the third consecutive time.
“Really disappointed,” coach Pete Carroll said of his return to the stadium in which he restored a dynasty for USC.
“To come out and play like that, not give us a real shot to get ahead was tough. … I never thought we’d go the first couple weeks having scored one touchdown.”
The Seahawks (1-1) managed their fewest points since Oct. 23, 2011, a 6-3 loss at Cleveland. That was in Carroll’s second season leading Seattle, his only one in which the Seahawks didn’t reach the playoffs.
Again, the defense did its job. Los Angeles gained 283 yards and managed just three field goals, yet won for the fourth time in five meetings in this division series.
The Seahawks had won their last 19 games when holding opponents to that many yards or fewer. The last such loss: Oct. 19, 2014 — to the Rams.
Seattle has allowed 19 points and one touchdown this season. Asked if he is happy with how the defense has played through two games, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett said: “I’ve been happy with the way this defense has played for five years.
“We played great defense. We just have to play better as a team.”
Specifically, on offense.
Carroll said his line with new starters in four of the five positions and a fill-in guard, J’Marcus Webb, playing right guard for injured No. 1 draft choice Germain Ifedi is not the issue.
The coach thinks the issue is not converting on third downs. The Seahawks were 4 for 13 Sunday and are 9 for 29 (31 percent) through two games.
They were 46.5 percent converting third downs to extend drives last season.
The NFC West-rival Rams (1-1) looked awful in losing their opener last week 28-0 at San Francisco. They weren’t a ton better Sunday.
But the Seahawks were even worse.
Wilson’s gimpy ankle kept him from eluding swarming defenders and extending plays as he often does.
New lead back Thomas Rawls started for the first time since he broke his ankle in December — but left for good in the first half after he got kicked in the leg. He finished with seven carries for minus-7 yards.
That’s not good.
Michael had 60 yards rushing but didn’t get to run it consistently — just 10 times in Seattle’s 61 offensive plays. An offense that averaged 141.8 yards rushing led by now-retired Marshawn Lynch and Rawls last season is averaging 84.5 yards on the ground through two games. They’ve been against two of the better defensive fronts Seattle will face all this season.
The Seahawks had 12 penalties called on them. They appeared to get a big stop with 2 1/2 minutes left in the game when Cassius Marsh sacked Los Angeles’ Case Keenum. But Marsh grabbed the quarterback’s facemask while doing it. Instead of fourth and Gardena, the Rams got a first down near midfield — and forced Seattle to start its next drive at its own 12 with 1:53 left instead of nearer midfield with more time left.
“That was huge,” Carroll said of the call.
Marsh was incredulous.
“I didn’t get any explanation. I didn’t grasp any facemask. There was no pulling his head; it didn’t twist in any way,” he said.
“Couldn’t have been a cleaner sack, to me. … That’s just the way this game is today (with quarterbacks protected by rules and officiating).”
First and 10 at the Rams’ 34 in the first half became first and 20 after consecutive false starts by left tackle Bradley Sowell and center Justin Britt. Then first and goal at the LA 3 became first down at the 13 because wide receiver Jermaine Kearse got called for pass interference by picking a defender in the end zone on an incomplete pass.
“Is this like the NBA: If you talk about the officiating (you get fine)?” Kearse asked.
“I would disagree.”
That drive ended with Seattle’s only points, Steven Hauschka’s tying, 23-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Los Angeles untied it after a blown coverage by the Seahawks on tight end Lance Kendricks’ long route behind linebacker Mike Morgan. Keenum rolled right then threw back left to Kendricks underneath a clear-out route that sent Seattle safety Earl Thomas deeper. The 44-yard pass set up Greg Zuerlein’s second field goal for the Rams’ 6-3 halftime lead.
“Trick play,” Thomas said, calling it “the only way they can beat us.”
Doug Baldwin and Lockett joined Rawls in going off injured under trainers’ watches in the first half. Lockett, who’d been targeted by Wilson on passes 11 times in the season’s first six quarters, did not return until late with what the Seahawks announced as a knee injury.
Baldwin said afterward in the Coliseum’s tunnel he “felt like crap” with back spasms on a hard hit he took following a third-down catch short of the line, as well as a knee that will require an MRI exam. His week before next Sunday’s home game against San Francisco (1-1 after a loss Sunday at Carolina) will be full of treatment for him.
Wilson was 22 for 35 passing for 254 yards.
Yes, this team has looked bad in recent early seasons — then rebounded with fantastic Decembers and into the playoffs the last four seasons, playing in two of the last three Super Bowls. It has earned the benefit of all your doubts right now.
Not that it makes you feel any better.