SEATTLE -- One sight was so unfamiliarly uncomfortable it was hard to process — Seattle’s uber-durable quarterback Russell Wilson standing on the sideline with an injured middle finger on his right hand, unable to play.
Another was distressingly familiar — a defense that after a few bright moments early was stunningly feeble.
It added up to a potentially disastrous 26-17 defeat to the Rams Thursday night at Lumen Field that in more ways than one could be season-altering for a team that entered the year with Super Bowl hopes.
The impact of the loss of Wilson for any length of time hardly needs to be stated, even if veteran backup Geno Smith was maybe surprisingly effective in leading a 98-yard TD drive on his first possession.
But a defense that already ranked last in the NFL gave up touchdown drives of 96, 82 and 73 in the second half might prove just as deadly to the season as Seattle now has a hole to climb out of, falling to 2-3 and two games back of the 4-1 Rams in the NFC West — and possibly three of Arizona if the 4-0 Cardinals beat the 49ers Sunday.
Wilson was hurt on a second-and-14 play that snapped with 7:17 to play in the third quarter.
As Tyler Lockett broke open down the right seam Wilson was hit as he threw by Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Wilson could be seen holding up a bent middle finger on his throwing hand as the play ended with Lockett attempting to dive for an overthrown pass.
A third down run was stopped and Wilson then headed to the sidelines where he had the finger immediately examined by team trainers and taped.
While Wilson was being examined, the Rams drove 82 yards for another score to take a 16-7 lead, this one coming on a 13-yard pass from Stafford to tight end Tyler Higbee, who easily got separation from Jamal Adams, who struggled in coverage throughout.
After the kickoff, Wilson threw a few final passes and then grabbed his helmet and returned to the game.
Wilson completed a pass for 1 yard to Colby Parkinson on second down of the next possession but was sacked on third down.
After the Rams had to punt, Seattle took over at its own 2 and Geno Smith then came on for Wilson — the first time Wilson had missed a snap due to injury since 2017. He’d missed only two snaps in games that were competitive in his Seattle career.
Wilson, who has 145 career starts — the second-longest active streak in the NFL — had last missed a play due to injury in a 2017 game against Arizona. He also was removed from a game against the 49ers in 2016 when Seattle had a 27-3 lead after hurting his knee and missed a play in the opener in 2016 against Miami to have his ankle taped.
Otherwise, one of the things that has set Seattle apart from the rest of the NFL since 2012 is knowing Wilson would always be available.
Now, with a season already at a crisis point, Wilson’s availability is in question.
Much to the delight of a stunned crowd expecting the worst, Smith immediately began to move the Seahawks, completing his first four passes for 44 yards to the Rams 23.
There, on a first down, Smith then hit a wide open DK Metcalf in the left corner of the end zone for a TD that cut the Rams lead to 16-14 with 9:16 to play.
Smith was 5-for-5 passing on the drive for 72 yards and also ran once for six yards as the Seahawks moved 98 yards overall.
The Rams, though, immediately drove 73 yards for another score to make it 23-14 with 6:08 remaining.
Smith again moved Seattle on its next drive, with the Seahawks getting to the Rams 14. But three straight incompletions forced Seattle to settle for a 32-yard Jason Myers field goal that made it 23-17 with 2:45 left.
The Rams then got one first down on their next drive before facing a third-and-8 at their own 36. Carlos Dunlap batted down a Stafford pass at the line and the Seahawks got the ball back at their own 16 with 2:09 remaining.
But on the first play, Smith tried to hit Lockett, who fell down as he bumped into Rams safety Jordan Fuller on the play, with the ball instead going straight into the hands of Rams safety Nick Scott at the 32 with 2:02 left.
Smith, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2013, had thrown only nine passes since 2017 serving as a backup with the Chargers in 2018 and with Seattle the last three seasons.
But Smith has 31 starts in his career and it is that experience that the Seahawks valued in keeping him as the backup.
Seattle led 7-3 at halftime after the defense played maybe its best half of the season.
But the Rams took the lead for the first time on their first possession of the third quarter, a 96-yard march that was keyed by a 68-yard pass from Stafford to 34-year-old DeSean Jackson.
Jackson caught an underthrown pass near midfield on what was a third-and-10 play from the 20 and scampered away from Adams to the Seattle 12 to set up a Darrell Henderson touchdown.
Wilson was then hurt on the following series, a possession that may haunt Seattle for the rest of the season.
A game between two teams that each ranked in the bottom six in the NFL in yards allowed — Seattle 32nd and LA 27th — was surprisingly defensive in the first half as the Seahawks led 7-3.
That was due in part to each team being held scoreless on one drive inside the other’s 20.
The team’s played a scoreless first quarter, with the Seahawks forcing the Rams to punt after each of their first two possessions.
Seattle twice drove inside LA territory but punted on a fourth-and-three at the 43. Then after getting to the 29, the Seahawks were twice stopped on runs up the middle — first by DeeJay Dallas for no gain and then Alex Collins for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-2.
LA moved it to the Seattle 8 as the first quarter ended.
But on the second play of the quarter, Stafford tried to throw it away under pressure in the back of the end zone and instead saw his former Lions teammate, Quandre Diggs, make a stumbling grab of the pass for an unlikely interception.
The Seahawks, though, quickly returned the favor as four plays later, a Wilson pass intended for Lockett over the middle was broken up by Jalen Ramsey with Troy Reeder making a diving grab for an interception at the 48.
But the Rams were again forced to punt in a game that featured far more defensive prowess early on then the stats of the two teams coming into the game would have indicated.
Seattle finally broke the scoring drought, going 83 yards in just three plays, the key a 47-yard defensive pass interference penalty on rookie Robert Rochell drawn by Lockett who had broken open deep on a play-action pass.
Two plays later, Wilson hit Metcalf for a 19-yard TD to put Seattle up 7-0 with 9:04 left in the half.
The Rams responded with a 14-play drive that got as far as Seattle’s 12. But on third-and-one at the 12, Seattle’s Al Woods broke through to tackle Sony Michel for a loss of one, causing the Rams to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Matt Gay.
2022 NFL mock draft: Way-too-early projections
1. Houston (100/1) — Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
2. Jacksonville (100/1) — Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
3. Detroit (80/1) — Zach Harrison, Edge, Ohio State
4. Cincinnati (80/1) — Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
5. N.Y. Jets (80/1) — Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
6. Denver (66/1) — Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
7. Atlanta (66/1) — Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
Harris had 79 tackles — one behind Dylan Moses for the team lead — 4.5 sacks and an interception as a sophomore. Top needs: RB, Edge, LB
8. N.Y. Giants (66/1) — Drake Jackson, Edge, USC
Jackson can play in space or rush the passer off the edge. In 2019, he was the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Trojans on the defensive line since Everson Griffen in 2007 (and just the second since Tim Ryan in 1986). Top needs: OL, Edge, S
9. Washington (66/1) — Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
10. Philadelphia (50/1) — Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Elam took a step back after an impressive freshman campaign in 2019. He'll be hard to pass on as a 6-foot-2 corner with elite ball skills if he can fine-tune his technique and become a more reliable tackler. Top needs: CB, LB, OL
11. N.Y. Giants from Chicago (50/1) — Zion Nelson, OT, Miami
The 6-foot-5, 315 pound Nelson has developed into one of the premier pass blockers in college football. Top needs: OL, Edge, S
12. Carolina (50/1) — Evan Neal, OL, Alabama
The massive Neal — he's 6-foot-7, 360 pounds — played right guard as a freshman for the Crimson Tide before moving to right tackle in 2020. He'll replace first-round pick Alex Leatherwood at left tackle next season. Top needs: OL, LB, S
13. Las Vegas (50/1) — DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M
14. Arizona (40/1) — Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Cross is a powerful blocker who can do damage at the second level in the run game with premium athleticism and his target-lock awareness. Top-10 is a possibility if he develops as a pass protector. Top needs: OT, Edge, TE
15. Minnesota (40/1) — Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama
Jobe would have been a day two pick had he declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, but he decided to return to Tuscaloosa for a little bit more seasoning. Top needs: CB, S, WR
16. New England (30/1) — Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Mission Hills product shunned millions of dollars to come back for his senior season in Columbus and will likely be a top-three prospect at the position in 2022. Top needs: WR, CB, OL
17. Pittsburgh (30/1) — JT Daniels, QB, Georgia
18. L.A. Chargers (30/1) — Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
19. Tennessee (25/1) — Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee
Mays has the talent and size (6-6, 325) to play all five positions on the offensive line. He's likely the most refined blocker in college football. Top needs: WR, LB, OL
20. Dallas (25/1) — Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
Hutchinson suffered season-ending ankle surgery in 2020, but he was disruptive as a sophomore in 2019. He produced 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, six pass deflections and two forced fumbles. Top needs: Edge, OL, S
21. Cleveland (25/1) — Xavier Thomas, Edge, Clemson
This projection is based on Thomas' special talent, but he has to stay healthy and develop consistency. Top needs: Edge, WR, DT
22. Philadelphia from Miami (25/1) — Nik Bonitto, LB, Oklahoma
23. N.Y. Jets from Seattle (22/1) — Rasheed Walker, OT, Penn State
Walker would have heard his name called had he declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, but his current developmental trajectory puts him as one of the first offensive lineman off the board in 2022. Top needs: CB, TE, S
24. Indianapolis (20/1) — Jon Metchie, WR, Alabama
Metchie could be the fifth Alabama wide receiver selected in the first round in three years. He had 916 yards on 55 receptions and six touchdowns in an offense dominated by Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris. He'll be Bryce Young's clear-cut number one target in the fall. Top needs: OT, WR, CB
25. New Orleans (18/1) — Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Davis would've likely been the first defensive tackle selected this year had he left school — Christian Barmore was selected by the Patriots in the second round with the 38th overall pick. Top needs: WR, DT, QB
26. Miami from San Francisco (14/1) — Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
27. Baltimore (12/1) — Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Linderbaum was recruited as a defensive lineman, but switched to the offensive line during bowl prep of his freshman season and has never looked back. He heads into the fall as the top center in college football. Top needs: OT, DL, C
28. Buffalo (12/1) — Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State
Every starting cornerback for the Buckeyes since 2013 have been drafted — seven in the first round. Banks has the physical traits and skillset to keep the party going. Top needs: CB, LB, WR
29. Detroit from L.A. Rams (12/1) — Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
30. Tampa Bay (10/1) — George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue
The pandemic limited Karlaftis to only three games last fall (he still had two sacks), but he was an AP Freshman All-American in 2019 after producing 7.5 sacks with 17 tackles for loss as a true freshman. Top needs: DL, WR, CB
31. Green Bay (9/1) — Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
Winfrey's quickness makes him a disruptive force on the interior. He'll be the anchor of a potentially dominant Sooners defense this season. Top needs: LB, WR, DL