What it means: The Seahawks are going to have a very hard time challenging within the division after losing back-to-back games against Cleveland and Cincinnati. They trail the San Francisco 49ers by four games in the standings with nine games remaining. No team since realignment in 2002 has overcome greater than a 3.5-game deficit this late in a season.
What I liked: Rookie cornerback Richard Sherman tracked the ball nicely and picked off Andy Dalton's deep pass down the right sideline when the Bengals were threatening to build on a 17-3 lead. Sherman was starting after the team lost Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond to season-ending injuries. He broke up another pass, enabling teammate Kam Chancellor to collect an interception. Punter Jon Ryan tracked down Bengals return specialist Pacman Jones to prevent a touchdown. Tarvaris Jackson's deep pass to Ben Obomanu against cornerback Leon Hall covered 55 yards and gave the Seahawks a needed jolt late in the third quarter. Jackson topped 300 yards passing, making it clear he needs to remain the starter moving forward.
What I didn't like: Seattle's offensive line, playing with its projected starters for the first time since Week 1, struggled in all phases. Tight end Anthony McCoy had another drop. Even Sidney Rice had some issues. On defense, Seattle gave up the big play to A.J. Green. Linebacker David Hawthorne, who picked off a pass against Cleveland last week, appeared to have the coverage when the Bengals, playing without starting tight end Jermaine Gresham, found Donald Lee for a big gain over the middle. The Bengals fared better than expected on the ground even though they were without Gresham and suspended running back Cedric Benson.
Poor game management: The first-half clock ran out on Seattle after the team went for it on fourth down deep in Bengals territory with no timeouts remaining. The sequence resembled what happened to the team against San Diego last season. Yes, officials arguably should have stopped the clock when Bengals players lingered on the pile, preventing Seattle from attempting another play. But every coach must factor for such risks. Seattle went into halftime trailing 17-3 when the score should have been 17-6, at worst. Down 17-12 with 8:55 to play in the game, Carroll opted for a two-point conversion, which failed.
Questionable QB juggling: Carroll left himself open to further criticism with his handling of the quarterback situation. Charlie Whitehurst started even though Jackson was available. Whitehurst struggled. Carroll switched to Jackson. If Jackson were healthy enough to play, why not start him? It was defensible for Carroll to see how things went with Whitehurst, possibly buying additional time for Jackson to make a fuller recovery. The team listed Jackson as its starter before the game, only to send Whitehurst onto the field for the first series. Jackson took a hit late in the game, after the outcome was decided, and doctors checked out his knee on the sideline. He went back into the game and tossed an interception for a touchdown, turning a sound defeat into an embarrassing one.
CB thinking rewarded: The Seahawks traded Kelly Jennings to the Bengals before the season as part of an overall effort to get bigger at cornerback. That thinking appeared sound when Sherman used his size to make that leaping interception along the sideline. Sherman also contributed on the interception from Chancellor. Meanwhile, Seahawks undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin beat Jennings for a 31-yard gain up the right sideline.
Special-teams implosion: The Seahawks' special teams have dropped off this season through a combination of injuries and poor play. Brandon Tate's 56-yard punt return for a touchdown put away the game for the Bengals. Jones probably should have scored on an earlier return, but Ryan caught him. Jones apparently injured his hamstring injury on the play.
Injuries of note: Defensive end Chris Clemons left the game with a knee injury, then returned.
What's next: The Seahawks visit the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9.