Game at a Glance: Seahawks 16, Cardinals 20

GLENDALE, Ariz. – A recap of the Seahawks’ 20-16 loss to the Cardinals in their season opener at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday:

Leon Washington. The Seahawks didn’t win the game, but their dynamic returner did everything he could to make it happen. Washington not only produced two big plays; they came when the Seahawks most needed them.

With the Seahawks trailing 13-3 in the third quarter, Washington broke an 83-yard kickoff return that setup Russell Wilson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice. With the score tied at 13 in the fourth quarter, Washington broke a 52-yard punt return to setup a 39-yard field goal by Steve Hauschka with 9:20 remaining the game.

Did someone say big plays?

“Huge plays. Huge,” said special teams co-captain Michael Robinson. “He totally sparked our second-half run. That’s what this team is about – picking each other up. If one phase is down, another phase picks them up. That’s what Leon did today.”

Offense: The game-winner, of course, which was Kevin Kolb’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Andre Roberts with 4:59 left to play.

Defense: On the Cardinals’ first play after Wilson’s TD pass to Rice, Chris Clemons pressured John Skelton into an ill-advised throw and cornerback Richard Sherman then made a sideline interception of that pass to setup a Hauschka field goal that tied the score at 13.

Special teams: Washington’s kickoff return, because it was longer than the punt return and setup a touchdown.

Left tackle Russell Okung injured a knee on the Seahawks’ final possession. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin also had to leave the field after attempting a diving catch in the end zone on the same possession, but coach Pete Carroll said last year’s leading receiver was OK.

Despite not playing since the second preseason game and being limited in practice all week because of back spasms, Marshawn Lynch started the game and carried 21 times for 84 yards.

Second-year linebacker K.J. Wright had a team-high nine tackles.

The Seahawks broke up, batted down, tipped or intercepted eight passes, including two each by Sherman, who had the only interception; nose tackle Brandon Mebane and lineman Jason Jones.

The defense held the Cardinals to 43 yards on 20 rushing attempts.

Clemons had the Seahawks’ only sack.

James Carpenter and John Moffitt, the starters at right tackle and right guard as rookies last season, were named inactive. Each is recovering from a surgical procedure.

“I think he handled himself really well. He had a lot of pressure on him. He did what he could do back there. But there’s still room for not only him to get better, but the rest of this team.” – wide receiver Sidney Rice on Wilson

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Countdown to kickoff

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Greetings from University of Phoenix Stadium, where some of the Seahawks already are on the field preparing for today’s regular-season opener against the Cardinals.

This is, as you’ll recall, the same venue were the Seahawks closed the 2011 season with a 23-20 overtime loss to the Cardinals. But several things have changed since the Seahawks played here on New Years’ Day.

The most obvious, as well as most discussed and dissected, difference is Russell Wilson taking over at quarterback for Tarvaris Jackson – who was traded to the Bills last month. The rookie won the starting job with an impressive and productive preseason. The speed of the game increases during the regular season, so Wilson will have to deal with that – as well as an Arizona defense that batted 18 passes incomplete last season, which was the third-highest total in the league. It would indicate a mismatch for the 5-foot-11 Wilson, but his height – or lack of it – was not an issue at the University of Wisconsin last season and has not been since he joined the Seahawks after being selected in the third round of the NFL Draft.

The best thing the Seahawks can do for Wilson is to continue running the ball – regardless of how much leading rusher Marshawn Lynch plays because of the back spasms that have sidelined him since the second preseason game and limited him in practice during the week. The Seahawks averaged a league-high 178.3 rushing yards during their unbeaten preseason run, no matter who was carrying the ball or who was blocking for them.

Speaking of blockers, J.R. Sweezy’s remarkable story continues as the rookie will start at right guard today. A defensive tackle at North Carolina State, the Seahawks decided it was worth taking a chance in the seventh round of the draft on an athlete they felt eventually could make the switch to the O-line. Eventually has arrived ridiculously early, as Sweezy got a chance to start when incumbent starter John Moffitt was sidelined with an elbow injury. Sweezy stepped in for the final three preseason games and won the job.

Another new wrinkle: Robert Turbin. The rookie has shown he can be the physical presence in the running game to spell Lynch, and step in and start when Lynch can’t play.

On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks are better equipped to pressure the passer – a season-long problem last season – after adding rush-end Bruce Irvin in the first round of the draft and signing rush-tackle Jason Jones in free agency. Both moves were made to improve a pass rush that generated only 22 sacks in 2011 by players not named Chris Clemons, who has had 11 sacks in each of his two seasons with the Seahawks. The target of their attention will be John Skelton, the 6-6 QB from Fordham who won the Cardinals’ starting job and drew comparisons to the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger from the Seahawks players and coaches during the week.

Skelton was 5-2 as a starter last season, and he’s 5-0 as a starter at home the past two seasons.

The primary target for Skelton will remain Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who caught eight passes for 148 yards in the second half and overtime in the finale last season after the Seahawks held him to one catch for 1 yard in the first half.

There’s even a new wrinkle there, with Marcus Trufant, the long-time starter at left cornerback, moving into the nickel back role.

The Seahawks don’t just want this one; they need it, what with the Cowboys coming to CenturyLink Field next week for the home opener and then the Monday night matchup in Seattle with the Packers on Sept. 24.

So sit back and enjoy the opener, with kickoff set for 1:25 p.m. PDT on Fox TV (KCPQ/13) and 710 ESPN and 97.3 FM.

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