By Mike Salk
All wins count the same in the record books, but they are not all created equal. Years from now, beating a (now) 1-4 Panthers team won’t be remembered for the Seahawks overcoming long odds. It’ll be a footnote, a game they were supposed to win over an inferior opponent with a mediocre defense.
But make no mistakes – this was a huge win.
It won’t lead “SportsCenter” and it won’t convince national analysts to buy what Pete Carroll is selling. Heck, it might not even convince the Flynnatics and Russell Rippers to give up their quest for a quarterback change.
But it was a road win for a team in need.
The Seahawks have been bad on the road, and that’s being generous. Since 2009 they were just 6-20 away from the Northwest. They had previously lost both road games this season and were underdogs in this one.
Pressure was mounting on an embattled rookie quarterback who was coming off his worst professional start. That pressure had to affect the head coach that made the controversial decision to start him. And it should have affected those players that either committed stupid penalties or had other unforced errors a week earlier in St. Louis.
Back in Seattle, the natives were restless, and that feeling only increased with a few wasted red-zone opportunities in the first half and the worst pass of Wilson’s young career accounting for a Carolina touchdown.
By the time Marshawn Lynch allowed a pass to bounce off his hands and chest and into the waiting arms of a defender, there was full-fledged panic in the Puget Sound.
Not to worry. That’s when this team remembered its formula: dominant defense and opportunistic offense.
A great defense needs to do three things, and in the second half the Seahawks did all three:
Get off the field: In the second half, Carolina had just one drive longer than five plays.
Create turnovers: Brandon Browner made the play of the year, stripping DeAngelo Williams and nearly running away with the ball himself. Richard Sherman forced a Jonathan Stewart fumble that was recovered by Carolina but took away a first down and led to a punt. And Bruce Irvin ended things with a strip-sack of Cam Newton.
Limit points in the red zone: It’s not every day a monster like Newton gets four shots inside the 5-yard line and fails to score. Credit has to go to Browner, Alan Branch, Chris Clemons and others who made it happen. Oh, and a special thanks to Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for calling a pass on fourth-and-1. Thanks, Rob!
Though far from perfect, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson showed improvement in his fifth career start. (AP photo)
The Seahawks offense is built on a power running game and a passing attack that doesn’t take a ton of risks. But with the game potentially on the line with a third-and-8 from Carolina’s 13-yard line, it was time for Wilson to make a play, and he did. His touchdown throw to Golden Tate was a bullet, and it affirmed Carroll’s decision to stick with him.
Finally, when the Hawks needed one more play to ice it, their superstar did his thing. Lynch found a way to run for 8 yards on a third-and-7. It’s a small play that, like many others, will be forgotten. But it iced the game.
There are those that will say this win was still a black mark for the offense. They’ll point to Carolina’s struggles, especially stopping the run, and say that 16 points was not enough. They’ll tell you that Wilson’s first pick was so egregious that it proves he shouldn’t be the starter. They’ll point to his height as a reason why the red-zone efficiency is so poor. And they’ll remind you that this team is ready to win right now.
Don’t be fooled.
Wilson had a heckuva football game. Carolina took away the run early and he responded with more passing yards than he has had as a pro. He threw his worst professional pass (the pick-six) and then suffered an unlucky break (the interception that bounced on Lynch’s hands) only to bounce back with a few clutch throws when his team needed him most. He completed 76 percent of his passes, often escaping pressure that continues to seep through an offensive line that works better moving forward than backwards.
Yes, he occasionally missed open receivers, choosing to check down to safer options in the flat. Yes, he’s still a work in progress. Personally, I’d like to see him be more decisive when he decides to run. But he corrected some of his problems from last week’s loss and found a way to make the key play at the key point in the game. Exactly like his coach wants.
The Hawks won on Sunday by playing their game. When things looked worst, they relied on their core philosophy – and it worked. That’s a mark of a good team.