Sitting on this flight to Phoenix brings back memories of my first Seahawks road trip. In all my years as a Seahawks fan, I had never traveled with the team until two years ago. It was the first game of the 2012 season and Russell Wilson’s first start in the NFL. He threw his first touchdown pass. He nearly led his first game-winning drive. That Seahawks team was on the cusp. This one has earned the title champion, in large part due to those early trials.
Similar mindset, increased confidence
Wilson, as everyone knows, was a surprise pick to be the regular season starter back then. The coaching staff knew he was going to need some time to acclimate to the NFL and created an incredibly conservative game plan that lasted at least the first four games of that season, and some would argue until they played the Bears late in the year.
The final tally had the Seahawks running the ball 33 times and passing 34 times, but a large number of those throws came on the final drive. This was a run first, run second, and maybe even run third kind of day. Marshawn Lynch had 21 carries and then-rookie Robert Turbin added a couple himself.
A fun side note was that I found out the person in the seat next to me that day was Turbin’s father. It was great to sit next to a Seahawks fan, and even better to witness a father seeing his son play in his first NFL game.
The problem with the Seahawks game plan was that the Cardinals defense was incredibly stout. They had Calais Campbell and Dan Williams, like they will on Sunday, but they also had Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington. Besides Wilson and Turbin, it was also J.R. Sweezy’s first game in the NFL and his first ever start as an offensive lineman.
Dockett abused him all day. He was so disruptive, the Seahawks struggled to cobble together any semblance of an offense. They finished the first half with just three points and eventually found themselves down 13-3 in the third quarter. It took an 83-yard kickoff return by Leon Washington to setup their first touchdown, and then possibly the most amazing interception of Richard Sherman’s career dragging his feet along the sideline to setup a game-tying field goal.
The offense gained 24 yards for that touchdown and five yards for that field goal. That is the type of game Seahawks fans should be expecting on Sunday.
Wilson had trouble with his accuracy much of that game. As has become a constant refrain in his career, fans were split about how much of the issue was on him and how much was the fault of his receivers and offensive line. He is certainly more seasoned than he was then. He accounted for two turnovers that day, including a fumble where he threw a swing pass backwards that led to a field goal for Arizona. Seattle can ill afford those kind of mistakes tomorrow, and Wilson is far better equipped to avoid them than he was that day.
Et tu Logan Thomas?
Ryan Lindley may be Seahawks fans favorite quarterback right now given how little anyone expects him to be able to accomplish in this game. But he is not the first terrible Cardinals quarterback to face this great defense. John Skelton started that game two years ago and and struggled to a Lindley-esque 51.0 rating.
Seattle had seized control of the game after a 52-yard punt return by Washington (anyone else miss that guy?) setup a go-ahead field goal for the Seahawks that pushed them to a 16-13 lead. Then the unforeseen happened. Skelton was injured on the ensuing possession and Kevin Kolb entered the fray with his team facing a 2nd and 15 on their own 15-yard line. He wound up leading the team the length of the field for a touchdown to put the Cardinals up 20-16.
Logan Thomas does not have the experience that Kolb does, but he certainly feels like more of a threat than Lindley. This game may wind up in his hands if he produces in his early opportunities. Thomas is bigger, stronger and offers a running threat as well. Sometimes being young and doing stupid things can be hard for defenses to account for. And more often, early excitement about great plays by a young quarterback sours when he makes a critical rookie mistake at the worst possible time.
Seattle will not gameplan for any one quarterback. They will prepare for this offense. Thomas is the only quarterback who offers potential to do things outside the Bruce Arians script, and therefore, poses a greater risk. Maybe he never sees a snap. But be careful about cheering too hard when the Seahawks smack around Lindley.
Different year, same heroes
K.J. Wright led the team in tackles that day. Sherman had his pick. Both were in their second years in the NFL. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were in their third. Bobby Wagner was playing his first game as a rookie starting middle linebacker. Doug Baldwin was in his second year.
All these players have grown. They had a championship mindset even then. Despite the loss that day, I wrote about how clear if felt to me that this team was going to win a Super Bowl soon. I was a year early on that prediction, but the point remained the same.
This is a team full of players who are wired for all-out battles on the field. They rise to those occasions like few others in the NFL are capable of. That game ended with Wilson being unable to finish what was an inspired attempt at a game-winning drive in his first NFL start. He would go on to lead 9 fourth-quarter comebacks and 13 game-winning drives, including the first two weeks later against the Packers.
Marshawn Lynch had just signed his extension before that year, and there was concern he would not run with the same heart. Imagine that. Nobody will take more punishment tomorrow than he will, and nobody will deliver more than he will.
This is the team of champions Pete Carroll and John Schneider has built. This Sunday is just their latest opportunity to be themselves.