Seattle led in the fourth quarter for the twenty-first straight game, including the playoffs, dating back to week eight of last season. When Russell Wilson threw an interception to Greg Hardy that set up a go-ahead field goal a few seconds into the fourth quarter, it became the seventh time in those twenty-one games that the team has lost their fourth quarter lead. Then, something special happened. Something more unique than anyone might realize. For just the second time in Wilson’s career, and first time since the infamous Golden Tate hail mary touchdown, the Seahawks offense took back a fourth quarter lead that the team had lost. There have been other come-from-behind victories, and overtime wins. Losing a lead in the fourth quarter, and then retaking it in that same quarter, has been more rare for Seattle than reaching the Super Bowl. This much-maligned offense put together not one, but two, drives in succession that should have recaptured the lead. So many fans seem to be wringing their hands about a victory that does not meet their aesthetic expectations. They are missing the chance to celebrate a hard fought and meaningful victory.
A lifetime of watching sports has helped me realize that the way a person will react to the outcome of a game is directly tied to their expectations heading into the game. If you expect to lose, and your team wins, it feels euphoric. If you expect to win easily, and you win a nail biter, you may feel disappointed. A lot of people looked at a 2-4 Cowboys team with Matt Cassell at the helm, and must have expected an easy win. There are some real flaws in that logic.
First, the Seahawks defense did shut down Cassell and the Cowboys offense. A Seahawks opponent failed to score a touchdown for the second straight week. Cassell threw for less than 100 yards. The vaunted Cowboys offensive line was unable to impose their will on the Seahawks after some success on their opening drive. Darren McFadden, who had 152 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry last week, finished with just 64 yards and a 3.2 average against Seattle. How dominant was the Seahawks defense? Dallas took over the ball at the Seahawks 16 yard line and had to settle for a field goal. That stand ultimately set up the chance for Seattle to come back and win.
Second, the Cowboys defense is not bad, and got considerably better when Greg Hardy returned. They are 8th in the NFL in total defense despite an offense that has left them on the field with little help for weeks. They have stepped up since Hardy joined the team.
They sacked Tom Brady five times in the first half two weeks ago, and held the Patriots to 356 yards. Only the NY Jets have held the Patriots to less (353). In their only other game with Hardy, they held the Giants to 289 yards, the second-lowest total of the season for that offense as well. That same offense just scored 49 points yesterday in New Orleans.
This game meant everything to Dallas. Dez Bryant was brought back early. Their backs are against the wall. Their defense fought and clawed. Seattle beat them anyway. It was not pretty. It could have been easier. Yet, they won, and they earned the win on both offense and defense.
Seattle had surrendered at least four sacks in every game this season except for a two sack day in Green Bay. Russell Okung, arguably their best pass blocker, was injured late in the week and had to miss the game. Hardy and the Cowboys appeared to be headed for a disruptive day. Then, Wilson and his offensive line did something shocking. They pitched a shutout. No sacks.
The last time the Seahawks gave up zero sacks in a regular season game was week nine of the 2013 season versus Tampa Bay. This was just the third time since Wilson came into the league in 2012 that the team accomplished the feat.
Wilson was not even harassed for much of the game. Just as blame is shared when sacks occur, so too is credit spread around. The line did a nice job. Wilson got rid of the ball quickly, even if his accuracy and his reads were not always perfect. Darrell Bevell called a nice game in the sense that he moved the pocket around and helped Wilson with some quick throws.
It was a game to build on in terms of pass protection. The team was so concerned about potential protection issues that they were more conservative in their play calls and were less explosive. That will be the balance they need to strike over the rest of the season.
The use of Jimmy Graham felt more natural in this game than in any other so far this season. Yes, he had a bigger statistical game against the Panthers, but he was targeted more within the framework of the offense versus the Cowboys.
Wilson found him repeatedly off of play action and for the first time this year, got him the ball on the same play multiple times in one game. It will be crucial for the still growing offense to find some comfort and rhythm with how to incorporate Graham without taking away from their run first mentality. They are closer now than at any point so far this season.
Third downs trump turnover margin again
Seattle started that final drive 2-8 (25%) on third downs, and the Cowboys were 4-13 (31%). The Seahawks then converted three of four third downs on that mammoth 17 play game-winning drive to finish 5-12 (42%), and Dallas failed on their final third down to finish 4-14 (29%). Third down conversion percentage differential remains a perfect predictor of Seahawks success so far this year. They are 4-0 when they out-convert their opponent and 0-4 when they do not.
Turnover margin, however, continues to be far less reliable. Seattle lost the turnover battle for the fourth time this season. They are 3-1 in those games. The good news for the Seahawks is they are currently second in the NFL in third down defense (31%). That is a low bar for the offense to clear.
Ricardo Lockette puts his body on the line every time he runs down the field on special teams. The Seahawks love to put a stat up on at home that shows the fastest players on the field in the NFL so far this year. Lockette leads the league, being clocked at over 23 MPH. Knowing the speed and intensity he brings to each play and then seeing him cold-cocked like that was unsettling.
He did not appear to move for a long time. You find yourself wondering if he is alive, if he will walk again, and consider how tenuous the employment and well being is of these young men. Thankfully, he appears to be doing okay. Take a moment to send him well wishes on Twitter @RicardoLockette.
Separately, shame on FOX for cutting away from a motionless player being helped onto a stretcher to show Raiders/Jets highlights. Horrible.
Some people will just want to see this game as a disappointment and further proof that either the Seahawks offense is hopeless, or that Wilson is a terrible quarterback, or that this team is just not very good.
That is a fine defensive position to take. It will shield your heart from the hurt of believing and then being disappointed. The truth is that the odds are against the Seahawks putting it all together and becoming a championship level team the way they were the past two years. The offensive line still has a long ways to go. Wilson is still acclimating to taking on more responsibility, and is probably a year or two from evolving into a quarterback who can take over a game with any consistency. The secondary may still be vulnerable to elite quarterbacks more than they have in past seasons.
All that can be true, and the team can be showing clear signs of growth. The line gave up zero sacks, and on the road, no less. Run blocking has been improved. Wilson is getting rid of the ball faster, and was able to lead a game-winning drive that would be considered a thing of beauty in any season. He has had chances in the Seahawks last five losses, dating back to the Super Bowl, to lead a team to a win in the fourth quarter and was unable to do it. He did it against the Cowboys, and really did it twice.
The defense is now 3rd in points allowed (17.5 ppg), 2nd in TDs allowed (1.8/game), 2nd in yards allowed (284.9), 2nd in passing yards allowed (186.4 ypg), and 6th in sack percentage (7.6%). That, despite facing three undefeated teams, including ones that were led by Andy Dalton and Aaron Rodgers. Denver’s defense has been the best in the NFL all year and did a number on the Packers last night, but look at who they have played:
Keep in mind that Packers game was at home for them while Seattle played them in Lambeau. Seattle has always won with running and defense and timely explosive passes. They may not be far from rediscovering that formula. They have a bye week and then three straight home games, starting with a colossal matchup with the division-leading Cardinals. A win against Arizona opens up all sorts of possibilities. It will not be easy. It may not be pretty. This Seahawks team wins alley fights, not beauty contests. Lower your expectations if you must. Write them off if you dare.