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Character is defined by the decisions a person makes. We tend to celebrate and criticize decisions of the bigger and more dramatic variety that are often accompanied by much thought and reflection before they are made. Sometimes, though, you can learn the most about a man by the instant decisions he makes when instinct takes over.
It was 3rd and 10. The Seahawks had played an atrocious half of football and were trailing the lowly Indianapolis Colts by a score of 15-10. An encouraging Seahawks drive had stalled at the Colts 23-yard line. The ball was snapped. Russell Wilson retreated a few steps, scanning the field for an opening. Not seeing what he hoped for through the air, Wilson noticed a hole in front of him. That is when he made his first choice, to dash for the first down instead of trying to buy time waiting to find an open receiver. We have seen him do that before. The first ten yards were easy. He could have safely slid and celebrated a first down. He chose more.
A productive block by Tyler Lockett opened a lane. Wilson reached the 7-yard line and knew one defender stood between him and a touchdown. He could have slid inside the five and kept his body safe. He chose more. With the defender closing in, Wilson accelerated toward the goal line and dove head first as he absorbed the hit he knew was coming. The contact came at the 2-yard line. His body naturally wanted to go down short of the end zone, but Wilson lunged with everything he had to stretch the ball past the white line for a touchdown.
Even the referees did not believe it on first glance. They ruled him down. It was fitting that a challenge was required for the Seahawks to score their first offensive touchdown of the game. The replay told the story. Wilson had chosen the difficult over easy, peril over safety, team over self, winning over losing, and he knew it. Rising like a defender who had just delivered a brutal hit, Wilson screamed and threw his fist in exultation. The message was clear. He was the Alpha. This was his house. If you wanted this game, you were going to have to come through him.
The play galvanized the team. Wilson is far from Shaun Alexander, but he often wisely avoids contact and saves his scrambles for when the team is most desperate. He put his body on the line and his teammates immediately understood what that meant.
Everything clicked after that. Well, almost everything. After scoring two straight touchdowns to close the first half, the Colts only points in the second half came after a pass glanced off the hands of Jimmy Graham for an interception which led to a field goal. The Seahawks scored a touchdown on every possession of the second half other than that one. They even scored a touchdown when they didn’t have possession. In all, Seattle had five touchdowns in the second half and a two-point conversion to set a franchise record for most points in the second half of a game.
It was the fourth-highest total in any half by a Seahawks team. Strolling through the record books, this game wound up having many similarities to the stretch of explosive blowouts the Seahawks strung together toward the end of 2012 when Wilson and the read option emerged. This was the first time the team had a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown since the 58-0 win over the Cardinals that year. The only other time a Wilson-led offense converted 10 or more 3rd downs was during the 42-13 win over the 49ers during that run. The last time the team scored 46 points or more was the 50-17 victory over the Bills in Toronto.
As remarkable as the final score and statistics were, it is hard to shake the specter of that first half. Like Two-Face, one half was hideous and destructive, while the other was clean and elite. The Batman villain is known for flipping a coin to determine people’s fate, and this season still feels like a coin flip for Seattle.
Wilson was MVP caliber in the second half, but made another inexcusable mistake in the first when he held onto the ball in his own endzone and was sacked for a needless safety. The defense allowed just 32 yards in the second half with a long drive of only 11 yards, after allowing over 200 yards in the first while making Jacoby Brissett look like the next great quarterback.
It was so bad that I found myself wondering if the defense truly had gotten old over night and was no longer among the best in the league. People were talking about the team having trouble finishing over .500 this season, and I had little reason to disagree. It looked like the end of an era. And then it wasn’t.
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Searching for patterns
Trying to analyze this team has been like searching for extraterrestrial life. The signals are hidden behind noise and static. Step back to examine the big picture and you see two narrow road losses to teams likely to make the playoffs. Zoom in on any one aspect of the team and you see significant flaws. Look at the trends on offense, and the pattern is pretty clear.
The offensive line played its best game against the Colts, and one could argue they have improved each week. They are not great by any stretch, but they are showing more consistent growth than any part of the team, which is a really good sign. It is hard to imagine they will be able to continue the trend against Aaron Donald next week. Their progress, though, has been steady and far swifter than in years past. The same could be said about the offense overall.
Wilson has thrown for six touchdowns over the past two games and threw for 295+ yards in consecutive games for the first time in his career. He was hyper-efficient, needing only 26 attempts to get those yards. Of his five incompletions, two were passes to Jimmy Graham that the tight end failed to catch. His 110.3 passer rating in these past two games is right in line with the 110.1 rating he posted in 2015 when he led the NFL in that category while going on a major tear.
Are we in the midst of another historic outburst by Wilson and this offense? Is it a mirage? We will have to find out without the services of Chris Carson, who suffered a serious injury late in the game, and may be lost for the year. Eddie Lacy played easily his best game as a Seahawk, but the show was stolen by another running back.
The rise of J.D. McKissic
My son and I play this game with my friend Aron before many of the Seahawks games. We ask each other who we most want to see have a great game. It usually focuses on players the team needs to get going in order to build toward great play, or just a guy who we think would be fun. My guy this week with J.D. McKissic. There were plenty of complaints when the team kept him on the roster, and constant questions about why I was so high on him during camp.
He showed on Sunday what I knew he was capable of when I chose him as a super sleeper ahead of camp. This is a player who can add dynamic playmaking to the Seahawks offense. He has history as a receiver and as a running back. He has great acceleration, and is surprisingly tough for a guy of his stature. He makes plays on special teams. He makes plays out of the backfield. He makes plays split out. Put him in space and let him work.
Many folks will want to shovel dirt on C.J. Prosise as he is injured. One player’s talent does not need to mean another player is useless. In McKissic, John Schneider has done the remarkable again by finding a player of unique skills to backup a player of similar unique skills.
I have drooled at what Taylor Gabriel has added to the Falcons offense. He is a guy who can take a short screen a long distance. McKissic does not have Gabriel’s speed, but he has similar ability to create big yards from short passes into space. There are no mixed signals here. This is a guy who could spark the Seahawks offense.
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Seattle will face a new challenge next week in Los Angeles. The Rams always give Seattle fits, but they are usually a terrible team, especially on offense. Jared Goff looks like a franchise quarterback and his offense has been the best in football so far this season. They stormed back to beat the Cowboys on the road, and have every reason to be confident about winning this key divisional matchup with the Seahawks.
The Seahawks went from hopeless to hopeful in 30 minutes Sunday night. Fans have good reason to be hesitant about getting too excited about the superb second half against the Colts. It is hard to be certain about anything when a team has had such wild swings of performance across nearly every aspect of their game. One thing that is clear is their star quarterback played his best game in a long time. He was accurate. He was productive. He was courageous.
When he is playing like that, I like the Seahawks chances against anyone, anywhere.