SEATTLE – An up-and-down season appeared to be headed toward rock bottom Sunday.
Hosting the team with the NFL’s worst record, Seattle inexplicably found itself trailing by two touchdowns early as the one-win Carolina Panthers bullied the Seahawks in front of a stunned – and, based on the amount of booing, angry – crowd of 66,577 at Qwest Field.
But just when it appeared that the Seahawks were headed to their fifth loss in six weeks, one that would have all but killed their playoff hopes, they managed to turn things around with two quick touchdowns in the third quarter and roll to a 31-14 victory.
And it wasn’t so much a schematic adjustment that led to the turnaround, though there were strategic moves made to be sure. The change, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained, was in the team’s attitude.
“This was an attitude day,” Carroll said. “This was the time. We either had to turn it or get our butt kicked today. We did it.”
Trailing 14-3 after two quarters against a team that came into the game averaging only 12.7 points per game, the Seahawks went into the locker room to face one unhappy coach.
“He let us have it,” linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. “He let us know what was going on and that he wasn’t pleased with the way we were playing. He came out and said, ‘Look, you guys don’t want to hear it but you’re getting outmuscled.’ He goes, ‘I don’t know if you want to hit or not, but do something about it. If you’re a man, do something about it.’”
And do something about it the Seahawks did. Seattle started the second half the same way they played the first – poorly – but after Leon Washington bungled the kick return, the offense responded with a 96-yard drive that Marshawn Lynch capped with a 1-yard run, the first of his three touchdowns.
“Being backed up, we got in that mind-set and attitude that we were going to drive the ball down the field,” center Chris Spencer said.
Three plays after that touchdown, Tatupu stepped in front of a Jimmy Clausen pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. It was Tatupu’s first interception return for a touchdown since his rookie season, and gave Seattle a 17-14 lead.
“That was a great play, especially by one of the leaders on the defense,” rookie safety Earl Thomas said. “A lot of guys look up to him. I think that changed the game.”
The defense followed Tatupu’s touchdown with another stop – the Seahawks allowed just 86 yards in the final 2 1/2 quarters after giving up 197 yards on Carolina’s first four possessions – and the ensuing punt was returned 84 yards by Washington, who was tripped up just short of the goal line by Carolina punter Jason Baker. Other than a bit of embarrassment for Washington, who was caught because he began celebrating some 40 yards short of the end zone, the inability to score on the return didn’t matter because Lynch punched in another 1-yard touchdown.
“I think it was good because we needed the goal-line offense work,” Carroll joked. “We needed to run that ball in there.”
Lynch scored on a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter, giving the Seahawks 31 unanswered points, and a game that early on looked like a potential crushing defeat turned into a convincing victory for Seattle, which at 6-6 remains in a first-place tie with St. Louis.
“It was everywhere,” Carroll said of the team’s attitude adjustment. “It was the look in their eyes, it was in every hit, it was in every conversation. We just needed to step up.”
Williams leaves early
Seahawks leading receiver Mike Williams suffered a sprained left ankle on Seattle’s first offensive possession and did not return.
Already nursing a left foot strain that kept him out of last week’s game, Williams was rolled up on while blocking.
Carroll said after the game that the ankle sprain isn’t believed to be serious and his previous foot strain was not affected. Williams wasn’t in the locker room afterward, but posted on Twitter: “I don’t expect to miss the 49er game.”