SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The first thing Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did when he approached the podium Sunday, still flush from his team’s victory, was to laud the Mariners’ thrilling win Saturday that kept them alive, albeit temporarily, in the wild-card race.
“We were totally inspired by (Mitch) Haniger,” he said. “That’s why we won today.”
Of course, a resurgent Seattle defense had a lot to do with it, one that produced its first interception of the season and stopped the 49ers at one point on eight consecutive drives.
And so did a vintage performance by quarterback Russell Wilson, upon whose shoulders, more than anyone, the fate of the Seahawks rests, for good or bad.
Last week, in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings, it was subpar Russ, certainly by his standards. And Sunday, in a vitally needed 28-21 win over the San Francisco 49ers, it was the version of Wilson that can cause the Seahawks to continue to dream big.
Yes, the order of the universe has been restored. For the past week, the Mariners had usurped the Seahawks’ time-honored primacy in the sporting consciousness when the leaves begin to change colors. But with the Mariners officially eliminated from playoff consideration Sunday, fans can once again turn back to the Seahawks’ to carry their hopes and dreams.
Those expectations were beginning to wane after back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Minnesota in which a multitude of deficiencies revealed themselves on both sides of the ball. One more loss, particularly in a division game, could have sent the Seahawks’ season spiraling out of control for good.
Wilson’s career has been defined by winning, and on Sunday he authored his 100th career victory, fastest to that mark by any NFL quarterback.
That’s why it must have galled him, deep down, to be facing the possibility of a third consecutive defeat when the Seahawks fell behind early to the 49ers with an offense that seemed nonfunctional, if not dysfunctional. Three consecutive losses has not happened to Wilson in 10 NFL seasons; in fact, not since his sophomore year in college.
Yet Wilson said the streak was not part of his mindset entering the game, or during it as he displayed the vigor and moves of a 21-year-old version of himself.
“I don’t think about losing,” he said. “It’s not in my repertoire, not in my thought process. I just think about winning.”
His performance Sunday was made more impressive by the fact that the Seahawks’ offense looked so bad early in the game. Nothing was going right. Wilson was sacked three times with six quarterback hits on his first nine dropback attempts. The running game was foundering, too, and the receivers couldn’t get separation. Seattle netted minus-7 yards in their first five drives. Essentially, they were moving backward, and seemed on the verge of reversing themselves out of contention.
Wilson joked that the Seahawks decided to flip the story line from earlier games, when they got off to a blazing start but stumbled in the second half. On Sunday, after beginning the game with five consecutive three-and-outs – matching the worst start of Carroll’s coaching tenure in Seattle – they stormed to 21 points in the second half to take control of the game. The balance, tempo and explosiveness of the season-opening win was suddenly back. Alex Collins provided a huge spark at running back. Wilson said he felt totally connected with Shane Waldron, the offensive coordinator who had been under some heat.
After the game, Wilson reiterated a recurring theme of his, saying that he “loves” adversity. And Carroll expressed the notion that as a team, it often takes struggles to emerge with the right mentality to not just overcome them but soar to greater heights.
“You’ve got to have pain to share sometimes,” he said.
Wilson looked downright spry in the third quarter as he sprinted into the left corner of the end zone, beating a defensive lineman as he dived past the pylon for a touchdown. It gave Seattle its first lead, one the Seahawks never relinquished.
But Wilson’s signature moment of the game, one he rated as one of the top 10 plays of his career, occurred shortly thereafter, when the Seahawks recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff deep in 49ers territory. Wrapped up by the 49ers’ Dontae Johnson, with dangerous Nick Bosa looming nearby, Wilson spun out of the seemingly certain sack, kept his balance and found Freddie Swain for a 13-yard touchdown.
“I was speechless, man,” Seahawks offensive lineman Duane Brown said. “I just went to him and said, ‘You’re a bad (expletive).’ That’s my words to him. That’s one of the best plays I’ve seen from him in my time here. But with him, it’s just commonplace.”
Wilson said the degree of difficulty was raised when he was in Johnson’s grasp and saw Bosa about to join the fray.
“Both of them right there – uh oh,” he said. “I’ve had some good plays in my career. That was definitely a good one.”
Wilson, who also had a 12-yard TD pass to DK Metcalf, wound up completing 16 of 23 passes for 149 yards – hardly numbers that will stand out in his pantheon of great games. But Carroll called Wilson’s performance “spectacular” for staying the course when “it just didn’t look like it was going to happen.”
The scramble and the spinout? “I mean, that’s just as good as you can get for Russell,” Carroll said. “Just the way we love to see Russ play and do his thing.”
The Seahawks will have to show Thursday night against the Rams that this is not a temporary respite from the woes that preceded Sunday’s win. But on this day, they kept themselves from going to the depths they seemed headed, even if it was unthinkable for Wilson.
“We don’t lose three games in a row here,” Brown said bluntly.
For Wilson, that’s not hyperbole.
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