Pete Carroll didn’t really have to pump up the obvious challenge his Seahawks faced this week, but he always thinks big. Globally, at times.
“… We’re going to go against one of the hottest teams in the world,” Carroll said of the task of facing the sizzling Detroit Lions on the road after the Seahawks had been trounced in their opener against the Rams, and the Lions had upset defending champion Kansas City.
But by playing with the talent and resilience and toughness they were expected to this season, the Seahawks cooled off the Lions with a 37-31 overtime upset in the hyper-hostile environment of Ford Field.
Does that now make the Seahawks one of the world’s hottest teams? Hard to claim it at 1-1, but more practically, it meant that they have solved some key problems that were so troubling after their 31-13 loss to the Rams, in which they repeatedly failed on third downs and stumbled around to one of the worst second-half performances in Carroll’s tenure in Seattle.
The debacle against the Rams was so bad that a number of Seahawks made an admission that is painful to most prideful athletes – they’d been beaten by a team that wanted it more than they did.
To add another defeat would have weighed heavily on the psyche of a team as youthful as the Seahawks.
But nobody could fault the team’s effort and desire on Sunday. Carroll addressed that after the game: “For our young team … it’s hard to measure how valuable this is for us.”
The foundation of the win was laid in practice this week, when veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner pulled teammates into a pre-practice meeting. One of the most respected players in franchise history, Wagner sent a message of shaking off the pain of the loss and rediscovering their confidence and swagger.
Play every play in the moment, one after another.
The Seahawks looked like a different team from the opening drive as quarterback Geno Smith connected on all five passing attempts for 58 yards to set up a short scoring run by back Kenneth Walker III, who would gain an oddly impressive 43 yards rushing in the game.
Walker averaged a subpar 2.5 yards per carry on 17 opportunities, but he ran with effort, and second effort, and third effort, which helped create a sense that the offense was matching the Lions’ physicality.
With both starting tackles (Charles Cross and Abe Lucas) sidelined with injuries, backups Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan played far more effectively than was expected against the Detroit front seven, and Smith was sacked only once.
Even when the Lions got pressure, Smith was brilliant – with one major exception. Completing 32 of 41 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns, Smith was in control, which was never more important than in overtime, when he led the Hawks on a 75-yard drive, tossing the game-winner to Tyler Lockett.
Smith bailed himself out for having made a mistake late in regulation. Fighting to avoid a sack, Smith kept retreating and was tackled for a 17-yard loss that set up the Rams for the tying field goal at the end of regulation.
The Lions scored 31 points, so the defense was hardly dominating, but they finally got pressure on Jared Goff late in the game and came up with a streak-ending interception and touchdown return by Tre Brown that gave the Hawks a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
The impressive performance by the Seahawks was a reminder that, in the NFL, each game is singular and distinct. So much can change from week to week, and the teams that advance at the end of the season are those who learn and improve along the way.
The Seahawks took big steps in that direction on Sunday as the importance of the win was amplified by the potential damage a second-straight defeat would have left.
They probably should have lost this game, and at times they seemed on the verge, but they found ways to win – maybe the biggest lesson of all. Yes, as Carroll said, it’s hard to measure that value of it.
It proved, he said, that this team could play “anybody, anywhere, any time.”