Good heavens. How many times can this team keep doing this? It's like the Seahawks are determined to increase the level of difficulty each week, testing the limits of their resiliency, seeing how long they can keep their hands in the alligator's mouth before it snaps shut on them.
Their latest Copperfieldian feat came after spotting the winless Buccaneers 21 points at the CLink during a first half festival of folly that saw two turnovers and a bunch of penalties. The bloodletting started in the early second quarter after a clean interception by Earl Thomas was inexplicably overturned in the name of pass interference. I am loathe to blame the refs for stuff but that call was criminally incorrect. Granted that break, the Buccaneers closed the deal with a 12 yard TD pass on a broken play from Mike Glennon to Tim Wright, a toss that sailed over Thomas' head, salinating the wound inflicted by the PI call.
Seattle responded with what was their third straight fruitless drive, punting the ball back to the Bucs who used Mike James to gash the 'Hawks between the tackles in a near frame-by-frame replay of Zac Stacy's performance last Monday. The drive culminated in a 20 yard TD pass from Glennon to Tiquan Underwood, who found space when (again) Seattle's pass rush failed to take advantage of terrific coverage in the secondary.
The TD drives were buoyed by ruthlessly efficient execution on third down, as Tampa converted seven of their first eight. Down 14-0, Seattle needed a big play to flip the field, start getting the water flowing in the other direction. Jermaine Kearse took it upon himself to do just that on the next kickoff, except he forgot to keep the ball with him. Kearse coughed it up deep in Seattle territory where it was recovered by Michael Koenen, the Pride of Ferndale, Washington (non Jake Locker division). A short time later, Mike James took the handoff on a dive fr Seattle om the two but, instead of plunging ahead, jumped up and vomited a duckling of a jump pass to a sprawling Tom Crabtree for the Bucs' third score.
It was time for the Seahawks to stop messing around and they finally started acting like it. Leaning heavily on Marshawn Lynch, Seattle started gaining chunk yardage for the first time since the Thursday night game against Arizona. With 1:40 left to go in the first half, Russell Wilson found a slanting Kearse for a conciliatory touchdown, closing the gap to 14 before the break.
After a Buccaneers field goal opened the third quarter, Seattle continued to grind as receivers Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate finally started finding wiggle room, moving the chains and allowing some freedom in playcalling. The drive reached fruition when Wilson rolled right and kept the ball tucked under his right arm, cradling it until he was safely ensconced in pay dirt.
The defense then made their second stop of the game, forcing a punt to Tate who was just itching to leave his sticky little fingerprints on the game. He obliged by pinballing down the middle of the field like a Plinko disk bent on reaching the jackpot. His field-flipping return set up a Steven Hauschka field goal that narrowed the deficit to seven points with a little more than a quarter to go.
It was at this point that the Seahawks pass rush returned from shore leave and resumed their wanton attack on opposing QBs. Glennon could no longer go through three reads and then roll out of an open pocket to extend a play. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Bobby Wagner kept vice-like pressure on Glennon, allowing Seattle to regain possession after another punt and move the ball down to the Tampa three yard line after a 27 yard pass to Kearse. Then disaster struck.
One of the biggest criticisms of Darrell Bevell is his penchant for passing inside the opponent's five. Personally, I don't mind it as Wilson has, in my opinion, earned the trust of the coaching staff to make the right decision and eliver the throw if asked upon. That said, I was hoping he'd jam Lynch up the Bucs' pooper to tie the game. Instead, Wilson kept the ball and locked in on Doug Baldwin. His pass went straight to the apparently-not-blitzing Keith Tandy, whose interception granted the fighting Schianos a reprieve and re-inflated hopes of the biggest upset of the season.
Fortunately for the home team, however, the roles of 7-1 and 0-7 teams had by then been restored to their proper franchises, with Seattle continuing to squeeze the wilting Tampa offense. The Buccaneer's third straight punt set up the Seahawks' penultimate score, a ten yard pass to Baldwin that knotted the score at 24 with four minutes to play. Another Tampa punt led to overtime, which led to another Tampa punt, which led to a game-clinching drive that felt impending from the get-go.
The final stamp on the biggest comeback in Seattle Seahawks franchise history was a 27 yard Hauschka chippie to move Seattle to 8-1 for the first time ever. Some observations:
*On Tampa Bay's first six drives, they netted 242 yards and 24 points. On their last five, they got 61 and 0.
*Seattle averaged 6.8 yards per play, split between 5.7 yards per carry and 8.3 yards per pass.
*Despite the two interceptions, Wilson still finished with a 73% completion rate, two TDs, and a 91.3 passer efficiency. His passer ratings over the last 20 games are maddeningly consistent, with only two dips below 88 along the way.
*The Seahawks are now 12-0 at home in the Russell Wilson era.
*Marshawn Lynch recorded 141 yards from scrimmage on 25 touches, a welcome change from the 27 on nine he had last week. Having Michael Robinson back made a noticeable difference. Robert Turbin chipped in 37 yards on eight carries.
*Doug Baldwin led all Seahawks in catches (6), yards (75), and targets (10). He also dropped his first two balls all year. I don't really care about that part, because nothing in his history suggests that will be problematic moving forward. What I do care about was him making yet another Cris Carteresque sideline catch on a miraculous escape throw from Wilson. Those are starting to feel like weekly occurrences.
*Earl Thomas continues to play like he's twins, recording 12 tackles, eight of which were solo. It feels like he's led them in tackles every game this year. Bobby Wagner had a bunch of bright spots (11 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL) but struggled in pass coverage on multiple occasions, most notably on third downs.
*Cliff Avril has recorded at least a partial sack in each of his last three games. Michael Bennett has three in his last four. It's fun to see this pass rushing unit at full strength.
*In the last two games, Zac Stacy and Mike James have combined for 55 carries, 292 yards rushing, and four first names. Where the hell did the run defense go?
Seattle has, from as far as we can tell, weathered the worst of their schedule and have done so with aplomb. They are 8-1 and I think every single one of us would have taken that at the beginning of the year. Still, they can't afford to keep spotting teams big leads and hamstringing themselves with penalties (their six for 67 yards today was an improvement). The Seahawks entered this game as massive 15.5-point favorites and walked into the middle of the ring with their gloves at their waist. It wasn't until they ate a few jabs and crosses that they seemed to remember their gameplan and take over the fight.
That's not a luxury they're likely to have in the playoffs. Seven games to get healthy and work out the kinks. If all goes well, the 'Hawks will find themselves two home wins away from a trip to the 'Ship.