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A storming-back setback
As Steven Hauschka was lining up for a 61-yard field goal with 13 seconds to play, Tarvaris Jackson simply couldn't watch.
If Hauschka made the kick, it not only would have given the Seahawks a one-point win over the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, it would have allowed the Seahawks to complete a storm-from-behind effort after they trailed 27-7 in the third quarter.
"I'm not really sure exactly how it ended, because I didn't look," said Jackson, who had done his part by completing 25 of 38 passes for a career-high 319 yards and three touchdowns.
"I was just trying to hear from the crowd to know if he made it or not."
What Jackson and the rest of the Seahawks heard, however, was not cheers, but the collective sigh of 66,266 fans who hung with their team when it looked as if it might get blown right out of their own stadium.
Hauschka's kick, from 7 yards beyond his career best, was well short and the Falcons' escaped with a 30-28 victory.
"I had to hit it pretty hard to get it there," said Hauschka, who had kicked a 54-yarder in 2008 as rookie for the Baltimore Ravens. "It was into the wind. It's a long kick, obviously. I just kind of pulled it a little bit. I hit it pretty solid. I don't know if it would have had the distance, but it was obviously left of where I was aiming."
As a result, the Falcons won on the road for the first time in three tries this season, but coach Mike Smith was the first to admit that this one was anything but easy.
"Winning on the road in the NFL is not an easy proposition and that definitely was the case today," Smith said after his team had evened its record at 2-2. "This game was not an exception to it."
The Seahawks, meanwhile, had lost for the third time in four games, but came away feeling like that had made strides that will help them win in their remaining 12 games – starting with next Sunday's game against the New York Giants in the Meadowlands.
"The thing I'm very happy about is how we down 24-7 at halftime and guys could have easily given up, but the guys kept lugging and we kept working hard," Jackson said. "It just shows the character of our team. Guys could have easily put their heads down and given up.
"But guys kept fighting, so it's good to know we've got a team with a bunch of fighters. I feel like we're coming together more as a team. Not just the offense, but with special teams, offense and defense. That's very encouraging to see that we do have those types of guys on this team that never give up.
"So I'm looking forward to the future for this team."
Sunday's game was a two-sided affair that was divided into two halves for the Seahawks.
In the first half, the defense could not get off the field on third downs as the Falcons converted six-of-eight on the pivotal down. The Falcons scored on four of their five possessions, including a pair of 72-yard touchdown drives. Matt Ryan was 16 of 21 for 164 yards while distributing the ball to his three-headed, six-handed monster receiving corps – rookie Julio Jones (six catches for 60 yards), Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White (four for 62) and all-world tight end Tony Gonzalez (four for 24 and a TD).
The offense, meanwhile, did score a touchdown – it's first in the first half this season – but the Seahawks also punted three times and Jackson had a pass intercepted.
"Man, we just can't start the first half like that," center Max Unger said. "That's pretty much what it comes down to."
The second half? A completely different game broke out.
After intermission, the Seahawks went with a no-huddle offense scored on three of their first four possessions – as Jackson sandwiched a 6-yard TD pass to Mike Williams and an 8-yarder to Ben Obomanu around an 11-yard scoring run by Marshawn Lynch.
"When we play fast, we play better," Unger said. "That's not necessarily the no-huddle. But it's just the quicker that we play as a group the better we play."
As Jackson put it, "It's not like a two-minute drill, where we're rushing. It's a no-huddle. We're taking our time, we're making sure that we get everything and get all the calls out."
Asked if the Seahawks could go no-huddle for an entire game, Jackson offered, "If we choose to do so, I think we could. … It's been working for us. It's been good for us. So I'm pretty sure we'll keep it going somehow."
The defense turned up the pressure on Ryan in the second half, played more physically against his receivers and shutdown the Falcons' running game. After gaining 51 yards on 15 carries in the first half, Michael Turner had 19 on 10 carries in the second half and Ryan was 12 of 21 for 127 yards.
"They ran away from us in the beginning," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "The second half, we just told our guys to go play and really left it up to them. And they did a good job.
"In the second half, we talked about playing tighter coverage and tried to bring some pressure."
The Seahawks showed glimpses of how well they could play, and will need to play as the season progresses.
In one defining sequence in the third quarter, the defense forced a three-and-out; Leon Washington matched his uniform number with a 33-yard return of the ensuring punt; and Lynch went "Beast Mode" by breaking his scoring run on the next snap.
The defense and special teams setting the table for the offense, and providing a short one at that? What a concept.
"Just realizing that we're at our best when all three phases are playing well, so we when we can do that we'll be alright," Washington said. "That one series was a perfect example. When the special teams are playing well and the defense is giving us opportunities and the offense is capitalizing on the good field that special teams and defense create for you, that's when you function and that's when you become a complete team.
"That's what we're looking forward as we move ahead."
The final verdict was a loss, and one that will gnaw at the players and coaches because this game contained so many what-if situations – including a false-start penalty on wide receiver Sidney Rice that tacked 5 yards onto Hauschka's final kick.
But they also came away from this one with a sense that they had made forward progress before they went down.
"I had to tell these guys in the locker room that we found something today that was powerful," coach Pete Carroll said. "The willingness to hang in there when it was 27-7, to come out after we didn't look good in the first half and to hang so tough and to execute so well against such a good football team.
"The speed we played with, the intensity that we finished with, the execution that we demonstrated when it was tough as it could get was excellent."