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Following their leader
The key to Tarvaris Jackson’s lights-out performances in the second halves of the past three games might be the way the Seahawks’ quarterback responded a question about how he’s been able to do it.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we’re communicating and hoping that we can have a first half like we did our second half last week and put together two halves instead of having to come from behind all the time,” Jackson said Wednesday after practice.
That not only was a perceptive answer, it would be the prudent thing to do in Saturday’s home finale against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field.
|GOOD, AND EVEN BETTER|
As good as Tarvaris Jackson has been during the Seahawks’ three-game winning streak, he has been even better in the second halves of those victories over the Eagles, Rams and Bears:
Past three games
Second halves of those games
The Seahawks, of course, need to win their final two games to have any chance at advancing to the postseason for the second-consecutive season. The 49ers already have wrapped up the NFC West title the Seahawks captured last season, but they still need to keep winning to insure getting a first-round bye because the New Orleans Saints are also 11-3 as they battle for the No. 2 seed in the conference behind the Green Bay Packers (13-1).
Then there’s the small matter of the 49ers’ defense not allowing a rushing touchdown yet, and also ranking No. 1 in the league in rushing defense. So regardless of what Marshawn Lynch is able to do against this unit that has stonewalled the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy, Bengals’ Cedric Benson, Redskins’ Roy Helu, Giants’ Brandon Jacobs, Cardinals’ Beanie Wells, Ravens’ Ray Rice and Rams’ Steven Jackson – some of the more productive backs in the league this season – the Seahawks will need Jackson to make some plays if they’re going to pull off yet another upset. Not to mention lift their record above .500 (8-7) for the first time since Week 10 last season.
And, as the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles have discovered during the Seahawks’ three-game winning streak, don’t underestimate what Jackson is capable of doing – especially in the second half.
“I think he’s done very well,” coach Pete Carroll said. “To take care of the football as well as he has … that’s really good stuff for us. That’s really built into the fabric of what were all about.”
With Jackson, it’s a fabric that has been durable, versatile and able to hold up under pressure.
Jackson’s passer rating in those games is 104.5, as he has completed 67 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions. In the second half, however, that rating balloons to 130.6, because he has completed 76 percent of his passes and had those three TD passes.
“There are so many things that go into the position, other than how many yards you throw for or how many touchdown passes you have or touchdowns-to-interceptions – people usually go to that statistic line,” 49ers coach and former NFL QB Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday during a conference-call interview.
“But he’s a threat to run. He buys time. Makes throws; strong, accurate thrower. Plays with a lot of poise. You don’t win that many football games without the quarterback playing well, and doing things that don’t always show up on the statistical sheet.”
But why? Why is it, and how is it, that Jackson has played his best down the stretch and helped throw the Seahawks into the playoff picture after their 2-6 start?
The most obvious factor is that Jackson is feeling better than at any time since spraining the pectoral in his passing shoulder during the Week 5 upset of the New York Giants. After weeks of throwing only twice – on Thursday and game day – Jackson has taken all the reps in every practice the past few weeks.
“It’s helped me a lot,” Jackson said. “Being able to take every rep at practice helps a lot – getting to look at every look from the defense; get a chance at every throw; and get those full-speed reps (rather) than just trying to get mental reps.
“So it’s been big for me and been big for my coaches knowing that I’m healthy and not really having to hold back on the play calls.”
He also has taken Carroll’s “It’s all about the ball” mantra to heart. After throwing six interceptions in a four-week span at midseason, Jackson has done a better job of getting rid of the ball in pressure situations.
On a couple of occasions against the Bears, Jackson threw the ball away and lived to pass another down.
“That’s part of the game,” he said. “You’ve got to play the field-position game and you’ve got to give yourself a chance. Coach and I were going over a couple plays and throwing the ball away a couple of times gave us a chance on third down to convert, instead of taking sacks and having loss-of-yardage plays that get you in third-and-long.
“We kept it manageable and we were able to convert some, so that played a big part in the game.”
Even more impressive has been Jackson’s ability to embrace and they perform the halftime adjustments made by the coaches. That comes from having played for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell the past five seasons when both were with the Minnesota Vikings. It also comes from the confidence Carroll has shown in Jackson since he was signed as a free agent on July 29.
But it’s also the maturity process that comes from being in his sixth NFL season, and the unchallenged starter for the first time in his career.
“I think the biggest thing with him, No. 1, is coach (Carroll) gave him a vote of confidence early and has stood behind him,” Bevell said. “He’s kind of rewarded us a little bit.
“His preparation has been great. Obviously his understand of the offense is really strong. So now it’s starting to carry over the field.”
And to the other players, who voted Jackson the offensive captain before he had ever played a down in the regular season for the Seahawks.
“That just kind of speaks to how he prepares, and how he takes adjustments and what he sees in games,” wide receiver Deon Butler said. “Teams are switching up the way they play us because we’ve given so many different looks, with running the ball out of two-tight end, three-tight end sets; to where we spread out with all the different receivers.
“So teams are giving us a lot of different looks and T-Jack has been able to diagnose it well. So once we get a grip of, ‘OK, this is what they’re doing to us,’ that’s when you see him really take charge and we follow his lead.”
Where Jackson has taken himself, and the team, is even more impressive because of where this team has come from.
“Tarvaris has continued to fight through all that,” Bevell said, “and he’s just gotten better and more consistent.”
Especially in the second halves of the past three games.