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Monday metatarsal musings
The second half on Sunday started as dismally for the Seahawks as the weather.
Three-and-out. Five plays and a punt. Another three-and-out. A lost fumble. And yes, there were a smattering of boos from the otherwise wildly enthusiastic and supportive crowd of 68,137 fans at CenturyLink Field.
When the New England Patriots opened the half with a field goal to run their lead to 23-10 you had to wonder if Tom Brady was right. During the week, the Patriots’ all-everything quarterback had offered, “This will be fun. It’s always nice when you take 53 guys on the road and you say, ‘This is all we’ve got and this is all we need and this is what we have to do.’ And see 70,000 fans, if you can keep them quiet or turn them on their own team. I think that’s an exciting part for road teams, is to see if you can get them booing their own players.”
As it turned out, the Seahawks were just starting to have fun – thanks to Russell Wilson, a rookie quarterback who doesn’t play like one.
Before Brady could ponder the preposterousness of what was unfolding, Wilson had thrown two touchdown passes in the final 7½ minutes and the Seahawks had won a game – 24-23 – no one gave them much of a prayer to even be in.
Think about it. In three home games, Wilson – with more than just a little help from the defense, special teams, his blockers and receivers – has faced and stared down Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and, now, Brady and the Patriots.
Those three QBs have four Super Bowl titles, three league MVP awards and 12 Pro Bowls between them. Wilson? He’s got six NFL starts on his resume.
But Sunday, with the game on the line, Wilson didn’t just toe the line he went well beyond it – like 10 yards to Braylon Edwards for a touchdown on a fourth-and-3 play and 46 yards to Sidney Rice for what proved to be the game-winning TD with 78 seconds remaining.
Credit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for dialing up some imaginative and gusty calls. Credit the offensive line for giving Wilson the time he needed to complete those plays, and passes. Credit the receivers for sticking with Wilson when he was forced to move in the pocket, something coach Pete Carroll emphasized all week in practice. Credit the defense for forcing the Patriots to punt twice and then give the ball up on downs on their final three possessions.
But mostly, credit the rookie QB for making the plays when his team had to have them.
“There’s not enough words out there for me to say,” second-year wide receiver Doug Baldwin said in the locker room when asked what this win says about Wilson. “The final play itself shows his poise, his calm nature and his ability to go out there and get it done – especially when it counts in crunch time.”
With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked in the win over the Patriots and three things that need work in this short week as the Seahawks prepare for Thursday night’s game against the 49ers in San Francisco:
Bobby Wagner – Another rookie who isn’t playing like one. The Seahawks selected Wagner in the second round of the April NFL Draft to replace three-time leading tackler David Hawthorne at middle linebacker.
How’s that working out? Wagner had a career-high 14 tackles against the Patriots, giving him 35 in the past four games and 42 for the season – one behind strong safety Kam Chancellor and strongside linebacker K.J. Wright for the team lead.
Wagner’s recent rush can be traced, in part, to the fact that he’s playing more – having replaced veteran Leroy Hill in the nickel defense. But an even bigger factor is the fact that Wagner is just good.
Jon Ryan – His day started poorly, as the team’s veteran punter dropped the snap on his first attempt. But after that, it was a 66-yarder, a 50-yarder, another 66-yarder and a 58-yarder. And those punts came when the offense was struggling to start the second half.
His 60.0-yard average wasn’t just a team single-game record – by almost 5 yards over the 55.2 mark Rick Tuten set in 1996 – it made Ryan only the third punter in NFL history, and the first since 1946, to average at least 60 yards on four punts.
The way the cards fell, as well as the 49ers and Rams – While the Seahawks were pulling the upset against the Patriots, the other three teams in the NFC West were losing. The combination lifted the Seahawks to 4-2 and into a tie for the division lead with the 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
What needs work
Third downs – The Seahawks had converted 50 percent and held the Panthers to 18 percent last week. But, wise man that he is, Carroll cautioned that it was only one game and the offense and defense needed to continue focusing on their efforts on the pivotal down.
The Seahawks were 4 of 12 against the Patriots (33 percent), while the Patriots were 8 of 18 (44 percent). So for the season, the Seahawks are at 32.9 percent (25 of 79), while their opponents are at 40 percent (32 of 80). The NFL averages are 38.4, but last season the defense was at 34.8 and the offense at 33.8.
Earl Thomas’ hands – The Seahawks’ third-year free safety already is one of the best players in the league at his position, having been voted the starter on the NFC Pro Bowl squad last season. He could push for All-Pro honors if he can hang onto the ball.
Thomas had one interception against Brady, in the end zone in the fourth quarter. But it was the one that got away in the second quarter that had him still kicking himself in the locker room. It came on a first-and-goal play from the Seahawks’ 3-yard line. It could have been a pick-six, extending the Seahawks’ lead to 17-7. Instead, the Patriots scored a touchdown three plays later to take a 14-10 lead.
“I dream about making plays. I think about it all the time,” Thomas said. “I had a great opportunity. I had a great break on the ball. I just dropped the ball. I was really hurt after that one. I was like, ‘Not again.’ I had dropped one last week. That’s on me. I’ve just got to capitalize on the opportunities.”
The pass rush – Too many times, Brady simply had too much time while passing for 395 yards. The Seahawks got one sack, when Brady went down while ducking under one of his own linemen and Jason Jones hurried over to touch him while on the turf. The Seahawks hit Brady five times, three by Chris Clemons. And Brady put the ball up 58 times.
The pass rush has improved in flashes this season – the eight first-half sacks of Rodgers, four of Cam Newton last week. But more consistency is needed, starting Thursday night against Alex Smith at Candlestick Park.