ARLINGTON, Texas – Before the Seahawks offense took the field with 6:41 left on the clock and a long field standing between them and their hopes of victory, Russell Wilson expressed a calm confidence despite the fact that the game had been something of a struggle for him and the offense for much of the afternoon.
Prior to that final drive, the Seahawks had managed 10 points and 244 yards and were two for eight on third down. They had turned the ball over once, punted four times, and now they were backed up at their own 15-yard line. Still, Wilson told Seahawks coach Pete Carroll that now was the time for the Seahawks to take control of the game.
"I just kind of smiled at him and said, 'This is what we're here for,'" Wilson said. "We enjoy those moments. I don't fear them; I look forward to them. When you play a tough team like that, you expect the game to be tight. You expect it to be a battle to the very end. When you have six minutes on the clock and the offense has the ball, I'm really looking forward to that opportunity. I never shy away from it."
And sure enough, Wilson and the offense put together a 17-play, 79-yard drive that not only set up Steven Hauschka's go-ahead field goal, it also bled 5:35 off of the clock, giving the Cowboys only 1:06 left with no timeouts. The defense, which had been great all day, had one more stop in it, securing a 13-12 victory that gives the Seahawks a 4-4 record heading into its bye.
The offense's ability to make something happen when it counts leads our five takeaways from Seattle's Week 8 victory over the Dallas Cowboys:
1. The offense came up big when it mattered most.
It wasn't a terrible day for Seattle's offense, but thanks to a blocked field goal and another drive stalling out in the red zone, the Seahawks had only 10 points to show for three and a half quarters of work. Wilson had made some plays, but he also missed on some throws and was intercepted on a spectacular play by Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy. Yet with the game on the line, Wilson and the offense put together their best drive of the game.
After converting on only two third downs up to that point, the Seahawks went three for four on the last drive, and the one they didn't convert came at a point when keeping the clock moving was more important than risking a throw in the end zone. Wilson hit Jimmy Graham on third-and-6 to keep Seattle on the field early in the drive, then he found Tyler Lockett for 9 yards on third-and-3 three plays later. A 15-yard gain to Doug Baldwin followed that play to get Seattle into field-goal range, then Wilson helped bleed more clock before the field goal by picking up one more third-down conversion with a 10-yard run on third-and-seven.
"It was great play-calling," right guard J.R. Sweezy said. "We just executed the plays, trusted the plays. We wish we could have scored (a touchdown), but we got the job done. We got the job done, whatever it takes, we got it done today.
"That's who we are. We're gritty, gritty guys who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. We're finally starting to show that and come into our own and trust ourselves and play Seahawks football. We'll just continue to grow from it and get better."
The offense was far from perfect Sunday, but it was very good with the game on the line, which is no small feat for a team that struggled closing out games on the way to a 2-4 start to the season.
"It was a hard day today," Carroll said of the offense. "I didn't think we played great. I thought we played the way we needed to play to win. It was a good effort in that regard. We had some drives. The drive we missed the field goal was another good drive too in the second half. The drive at the end of the game when we needed it most was an extraordinary demonstration of these guys' work and playing together, but we can get better. There's a lot of points out there for us."
2. The defense came up with big stops all afternoon.
The offense may have put together the memorable drive that put the Seahawks ahead in the final minutes of the game, but for four quarters, the defense was outstanding for the second week in a row. The Cowboys found some success on the ground, gaining 129 yards on 30 carries, but quarterback Matt Cassel passed for just 97 yards, and All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant managed just two catches for 12 yards while being shadowed by Richard Sherman all game, a performance Carroll described as "stellar."
Most importantly, the Seahawks didn't allow a touchdown, marking the fourth time in as many wins that Seattle's opponent failed to score an offensive touchdown. Keeping Dallas out of the end zone was especially impressive following Hardy's interception, which gave the Cowboys the ball at Seattle's 16-yard line.
"That was enormous," Carroll said. "That sudden change was an enormous opportunity for them to take over the game, and our guys would not let it happen. I thought our defense was ready to rise to any occasion they were faced with today. What a fantastic effort."
The Seahawks didn't manage a takeaway—Sherman nearly intercepted Cassel on a couple of throws, drawing an offensive pass interference call on Bryant on one—meaning once again Seattle won despite losing the turnover battle, but even if it didn't force a turnover, Seattle's defense came up big, limiting Dallas to 220 yards and coming up with one very big stop after a turnover.
"That was very big," safety Earl Thomas said. "We always prepare for sudden changes. Of course we want to win the turnover ratio, but when we're getting wins and not getting turnovers, we're just playing solid, disciplined football."
3. The pass protection was excellent.
For the first time since beating Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks did not allow a sack. That's notable not just because the Seahawks had allowed 31 sacks through their first seven games, but also because they were playing without injured left tackle Russell Okung, meaning Hardy, a Pro Bowl defensive end, would spend much of his afternoon lined up across from Alvin Bailey, who was making his first start of the season.
"I loved that we got through the game with no sacks today," Carroll said. "That's the first time this year. That's a big accomplishment against a bunch of guys who were crazy about rushing the quarterback. So that's a step forward for us.
"We protected the quarterback today. We legitimately did it and Russell was able to stand in there and do his thing. As always, our guys always catch the football, they were great at catching the ball again today and making plays for us."
In the locker room after the game, linemen were noticeably upbeat and encouraged with the progress they showed.
"About time, right?" Sweezy said. "It's really about time. I feel like we're finally starting to mesh and starting to get our communication down and our sets right. That's the product of it."
For Bailey, who was making his third career start at left tackle and sixth start overall, the key was not getting overhyped about a matchup with Hardy or any other Dallas pass-rusher.
"I just stayed with my technique," he said. "I knew if I came out here and was myself, I'd be able to be successful. I knew I didn't have to come out here and do anything special, try to be anybody else, so I just came out here and stuck to my technique and my film study, and it paid off today."
4. Jimmy Graham had another big day.
With seven catches for 75 yards, Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham is now on pace for a 900-yard season, which would be a pretty huge number for a tight end in an offense that runs as much as Seattle's. Whether or not Graham maintains or exceeds that pace in the second half remains to be seen, but what is clear after this game, as well as his eight-catch, 140-yard performance against Carolina two weeks ago, is that the Seahawks' biggest offseason addition is becoming a huge part of the offense after a few hiccups early in the season.
"He had a great game," Carroll said. "He almost had a couple others too, we were a little off on a couple of things, but I thought he played terrific. He's a hell of a football player, he really is, and we're lucky to have him. There's other guys too, there's other guys who want the ball too, but he is big factor and when those guys continue to hook up, that's good for us."
5. The bye comes at a good time for the Seahawks.
This Seahawks' season felt a lot different two weeks ago than it does after two road wins, and now the Seahawks get a weekend off, followed by three straight at home. Not only do the Seahawks feel like they are set up for a strong finish to the season, the bye will also allow them to head into the second half healthy.
While the status of receiver Ricardo Lockette, who left the game with a concussion and was kept overnight in Dallas for further evaluation, will likely take longer to determine, the Seahawks should have Okung back, Carroll said. And while there were a few injuries in this game—Cliff Avril, Chris Matthews, Luke Willson and Drew Nowak all have ankle injuries and Bailey had a sore toe, the severity of which are not yet known—there's a good chance at having a fully healthy roster, or something close to it, when the Seahawks return to action.
"It's good," Carroll said. "We like that, we like winning going into the bye… It's a good time for us to break. We've got a few guys nicked today. Basically pretty healthy going in, but it still will be good for us. We'll come back really strong to kick it into the third quarter of the season."
The week 8 match-up against the Dallas Cowboys came down to a nail-bitting finish, with the Seahawks holding on to their late lead for the win.