EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ— As the Seahawks huddled during the TV timeout before their second possession of the third quarter, Doug Baldwin stood in the middle of his teammates at midfield. One by one, Baldwin worked his way around the circle, giving motivating words to his 10 teammates on the field, exuding passion that was evident even from high above the field in the press box.
It's impossible to measure the exact impact of those words, but it's probably not entirely coincidental that the Seahawks offense responded with its first touchdown of the game, a 22-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Baldwin that helped open the flood gates in an eventual 24-7 victory over the New York Giants.
Up to that point, the Seahawks had been having a rather strange game on offense. They had moved the ball well, gaining 222 yards and 15 first downs in the first half while converting 50 percent of their third-down attempts. Yet thanks to a few blunders, ranging from dropped passes to penalties to a Thomas Rawls fumble, the Seahawks were limited to a single field goal and were trailing 7-3 at halftime despite dominating on the stat sheet. And yes, those struggles led to a little bit of frustration—more on that in a moment—but the offense rallied in the second half to produce three touchdowns, a surge that began with an on-field motivational speech of sorts from the team's longest-tenured offensive player.
"I was just trying to calm the guys down," Baldwin said. "The biggest thing for us offensively is that we have a lot of young guys who haven't gone through the issues that we've gone through as an offense… I'm really just trying to calm then down and let them realize that this is a process. You've got to be poised in those moments. It's not about the coaches; they can install all the Xs and Os they want to, but we have to go out there and execute it, and we weren't executing. That was on us. I was just trying to get the guys to realize, calm down, it's still football."
While the Seahawks have several key veterans on offense, most notably Baldwin and Wilson, they're also young in a number of spots, particularly on the offensive line, and for those young players, Baldwin's leadership can make a big difference in a difficult situation.
"He's awesome," said right tackle Germain Ifedi, who had multiple first-half penalties that contributed to drives stalling out. "He was just like, 'Hey, you know how good you are, you don't need to jump the snap. Just dial in and play your game.'
"That's the beauty of having a guy like that. He's a great leader for us, great ambassador for everything we stand for. We love him to death, love having him out there."
While the Seahawks would have preferred to avoid the early struggles in this game, they liked how they finished, gaining 425 yards and 26 first downs, and most importantly finding the end zone three times in the second half. The Seahawks offense also produced 10 explosive plays (runs of 12-plus yards or passes of 16-plus) after struggling in that department against the Rams in their last game, and with 31 rush attempts and 27 Wilson completions, they easily eclipsed 50 combined rush attempts and pass completions—a number Carroll likes as a measure of offensive success. And of course, it goes without saying that defense was again fantastic throughout the game, allowing 177 total yards while holding the Giants to a minuscule 3.1 yards-per-play average.
"It bodes well," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the way his team finished the game. "We're going to be all right."
But yes, there was one moment Sunday when Baldwin didn't express his passion in the way he was proud of. With the offense struggling a bit, the offense huddled on the sideline, and when offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable tried to address the players, Baldwin interjected with a miniature shove. Carroll and Baldwin both explained that he was only trying to make sure Russell Wilson, who was also trying to address the team, was heard—as Baldwin noted, he felt players needed to be accountable in that situation because they, not coaching, were the problem—and he and Cable were seen chatting amicably not long after, but Baldwin still didn't like the way he handled that moment.
"I lost my cool," he said. "It's 100 percent my fault. At that moment, I was really frustrated with the offense as a whole. Not the coaching staff; the players. We had the play calls, we just didn't execute. Whether it was passing the ball, blocking, catching, false starting, whatever it may be, we weren't executing as players. To me, there's nothing a coach can say, we have to take accountability for it. So I got a little passionate about it. I love Cable to death, me and Cable have one of the best relationships between a coach and player. So that was 100 percent my fault, and I already apologized to him. At that moment, players needed to realize, it's the players, not the coaches.
"In that moment, I needed players to take accountability for what we were doing… I wish I would have done it differently. Cable and I, we both have the same mindset, we both want the same thing."
Asked what was said in that heated moment, Baldwin said, "The basic sentiment was, 'What are we doing? We have all the talent in the world, we have everything we need right here. It's not the play calling, it's not the Xs and Os, it's not the other team, it's us. We just have to settle down and play our game.' We've been here before, so I was just trying to instill the young guys that this is a process—don't get too excited and think you have to make that block, just make your block. That was the sentiment."
Carroll further explained that Baldwin was only trying to make sure his quarterback got to get his message across to the team.
"We were going to call the offense up and Russ started talking, and Doug wanted to let Russ do his talking," Carroll said. "I had told Tom go ahead and get in the middle of the offense, but Russ was ahead of us by a step."
And as Carroll pointed out, that particular moment wasn't as important as how the team responded to it, and the second half showed that the offense was able to settle down and play up to its potential.
"The point is, what are we going to do about it? And our guys dealt with it beautifully," Carroll said. "Coaches handled it well, the leaders on offense handled it well, the leaders on defense handled it well supporting those guys, kept pulling them through it. And we turned it around. It was great."
And even if Baldwin didn't handle that situation exactly like he would have liked, his heart was in the right place, and like his third-quarter on-field attempt at rallying his teammates, it just might have been effective.
"We needed a little energy, we needed a little juice, we needed to get cranked up," Carroll said. "We're in this thing together. The players know it, the coaches know it, and we spend a lot of time opening up the lines of communication so that we can be together where we know we can go the furthest and do the best. This is a very tight-knit group. It's going to continue to grow, it's going to continue to be a factor for us in being able to endure an extraordinarily challenging season. We have a long ways to go, a lot left to do, but I like where we are. I like the way we're communicating with one another… The cool thing was that Doug was trying to make sure Russell had his chance to rally the guys, because he was fired up and they wanted to hear what he had to say."
Few people understand Baldwin's passion, as well as his value as a leader, than Richard Sherman, who has known Baldwin for more than a decade dating back to their days as teammates at Stanford.
"From the outside world, it's kind of misunderstood," Sherman said. "… It's not him yelling at them, it's him showing passion. They're trying to get to the same goals. It's awesome. I've seen him do it since freshman year of college, and it has always gotten the point across. You can ask (Stanford coach) David Shaw about that one, about his freshman year, that's a long story, but he's been doing it a while. It works out, that's how he plays. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, and nobody can complain about his effort or his attitude, that's for sure."
Yet as significant as Baldwin's leadership was on Sunday, his on-field production was also a big factor in Seattle's third straight victory. Baldwin finished the game with nine catches for 92 yards and a score, and as usual was Wilson's go-to target on third down. And Baldwin's big game could have really been spectacular had Wilson not put a bit too much on a deep pass to a wide-open Baldwin, who almost certainly would have had a 63-yard touchdown had the ball been just a bit shorter.
"Doug has played a lot of ball, and he knows what he's doing," Wilson said. "He's passionate as can be, and we love that."
Game action photos from the Seahawks' 24-7 victory over the New York Giants in Week 7.