Before the Seahawks had even returned to Seattle from last week's loss at New Orleans, the plan that would help produce Monday night's 31-25 victory over the Buffalo Bills was beginning to take shape.
The Seahawks had struggled offensively against the Saints, just as they had a week earlier in Arizona, producing only one offensive touchdown in those two games, so when Russell Wilson and his coaches talked during their flight home from New Orleans, they knew some changes had to occur. Most notably, an offense that hadn't been as explosive as usual had to start taking more shots down the field.
With Wilson limited in his mobility for most of this season because of knee and ankle injuries, and with Tyler Lockett also battling a knee injury, and with Luke Willson sidelined following knee surgery, and with Thomas Rawls out with a leg injury, Seattle's offense hasn't been at full strength. But beat up or not, the offense knew something had to change, and it did in dramatic fashion on Monday, with Wilson turning in a huge performance, completing 20 of 26 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and a 137.0 passer rating. Wilson's passer rating, yards-per-attempt (10.8) and completion percentage (76.9) were all season-high marks.
After Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell both talked last week about the need for more explosive plays (16-plus-yard runs and 12-plus-yard passes), the Seahawks had eight explosive pass plays, including a 50-yarder to Doug Baldwin that set up Seattle's first touchdown, and 17- and 18-yard touchdowns to Jimmy Graham.
"It was time to go," Carroll said. "We talked about it on the plane coming home last week that it was time. We've been very careful, really, we've been careful in how we would expose Russ. He was begging us to do more and all that, but we were trying to do the right thing by him, and he was doing phenomenal things just to play for the last two months, but he felt the best coming out of that (New Orleans) game. Really, we hadn't even landed and we had already decided what we were going to do. We were going to go for it.
"It really is just trusting everybody. We have a very experienced group that we're playing with. I know you don't think of that with the guys up front, but they've been holding their own. Russell and Doug and (Jermaine) Kearse and Tyler and Jimmy, all those guys, they all make things happen, and we know that they know our game. We were just kind of holding back, and tonight was the first time where we just said, 'OK, let's go. Let's let it loose.'"
Carroll said Wilson's improving health was "really the key factor" in being able to open things up on Monday. Wilson has downplayed the significance of his ankle, knee and pectoral injuries throughout the season, but comments by Carroll and Wilson's teammates paint a picture of a quarterback who has battled through a lot just to be on the field, let alone play at a high level.
"I don't think people realize what he has gone through," Graham said. "I don't think people realize just how much it has taken him to get to every game, then to make it through those games. He has put in the time, he has put in the work, he has been in there early every morning with me doing his thing and grinding. I don't think he gets enough credit for how tough he is. For what he has, most guys wouldn't be in there, honestly. He's got so much pride, and he's just unbelievable."
Saying he wanted to be "in attack mode," Wilson agreed with his head coach that it was time for the offense to make some changes.
"We needed to," Wilson said. "We've got too many special players not to. I thought Coach Bevell did a great job calling the plays tonight and us being aggressive, also still being smart too. I thought we did a great job with that."
Despite the impressive performances by Wilson, Baldwin (6 catches 89 yards) and Graham (8 catches, 103 yards, two touchdowns), the offense isn't all the way to where the Seahawks want it to be, not after finishing with only 33 rushing yards on 12 carries. For a team that has thrived in recent years in part because of a balanced offense, winning with such a lopsided pass-to-run ratio isn't a formula the Seahawks want to try to repeat going forward.
"In the upcoming weeks, we need to run the football better to make a run of this season, and make something out of this season, and we know that," Carroll said. "There is no mystery to me. This is not the format that we want, but it's the format that we have right now available. I thought that tonight was a great illustration of adapting and adjusting during the week, by Bev and Tom (Cable) to get this done and make this shift we've called for, and they did it. You could see that it couldn't have been more obvious. Hopefully, we'll just keep going."
Even Baldwin, who had a big game in part because the Seahawks went with, as Carroll put it, "the format that we have available right now," knows the Seahawks offense will be at its best if it can become more balanced in the second half of the season.
"We've had some success passing the ball, however our run game is not where we want to be," said Baldwin. "We pride ourselves on being a run-first offense, dominating the clock with the run game, and we need to get back to that. Yes, it's kind of strange hearing that from a receiver, but I'm trying to win championships, and that's the formula we put in place that we know works, so we have to get back to that."
The Seahawks still see a lot of room for growth in the second half of the season, particularly in the running game, but on Sunday, they showed that with Wilson and other players getting healthier, they are a lot better than what they showed in their previous two games. The Seahawks aren't a perfect team halfway through their season, but they are 5-2-1—their second best 8-game start under Carroll—and have a two-game lead over Arizona in the NFC West standings while still feeling like their best football has yet to be played.
"This is long-haul thinking," Carroll said. "We've been involved with that the whole time, since this season began back in April. I just don't doubt them. I think that we're going to find better football play. We're going to get a little healthier coming up. Kam (Chancellor) is coming back next week which is a great boost to us. Michael (Bennett) is only a couple of weeks away now. Thomas (Rawls) is coming around, as well as whatever else happens—Luke (Willson) will coming back. It just feels like that. Russell is finally running; he ran a little bit tonight.
"It can't be more obvious, we're not the same right now, and we haven't been for eight weeks. That's just the way it is. Russell's an extraordinary football player. You saw the effects of a quarterback who could run his butt off. (Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor) was phenomenal tonight, we couldn't get him down. That's what Taylor's all about, and that's what Russell's like. That factor has not been there. So is it going to be the same? You can keep asking for it to be the same, and it's not going to be. It's not the same yet. I'm so impressed and so thrilled to see what Russell has pulled off to make it through this time, to play for his teammates and play for this team and keep us moving forward and keep us where we are, with a lot of upside ahead of us."
See some of the action from Monday Night Football, Seahawks vs Bills during Week 9 at CenturyLink Field.