Bradley Sowell's Seahawks career consists of one offseason, preseason and only three regular-season games, but the left tackle already knows what Seattle's offense is supposed to look like. And after two games in which the offense struggled to score points—"some ugly (stuff) on film the last couple of weeks," Sowell called it—while looking nothing like the team that finished the 2015 season on such a high note, the Seahawks offense looked more like, well, the Seahawks offense in a 37-18 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
"Bradley Sowell said that?" receiver Doug Baldwin said with a grin. "How long has he been a Seahawk? No, it definitely does feel more like Seahawks football because of the fact that we ran the football in the manner in which we did. That's our calling card. We want to be able to run the ball, control the game with the ground game. So we were fortunate enough to be able to do that. So he's right, even though I don't think he knows what he's talking about. It did feel more like Seahawks football."
And in a dominant win over the 49ers, it took all of three plays to know that things were going to be different for Seattle's offense. After struggling through the first two games, scoring just one touchdown and 15 total points, the Seahawks needed just three plays to go 75 yards for a touchdown. After Russell Wilson's first pass attempt went incomplete, he audibled from what he said was "a good play" to "something bigger and better," and hit Baldwin down the left sideline for a 34-yard gain. On the very next play, Christine Michael exploded through a big hole for a 41-yard touchdown run.
After Seattle's defense forced a three-and-out, the offense went 62 yards for another touchdown and a 14-0 lead, doubling the number of touchdowns it was able to produce in its first eight quarters in a span of eight minutes.
"This was a really good day for us," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We needed this badly. It really feels to me like we started. I'd like to build on this one and get going, and have another good solid week next week. The first two weeks didn't feel like we came out of the chutes the way we wanted to. I'm happy about what happened up front. I thought the line did a nice job, the tight ends did a nice job. You saw we used Luke (Willson) a little differently today, and he did a nice job with it. Russell threw the ball well, guys caught it. It's just good stuff. For us to get C-Mike 100 yards today, that's terrific, that's the kind of output we hoped that he could have. This was really the first game where he had to carry the load. He knew that and he came through in a good way. Jimmy had a big day today. Doug had a terrific day, too, making plays. Really good day's work."
During the week, Carroll pointed to two issues in particular when it came to getting better on offense—the running game and third-down conversions. And sure enough, the Seahawks ran the ball significantly better than they had in their first two games, gaining 127 yards on 31 carries, with 106 of them coming from Michael, and they converted on nine of their 14 third-down chances.
"We just executed at a high level," Baldwin said. "We were able to get our running game going. We really focused on that during the week, because that's where everything starts. We were able to do that and just feed off of that. Obviously we struggled in the past two games against good defenses. We wanted to come out here and be successful, especially on third down, and we were able to do that today."
Just about everyone on Seattle's offense contributed to the team's 418-yard, 37-point output, from the offensive line, which took another step forward, to Michael, who had a career game, to Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, who had huge games, to Wilson, was 15 for 23 for 243 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game after, as Carroll put it, spraining his knee "a little bit."
"We've worked so hard," center Justin Britt said. "We've been waiting for this. We wanted it to happen sooner, but I feel like our season is just getting started. We've got a clean slate and we're ready to go… Our game plan was on point and we went out and executed. It was really good to score that quick the way we did. It definitely set the tone for how the day was going to go."
One indication of Seattle's offensive success is the fact that, for the first time since late in the 2014 season, they had two 100-yard receivers in Baldwin and Graham, and a 100-yard rusher in Michael.
Baldwin established a career high with 164 yards on eight catches, including a 16-yard touchdown from Trevone Boykin, who played well in relief of Wilson. Baldwin's big day also included a 59-yard reception, as well as a diving one-handed catch that might rival the leaping one-handed grab he made in last season's playoff win at Minnesota.
"Doug Baldwin looked great today," Wilson said. "He started of the game quickly right off the bat. He got the ball down the sideline, made a huge play for us and just made play after play after play. He got a touchdown pass, then he also had that deep post route that he caught for a huge play on third and long."
And while Baldwin's big game, combined with his nine-catch, 92-yard performance two weeks ago, was an indication that he's picking up right where he left off last season, Graham's six-catch, 100-yard game was a sign that the All-Pro tight end is all the way back from a very serious knee injury.
After tearing his patellar tendon in November last year, Graham's status for the start of this season was very much in doubt, but he made it back for the opener, though on a limited basis. Graham increased his work load significantly last week, though he was targeted only four times and had three catches. On Sunday, Graham looked very much like a player who will be a big part of Seattle's offense going forward, making plays in the red zone, winning jump balls in traffic and being a matchup nightmare throughout the game.
"He's huge for us," Baldwin said of Graham. "His presence on our offense, not only as a football player and what he can do in terms of catching the ball and blocking, but also his leadership and his presence in the huddle, I can't talk about that enough. It's not talked about enough."
The Seahawks knew Graham might need a few weeks to have this kind of performance considering the severity of his injury and how much of training camp and the preseason he missed, and while they weren't going to rush him back, everyone is excited about what they're seeing now.
"It's been a process," Carroll said. "He was back well enough to get in there (in Week 1), it was like his first preseason game. Then, it was like his second preseason game (in Week 2), the 50 plays, and then bouncing back from that, showed that he was ready to go. He was on it this week. He had a great week of practice. He had every intention—he wanted to have this kind of impact in the game. He looked great. It's thrilling to see him, he's a fantastic football player. I think you can see the benefits of Jimmy and Russell throwing, they've thrown thousands of balls together in preparation for this. That's what it takes to see it like this, so hopefully we can really come back and keep building on it, and really see a fantastic influence that Jimmy can have helping everybody."
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Look through some action photos from Week 3 vs 49ers at CenturyLink Field.