Pete Carroll opened his postgame press conference with the obvious.
"What a football game that was today," the Seahawks coach said after his team's thrilling 39-30 victory over the Steelers.
Even as the Seahawks head coach was busy trying to help his team hang on for a win, Carroll could also appreciate what was one of the most exciting games of the season.
In a game that featured big plays and clutch third-down conversions from both the Steelers and the Seahawks, there were seven lead changes, including three in the fourth quarter in a span of just over four minutes. And unlike in their five losses this season, the Seahawks finished strong against a very good opponent to improve to 6-5.
A big finish against a quality opponent leads our five takeaways from the Seahawks Week 12 win over the Steelers.
1. The Seahawks finished, and they might just have some momentum going in their favor.
This wasn't a flawless Seahawks victory, far from it, yet with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks did something they haven't always been able to this season, which allowed them to come out on the winning end of a thriller.
With the offense needing a fourth-quarter score to stay alive, Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin, who were both spectacular all night, connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass. And when a defense that has yielded fourth-quarter leads in all five losses needed a stop, they first forced a field goal after a long Steelers drive to maintain the lead, then after another Baldwin touchdown gave the Seahawks some breathing room, Kam Chancellor came up with Seattle's fourth interception of the day to seal the victory.
"It feels good, it feels right," safety Earl Thomas said. "That's who we are. I think sometimes success can kind of make you lose sight of that. But we played great as a defense, we played great as an offense. At times we weren't clicking, we had some bonehead plays, but, like I said, that's the game. I really go out there and just play free. You're going to mess up anyway. We went out there and ran around, got the job done… I'm just glad we finished and got the win.
"It feels good. That's all that matters. Just to see (Richard Sherman) and Kam go out there and get the ball—they come in bunches, even (Ahtyba Rubin) got one. This was great. I'm glad to see Russ out there moving the chains, the O-line is doing great. This is who we are, we just need to keep it going."
Whether or not a second straight win and their first winning record of the season is the sign that a late-season run in imminent remains to be seen, but Carroll did call this "a really strong win. It's such a good football team. We have to get on top of this .500 thing, and get going here, if we're going to have a chance. Today we start that, and we'll see what happens.
"Let's see how we come out of it. We definitely feel it's happening. The play is so solid across the board, so many guys giving it up in so many different areas, it's a collective and everybody realizes that, and everybody's contributing. It's really important to sense that so we can really connect and anticipate that happening again. That is what happens when teams get going, and they really feed off of one another, and that's what's happening."
2. The offense "looked familiar again."
When the Seahawks were struggling to move the ball against Arizona two weeks ago, running back Marshawn Lynch did something that was a bit out of character.
"Marshawn came up to us on the sideline, we had gone a couple of three-and-outs, we weren't doing anything offensively, we were turning the ball over, and Marshawn pulled us all together on the sidelines—it was the first time he has done this in public, so to speak," Baldwin said.
"He told us that we look real unfamiliar, that he didn't recognize this offense, he doesn't recognize the players," Baldwin said.
That bothered Baldwin, so as he prepared for Seattle's Week 11 game against San Francisco, he went back and watched Seattle's NFC Championship game victory over the 49ers from two season ago. Baldwin agreed with Lynch's assessment, and addressed the team to say as much.
"I just spoke on it and said, 'We do look unfamiliar. It's no different, we've got the same guys in the room, we've got guys like Jimmy Graham who are supposed to come in and make us better, why are we looking so unfamiliar?'" Baldwin said. "It was mostly just us getting back to playing Seahawks football and having fun doing so so we could look familiar again."
For two straight games, the Seahawks offense has looked more familiar to Baldwin and company, and the result has been back-to-back huge offensive outings in victories. Wilson had one of the best games of his career, passing for 345 yards and five touchdowns, and Baldwin made six catches for 145 yards and three touchdown, making him the first Seahawks receiver to catch three touchdown passes since Joey Galloway in 1997.
In no small part because of Wilson and Baldwin's big day, the Seahawks were 4 for 4 in the red zone and 7 for 13 on third down, including five conversions of third-and-10 or longer, four of which came on back-to-back touchdown drives in the second quarter. The Seahawks were also able to win a shootout, something they haven't done in recent years. The Seahawks haven't often needed to put up huge scores in order to win in recent years thanks to one of the league's best defenses, but prior to Sunday's game, Seattle had not won a single regular-season game under Carroll in which their opponent scored more than 25 points (the Seahawks did beat New Orleans 41-36 in the 2010 postseason).
"That's something I've paid attention to, that us as an offense have paid attention to," Baldwin said. "We want to do better in those situations, we don't want to just lean on our defense all the time. To me it means a lot, and I know to some of the guys in the locker room it means a lot to us."
3. Once again, Richard Sherman was up to the challenge of guarding an opposing team's top target.
Richard Sherman insists he never lobbies his coaches to let him cover a team's top receiver throughout a game, but he has been given the chance to do so more often this season, and has come through in matchups against Dallas' Dez Bryant, Cincinnati's A.J. Green and San Francisco's Torrey Smith. On Sunday, Sherman spent much of the game following Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who came into the game with the second most receiving yards in the NFL, and he helped limit Brown to six catches for 51 yards on 12 targets. Sherman also earned his first interception of the season when Brown lost his footing on a deep ball, and intercepted a 2-point conversion attempt, though that does not count towards his statistics.
"That's Sherm at his best," Baldwin said. "When he gets the opportunity, when they say, 'Hey, you've got this guy; stop him,' that's a competitor's dream. You go out there and you just be you, and Sherm is the epitome of what a competitor is, an alpha male, alpha competitor. So when they told him early in the week, 'Hey, you've got AB, go stop him,' he was really excited about it. You could see his focus during the course of the week was just above and beyond anything it has ever been before."
While Sherman's critics have had fewer and fewer ways to discredit him as he continues to build an impressive résumé, some have questioned if he is capable of keeping up with a small, shifty speedster like Brown. Sunday, Sherman showed he was more than capable of covering one of the game's best, and yes, quickest, receivers.
"You hear idiots say a lot of stuff," Sherman said of those criticisms. "They don't play the game, they don't have talent. So they can sit there and say everything from a couch, from an armchair, but we all know what it is as players. There's a tremendous respect amongst guys on the field. Their team had a great respect for me, and we had a great respect for their receiving corps, and it's back and forth. You see people who have never played the game, who have never coached the game, who have never stepped a foot on the field talk about how you're not good against smaller receivers. You can't call that. You don't have enough knowledge, you don't have enough intimate details, you don't even know the game. You have very low football IQ. It's tough to take those people seriously."
And speaking of cornerbacks…
4. DeShawn Shead also stepped up to a big challenge.
After spending most of this season as Seattle's nickel defensive back—he also started one game at strong safety—DeShawn Shead was moved into the starting job at right cornerback this week, taking over for Cary Williams. While Sherman spent most of the game on Brown, that didn't mean an easy assignment for Shead, who spent much of the day covering 6-foot-4 receiver Martavis Bryant, a player who came into the game averaging better than 20 yards per catch this season. Shead wasn't perfect, but came through time and time again when tested deep, finishing with four passes defensed as well as 10 tackles.
"I thought also DeShawn Shead came through in a big way, you can't get challenged more in a football game than they challenged him and he made play after play after play," Carroll said. "…I thought he played a fantastic football game for his first really big game. He's been out there before, but this one was a big game of challenges, too. He did a great job."
Yet as well as Sherman and Shead played, the Steelers still managed a big game passing the ball with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 456 yards, including 201 to Markus Wheaton. Some of that was due to coverage breakdowns, particularly when Roethlisberger was able to scramble and buy time, but plenty of credit also needs to go to Roethlisberger and his weapons for making great plays even against good coverage.
"Their quarterback, Ben, was fantastic and their catchers were great," Carroll said. "They challenged us to the max… There was incredible accuracy on the throws by Ben, just incredible accuracy down the field that made us have to make plays so many times. They had a lot of yards and did a lot of good things."
But even if the Seahawks gave up a lot of yardage, they did come away with four interceptions, which brings us to our final takeaway from Sunday's game.
5. The Seahawks finally won the turnover battle and a game on the same day.
In one of the stranger subplots of this season, the Seahawks have completely defied Carroll's "it's all about the ball" philosophy. Throughout Carroll's career, both here and at USC, he has put a huge emphasis on winning the turnover battle, because that has usually been the single most telling stat in any given game. Yet coming into Sunday's game, the Seahawks were 0-4 this year when winning the turnover battle, 3-1 when losing it and 2-0 when even. Against the Steelers, however, the Seahawks took care of the ball on offense and came up with four interceptions on defense, and considering how well the Steelers were moving the ball, every one of those was big.
"Heck yeah, finally," Carroll said of winning the turnover battle and the game. "Finally. Isn't that something? Plus-four today, it was awesome."
The Legion of Boom doubled their interceptions on the season, Russell Wilson had a career-high 5 touchdowns on his birthday, and the team finished strong, winning 39-30 against the Steelers.