Only time will tell if the Seahawks' 29-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers was the beginning of a second-half surge that turns around a season, but what was immediately evident Sunday at CenturyLink Field is that the Seahawks got back to doing what they do best, particularly on offense.
"That's the way it's supposed to look for us," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after watching his team pile up a season-high 508 yards. "It's all the right kind of mix, the actions on the play-passes and stuff like that, our guys coming through on third down really well, that's how we like to play. It was a really good day."
Whether it was Thomas Rawls gashing the San Francisco run defense or Russell Wilson carving the 49ers up through the air with one of the most efficient games of his career, this was the Seahawks offense at its balanced best; a one-two combination of a dominant, physical running game and an explosive, opportunistic passing game.
"This is what Seahawks football is all about," said receiver Doug Baldwin, who had a team-high six catches for 60 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury. "We run the ball, pound the ball, allow our defense to do what it does, and then we make explosive plays when we need to on third down and in the passing game. That's what Seahawks football looks like, so today was very familiar for us."
Or as guard J.R. Sweezy, who with the rest of the line helped pave the way for 255 rushing yards, put it, "That's who we are. It feels good to get back to who we are and execute our game plan."
A big day from the offense, and from Rawls and Wilson in particular, highlights our five takeaways from a victory that got the Seahawks back to .500 with six games left on their schedule.
1. Russell Wilson bounced back in a big way.
Wilson wasn't terrible last week by any means, but he was not as sharp as usual, posting his lowest completion percentage and passer rating of the season as the entire offense struggled to get going. A week after going 14 for 32 against the Cardinals, Wilson was nearly perfect against San Francisco, completing 24 of 29 passes for 260 yards, three touchdowns and a 138.5 passer rating. Wilson's 82.8 completion percentage was the best of his career, and his passer rating was his third highest in a regular season game.
In particular Wilson thrived under pressure Sunday, going 11 for 11 with three touchdowns when the 49ers blitzed, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Wilson is just the third quarterback in the last 10 years to go 10 for 10 or better against the blitz, joining Philip Rivers (Week 1 this season) and Tom Brady (2007).
"He was 12 of 13 in the first half, and the one was a throw away," Carroll said. "I think all of that showed really good poise in the pocket, really good job of picking what he needed to get out of there and make something happen, and he took care of the football beautifully all day."
Wilson's huge game combined with a potent rushing attack helped the Seahawks go 8 for 14 on third down and 2 for 3 in the red zone, two areas that have been a struggle at times for the offense this season.
"We were on schedule for the most part, we stayed on course, we stayed with the gameplan and we executed extremely, extremely well," Baldwin said. "Our offensive line gave Russ plenty of time to make his reads and to deliver the ball, and Russ did an excellent job delivering the ball, and the receivers and tight ends and backs, we all made the most of our opportunities.
"Huge day on third down. Third down is directly correlated to scoring offense, so we want to be able to put points on the board. We love (kicker Steven) Hauschka, but we want touchdowns more than field goals, so being able to convert on third down is huge."
2. The rookies came through in a big way.
The Seahawks scored four touchdowns in Sunday's win, and they also got four touchdowns out of their rookies, with Rawls and Tyler Lockett each scoring twice. Rawls, who finished with 209 rushing yards and 46 more receiving, scored on the ground and via a 31-yard completion. His rushing total was the second highest in franchise history, and made him the first undrafted rookie in league history to rush for 160 or more in two games.
And Rawls wasn't the only rookie to have a big day thanks to Lockett, who had two touchdown catches, giving him five total touchdowns this season—three receiving, one punt return and one kick return. Lockett could have had a third touchdown, but Wilson just overthrew him on a deep ball, one of Wilson's only inaccurate throws in the game.
"The best thing about Tyler Lockett and Thomas Rawls, those two rookies, is the way they practice allows you to trust them completely out in the field," Wilson said. "The plays that you make on game day, you're not surprised. They love the game, they get there early, they're dedicated to their craft. To see Tyler Lockett make those plays, it's exciting, you're happy for him. You're happy for Thomas Rawls. You have two great rookies in terms of what they can do."
3. The offensive line took another step forward.
Wilson and Rawls were the stars of Sunday's game, but neither of them could accomplish what they did without a strong showing from the offensive line. If there was one blemish in Sunday's game it was that the line collected a few more penalties than anyone would have liked, but overall Seattle's still-developing line came through both in protection—Wilson was sacked twice—and especially on the ground, helping the offense average a robust 5.8 yards per carry.
"We're getting better," Carroll said. "We certainly have improved. After the start of the season, when you look at the last three weeks, we've improved considerably. It's about time."
Having not studied the film, Sweezy wasn't ready to declare it the line's best performance, but said, "It was up there. It was one of the top one or two. Again, I'd have to look at it on film and see it exactly, but it felt good. It felt real good."
4. The Defense gave up a few big plays, but for the most part, "we did great."
While the focus after the game was mostly on a big day for the offense, the defense should not be overlooked for what was mostly a very good performance.
For most of the first half, it looked like the Seahawks were going to again dominate the 49ers from start to finish, as they did a month ago when San Francisco managed just eight first downs and a single field goal against Seattle. But starting with a drive at the end of the half, the Blaine Gabbert-led offense was able to get a bit more done, finishing with 14 first downs, 306 yards and 13 points. Even so, the 49ers were 2 of 11 on third down, and the defense came up with more stops than costly big plays allowed.
"I think we played great," safety Earl Thomas said. "There's always going to those situations where you want it back, that's why you focus so hard so they won't happen. They're professionals too. Other than that, I thought we did great. I was very, very surprised with their gameplan though to try to throw it deep so many times."
Thomas wasn't the only player to note that the 49ers did some things they hadn't seen on film, which is part of what contributed to the 49ers hitting a few big passes, including, yes, another touchdown by a tight end.
"The great thing about it is we keep seeing how we're getting attacked," Thomas said. "That's all you can do. Other than that, I think the D-line did great, they've been doing great all year, they've been stopping the run. We've just got to get better in the back end. It's easy plays. Everybody's not seeing the same thing sometimes. A lot of the plays they had today were gadget plays, trickery plays you're only going to see one time."
Richard Sherman again shadowed San Francisco's top receiver, Torrey Smith, and after Smith didn't have a catch in the last meeting, he managed only one this time. At one point the Seahawks made a change at the other cornerback spot, putting DeShawn Shead in for Cary Williams.
"Just trying to give a guy a chance to play and see what we have," Carroll said of the switch. "DeShawn Shead deserves a chance. You've seen it with other guys, we'll give guys opportunities and see how they do. There have been some plays that were made that we just wanted to see some improvement on, some carry over from weeks past. We thought it was time to give DeShawn a chance to see if he could do it."
5. Cliff Avril continues to make big plays for Seattle's defense.
The last time the Seahawks played the 49ers, San Francisco's line had no answers for Michael Bennett, who had 3.5 of Seattle's six sacks in the game. This time around, the 49ers did a better job with Bennett, but part of what make's Seattle's pass rush so good is that teams have to contend with both Bennett and Cliff Avril. Avril, who like Bennett is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, had both of Seattle's sacks on Sunday, upping his total to 6.5 to match Bennett for the team lead, and totaled four quarterback hits to give him a team-high 18. Both of Avril's sacks came on third down, forcing 49ers punts.
"He's been great, man," Carroll said. "Good pressure, he was chasing the quarterback all day long. Blaine Gabbert did a nice job today, he ran really well and stayed away from us, and made it hard to get him. But, I thought Cliff played really well again, and Michael was active. It's great that he just keeps making big plays, too."
The sun was out, the 12s were out, and the Seahawks got it done at CenturyLink Field, sweeping their NFC West rival, San Francisco 49ers for the season with a 29-13 win.