GLENDALE, Ariz. – They’re masters of illusion, these Seahawks.
One moment, they appear to be the most menacing team in the NFL. The next, they’re donating points to the opponent. And then, at the height of your exasperation, they’re the dominant squad you know them to be.
Who are the real Seahawks? They’re a mixture of all three, but slowly, methodically, they’re trending toward the most flattering characterization. They took a major step in their pursuit of greatness Thursday night, controlling a road game from start to finish, despite having to overcome themselves once again, in a 34-22 victory over Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The performance wasn’t flawless, but it was far less concerning than some of their other meandering efforts this season. The Seahawks may have played their best first and third quarters of the year. In the opening 15 minutes, they mauled the Cardinals, leaving no doubt about the superior team. And after a few of their habitual troubling moments in the second quarter, they responded by putting the game out of reach in the third.
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The Seahawks, now 6-1, haven’t played such a complete game since blowing out lowly Jacksonville in Week 3. The defense overpowered Arizona, limiting the Cardinals to 234 yards (half of those in garbage time), holding them to 30 rushing yards and a measly 1.7 yards per carry and sacking Carson Palmer seven times. As always, the offense ran the ball effectively with Marshawn Lynch (91 rushing yards), but it added the dimension of a passing game that featured better timing and a little less of Russell Wilson running around and having to make miracles because of poor protection from the offensive line. And there were no special-teams gaffes this time.
Oh, there were still plenty of misadventures: running an unsuccessful fourth-and-one play with an empty-backfield formation, two Wilson fumbles that led to 10 of the Cardinals’ points. The Seahawks continue to miss opportunities to extend leads and have a penchant for letting opponents back into games, but they recovered and enjoyed their first rout in nearly a month.
“That’s closer to how we want to be,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We never want the game to be in question. We’re going to make mistakes because that’s just inevitable in a football game, but we want to clean up our mistakes with our dominance. We want to seem so dominant that you forget the few things we did wrong.”
If that’s the standard, the Seahawks are inching closer. You can call them a number of names, but first call them by their record — 6-1. They’ve now won three of their first four road games, matching last season’s victory total away from CenturyLink Field. If you count the playoffs last January, the Seahawks have won six of their last eight on the road. Their most glaring weakness is clearly diminishing.
Wilson was sharp, completing 18 of 29 passes for 235 yards. He fumbled three times, losing two, but he also threw three touchdown passes. In the first quarter, he lofted an amazing pass, while on the run, to Sidney Rice for a 31-yard score. His highlight reel also included a how’d-he-do-that? flip to Zach Miller.
Most encouraging, though, was that the passing game possessed more fluidity at times. No surprise, that meant Rice made more plays. Golden Tate made more plays. And tight end Miller, back after missing two games with a hamstring injury, led the Seahawks with five receptions, including a 15-yard touchdown.
Overall, the Seahawks were still inconsistent in protection, and Wilson’s awareness of the pass rush wasn’t as good as usual, which contributed to his fumbles. Nevertheless, the Seahawks have seen worse and will consider this a positive day for the passing game.
The Seahawks outgained Arizona 210-69 in the first half, but they led only 17-10. It was their fault, as usual. They were ahead 14-0 and in Arizona territory in the second quarter when coach Pete Carroll decided to go for a 4th-and-one on the 43-yard line. That’s when they ran the ridiculous empty-backfield play. The Cardinals took the good field position and turned it into a 49-yard field goal to make it 14-3.
Two plays later, Arizona linebacker Matt Shaughnessy sacked Wilson and forced a fumble. Defensive end Calais Campbell recovered the ball and advanced it to the 3-yard line. It set up an easy Rashard Mendenhall touchdown. Just like that, the score was 14-10, and the Seahawks were beating themselves again.
Sometimes, it seems like the Seahawks are a great NBA team enduring the boredom of a regular season. They toy with opponents too much, and they’re fortunate it hasn’t hurt them more. But other than the first half of the Houston game, no opponent has imposed its will on the Seahawks. It feels like the Seahawks are in control of most every situation.
“We know we’re a great football team when we’re on it,” safety Earl Thomas said.
The Seahawks stayed out of their own way long enough to let their superiority show. For them, that’s progress, simple and sweet.
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Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer