The Dragons turned the jeers into cheers Saturday afternoon.
Boos from the home crowd at CenturyLink Field rained on the Dragons after a miserable start, one that culminated with Seattle quarterback Brandon Silvers throwing a pick-six — on a 78-yard interception return — that gave the Tampa Bay Vipers a nine-point lead early in the third quarter.
But suddenly, everything changed, starting with a long touchdown pass. Then came a defensive touchdown, a great goal-line stand, then one final stand. It all added to 17 consecutive points and a 17-9 victory.
And while it might not have been pretty, most of the 29,172 spectators on hand went home happy after Seattle won the first home game in franchise history, something that seemed improbable until everything changed.
“That was pretty exciting,” said Dragons coach Jim Zorn. “What was fun for us, as a team, was the support we got from the fans. … I hope we can continue to improve. We still have a lot to work on, and they know it, but they were resilient and we ended up being fortunate to win the game.”
Seattle (1-1) rebounded from a 31-19 season-opening defeat against the DC Defenders. Tampa Bay fell to 0-2 and has not scored an offensive touchdown.
It looked for a while as if neither team would score. You can argue it was bad offense, great defense or a combination of both.
What was clear is that yards were hard to come by, particularly in the first half. There were off-target passes, questionable decisions and a flurry of sacks in a scoreless first quarter in which Seattle had 14 yards and one first down. Tampa Bay wasn’t much better, and gave the ball away on a terrible interception that was nowhere near a receiver.
It didn’t get much better in the second quarter. Seattle, aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Vipers, drove to the Tampa Bay 30 midway through the second quarter, but Ernesto Lacayo missed a 48-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay responded with its best drive, taking a 3-0 lead on Andrew Franks’ 36-yard field goal with 2:33 left in the half.
Seattle had 41 yards of offense in the first half, and only one play longer than 8 yards, a 13-yard reception by Keenan Reynolds.
Tampa Bay, playing without starting quarterback Aaron Murray, had 100 yards of offense in the first half and the three points, while playing both Taylor Cornelius and Quinton Flowers at quarterback.
Silvers was 5 of 11 for 12 yards in the first half for the Dragons.
“I didn’t play good in the first half at all,” said Silvers, who finished 7 of 18 for 91 yards. “I didn’t hit plays I usually make and you just got to keep pushing.”
Seattle had a much better offensive rhythm to start the second half. But on second-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 25, disaster struck. Silvers’ short pass in the flat to tight end Connor Hamlett was badly off target.
Cornerback Tarvarus McFadden picked off the errant pass, returning it 78 yards for a touchdown and a 9-0 lead.
You could hear the groundswell of support for Dragons reserve quarterback B.J. Daniels, but Zorn said he didn’t consider pulling Silvers.
“I heard some of the frustration, but we were all frustrated,” Zorn said. “I wasn’t going to panic.”
That patience was rewarded with a 68-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Reynolds, who got behind the Vipers defense.
“We just needed one big play to get us going,” Silvers said. “(Reynolds) ran a great route to get open, so I just let it out and let him run underneath it.”
And what was Reynolds, who had a team-high three catches for 87 yards, thinking?
“Don’t drop it,” he said.
The Dragons took the lead minutes later when Seattle defensive end Marcell Frazier picked off a screen pass at the Tampa Bay 1, then strolled into the end zone. After a successful tw0-point try from the 5-yard line on a Silvers-to-Reynolds connection, the Dragons had a 14-9 lead with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay seemed primed to take the lead with a first-and-goal at the Dragons’ 1 early in the fourth quarter. Seattle stuffed two consecutive runs before an incompletion. What seemed like a certain field goal from 20 yards out netted nothing when the holder could not handle the snap.
Tampa Bay’s last good chance came with 6:55 left when it started a drive at its 2-yard line. The Vipers got to their 48, but were sacked on fourth-and-five with 2:50 left.
Seattle made it 17-9 on Lacayo’s 27-yard field goal with 1:02 left.
Tampa Bay, which had no timeouts left, got to the Seattle 18-yard-line with nine seconds left. Tampa Bay got into the end zone with four seconds remaining, but receiver Daniel Williams was called for offensive pass interference after he clearly pushed off to get open.
Seconds later, the fans could finally exhale when linebacker Kyle Queiro ended the game with an interception in the end zone.
“The defense played stout all game,” Reynolds said.
Indeed it did, allowing 289 yards and forcing three turnovers.
That, and one huge offensive play, was enough to make it a feel-good Saturday for Dragon fans.