Depending on how the rest of the season unfolds, the Seahawks’ 28-21 victory over the rival 49ers in Santa Clara might be viewed as the turning point of the season.
The victory Sunday improved Seattle to 2-2 and not only stopped a two-game losing streak but turned the conversation about the team 180 degrees from a week ago — from one of frustration to anticipation.
Here’s our weekly Four Downs review of the game from Seattle Times beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude.
1. Are the Seahawks back?
Bob Condotta: Just as it was probably, in retrospect, too early to panic after the defeats against Tennessee and Minnesota, it might be too early to again consider Seattle the front-runner in the NFC West based on Sunday. Much as Seattle was picked apart by two elite quarterbacks from the Titans and Vikings who were at the top of their games, the Seahawks benefitted from a shaky quarterback situation Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo was 6 for 6 for 70 yards on the first drive but said later that’s when he hurt his calf, an injury that undoubtedly led to some of Garoppolo’s off-target throws the rest of the half and then forced the 49ers to go with rookie Trey Lance, who had played just seven snaps before Sunday. The game Thursday against the Rams and Matthew Stafford will be more telling.
Adam Jude: What a relief, right? Can you imagine the feeling around town this week if the Seahawks had lost Sunday, coupled with the Mariners’ agonizing end to a promising playoff chase? Seattle, collectively, would have been devastated, and a 1-4 start would have loomed as a real possibility for the Seahawks with the Rams coming to town Thursday. Can you imagine? The Seahawks at 1-4!?! Well, we don’t have to now, thanks to Russell Wilson’s turn-back-the-clock heroics and a refreshing defensive turnaround. It’s going to take a lot more of all that for the Seahawks to get back in the NFC West race, but the good news is it’s still early October — and there is still plenty of time for the Seahawks to get better.
2. Is the defense fixed?
Condotta: The Seahawks made two significant changes Sunday — switching their cornerbacks to take out Tre Flowers, move D.J. Reed back to the right side and insert Sidney Jones on the left, and using Ryan Neal in a six-defensive back (or dime) package, primarily on third downs. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also talked of the defense being more aggressive, especially in the back end. It worked to get the victory Sunday.
Jones admittedly is still getting comfortable in the defense and had the busted coverage on Deebo Samuel’s 76-yard touchdown in the second half, and the dime package was a good match against San Francisco’s tight ends. But each opponent is different. And Carroll indicated the cornerback position is far from settled.
And it’s a lot easier to be aggressive against a rookie quarterback in his first significant action. Let’s call it a really good step in the right direction but hold off on the parade just yet.
Jude: Seattle found a fix on defense. Whether it becomes a permanent fix is an open question. Getting more speed and more playmakers on the field — looking at you, Mr. Neal — was a smart decision by defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., and the Seahawks should stick with that.
But there remains one area that needs to get better — the pass rush. With the depth and versatility at defensive end, the pass rush was supposed to be the strength of this Seattle defense. It hasn’t been through the first month, but it will need to get better in a hurry. The Rams have allowed just three sacks in four games — the fewest in the NFL — and it’s difficult to fathom Seattle’s defense slowing down the Rams’ potent offense without generating a more consistent pass rush.
3. Was this Russell Wilson’s best game of the season?
Jude: The fact that we can even consider that question after the disastrous first quarter Sunday is an indication of just how good Wilson was in the second half. Let’s put it this way: It was, without question, his most important performance of the season, and that’s what matters. Wilson was not going to let the Seahawks lose three in a row. He willed them to that victory. And for as much adoration as his spinout-touchdown throw to Freddie Swain deserves, it was Wilson’s 16-yard touchdown run earlier in the third quarter that was the real pivot point for this game, and perhaps this season. We haven’t seen Wilson run like that, or risk his body like that, in quite a while, and that speaks to just how badly he needed to win Sunday.
Condotta: Statistically, it was nowhere close. In fact, Wilson’s 149 passing yards were the 13th fewest of his career and second-lowest since 2018. But in the way Wilson held the Seahawks together during the rugged early start, this was one of the more impressive performances of his career. A lot of quarterbacks might have gotten rattled after five consecutive three-and-outs and the kind of sacks Wilson took along the way. But Wilson “stayed the course,” to use one of his favorite phrases, and made a suggestion to go with more tempo, which also puts more of the play-calling responsibility in his hands at the line of scrimmage. Carroll later raved about Wilson’s mastery of the play calls and protections, which is the kind of subtle advantage a 10-year vet provides that might be worth even more than $35 million a season.
4. Is Arizona for real?
Jude: It would be foolish to suggest otherwise at this point. The Cardinals thoroughly dominated the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday — it was a 37-13 game before the Rams scored a meaningless late touchdown. Arizona, at 4-0, will remain a legitimate NFC contender for as long as Kyler Murray remains healthy. The bigger question might be about the Rams — is their defense really this bad? We’ll find out Thursday night.
Condotta: What an interesting day in the NFC West with both road teams winning in upsets and in three hours changing much of the perception of what we thought we knew of the division. Now, Arizona is at home against a 49ers team likely to be without Garoppolo — and already favored by five points — with a chance to get to 5-0 while Seattle is home against the Rams, with a chance to move into second place in the division, less than a week after it appeared the Seahawks could be in danger of seeing the rest of the division run away and hide.
And, yes, it might be time to take Arizona seriously. The Cardinals are leading the NFL in points scored and are second in total yards behind a rapidly maturing Murray. They have forced nine turnovers on defense and are playing well in the red zone and on third down. Maybe the division really will come down to Jan. 9, when the Seahawks play Arizona in Glendale.