Seahawks show some sparks on offense (though the running game struggled) and the defense was on the field a lot once again but made the big plays when Seattle needed it against the Bills.
Sure, coach Pete Carroll acknowledged afterward, these are still not the Seahawks as everyone has come to know them.
Referencing the injuries to the likes of Russell Wilson, Thomas Rawls, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett, Carroll said, “We’re not the same right now. And we haven’t been for eight weeks.”
So if the Seahawks had to beat Buffalo in a different way Monday night – with no real running game, a leakier-than-usual defense and depending on a getting-better Wilson to win the game throwing to maybe the two most dependable players on the offense right now in Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin — so be it.
“This is not the format that we want,” Carroll said. “But it’s the format that is available to us right now.”
One that allowed the Seahawks to escape 31-25 and improve to 5-2-1 and stay in command in the NFC West.
As Carroll had promised all week, Wilson indeed looked more fleet afoot from the start than he had since the first game of the season. In fact, Carroll revealed after the win over Buffalo that he decided after the loss last week at New Orleans to let Wilson begin to open things up some ow that he was on the mend.
“We were just kind of holding back and tonight was the first game where we just said ‘let’s go,”’ Carroll said.
A full week of practice also appeared to bring back Wilson’s accuracy, which was signaled early on a 50-yard dime to Baldwin to set up Seattle’s first touchdown in the first quarter.
Wilson could not have been much better in the first half, completing 14 of 17 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 158.0 — 158.3 is a perfect rating. He also ran for what was his first rushing touchdown of the season on a three-yard run in the first quarter.
Wilson, though, got lots of help from Graham, who made two incredible one-handed touchdown catches — of 17 and 18 yards — and had six receptions on six targets in the first half for 94 yards and finished with eight for 103 — already his third 100-yard game of the season, and two more than he had combined in 2014 and 2015.
The running game, though, remained nonexistent, and at some point that figures to come back and bite the Seahawks. Seattle had just 33 yards rushing on only 12 attempts, five fewer than any game this season and tying the fewest of the Pete Carroll era. Take out Tyler Lockett’s 13-yard run on an end around and Seattle had just 20 yards on 11 attempts. As Carroll said, that will have to get better. But it also didn’t appear to be much of a statement of confidence in Michael.
Christine Michael had just one yard on five carries and didn’t carry the ball after the midpoint of the third quarter with Seattle deciding to go instead with rookie C.J. Prosise. Carroll said the team “just wanted to see” Prosise play more.
The offensive line had a really hit-and-miss night. Seattle did a nice job picking up some blitzes that led to big plays. But there were also times when Wilson had little choice but to throw it away.
Wilson was sacked four times, after having been sacked 12 times in the first seven games.
The early big plays, though, buck up the grade — Wilson averaged almost 20 yards a completion in the first quarter.
What a weird night for the defense, which allowed 425 yards and 40:17 of possession and 12-17 third downs to be converted, but also came through at the end. Still, while the end was gritty, the reality is that Seattle has allowed an average of 401.25 yards the last four games and have also allowed 31-53 third downs to be converted in the last three games. The Seahawks also were on the field for a whopping 82 plays and have now been on the field for 244 plays in the last three games — they were on the field for only 297 in the first five.
The Seahawks missed as many tackles as they have in any game all season, if not in any time during the Carroll era. Carroll, though, noted the elusiveness of Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy as forcing a lot of the misses.
The Bills finished with 162 yards rushing, the most the Seahawks have allowed this season and the most Seattle has allowed since Kansas City got 190 on Nov. 16, 2014. But the Bills also needed 38 carries to get those yards, averaging 4.3 per attempt, more than a yard below the 5.5 per attempt that Buffalo came into the game averaging.
Oddly, it was Taylor’s passing that at times was the bigger issue as he hit on 27-38 passes for 289 yards, his second-highest total of the season with the Bills converting 16 of their whopping total of 30 first downs — the most Seattle has allowed this year — via the pass. Former USC star Robert Woods had 162 yards receiving, the most Seattle has allowed all season to one receiver.
The pass rush was also inconsistent other than when coming from Cliff Avril, who was his typically havoc-inducing self with 1.5 sacks. Frank Clark also had a sack. But too often Seattle seemed to have to resort to bringing pressure to get pressure.
The Seahawks seemed to miss the inside rush of Bennett. Brock Coyle, in his second start at strongside linebacker, got beaten a time or two, as did nickelback Jeremy Lane.
The Seahawks entered the game plus-one in turnover margin, with Seattle’s seven takeaways tied for 27th in the league. The Seahawks got just one and it was due mostly to a Buffalo mistake when confusion on a pass route led to Taylor throwing it right to Richard Sherman in the end zone.
Newcomer Damontre Moore, though, was a happy revelation, finishing with three tackles, two for a loss.
And Bobby Wagner was again a force throughout with a game-high 16 tackles along with three of Seattle’s 12 quarterhack hits.
Seattle, though, forced just three punts on 10 possessions and got fortunate to hold Buffalo out of the end zone as often as it did. The crazy end of the first half resulted in one failed scoring attempt for the Bills; a tripping penalty helped cost Buffalo another scoring chance in the fourth quarter; and the interception hardly felt forced by the Seahawks. Buffalo gained 205 yards on four drives in the second half, but scored just seven points.
What a mixed-bag night it was in this category.
A blocked punt on the first possession led to an easy Buffalo TD and a quick 7-0 deficit for the Seahawks.
But Tyler Lockett looked as spry as he has all season returning kicks and set up the Seahawks in good field position with two good returns — one kickoff, one punt — in the first half.
Jon Ryan had a big punt at the needed time, a 62-yarder late in the game.