ATLANTA — The question has to be asked at the midway point of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2019 season: Just how good are these guys, really?
Are they a Super Bowl contender, which is what they looked like in the first half of Sunday’s 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons?
Or are they fool’s gold, capable of losing to a gutted 1-7 team, which is what almost happened when the Seahawks nearly blew a 24-0 lead in the second half Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
The Seahawks themselves, sitting at 6-2, and 4-0 on the road, a team with designs on an NFC West divisional title, a top seed in the NFC, with a quarterback in the thick of the MVP discussion, don’t seem to quite have any real answers.
But they believe they are onto something, that they are on the cusp of breakthrough in season’s second half.
“We don’t quite have it yet. We’re not quite there,” Pete Carroll said. “To be where we are, to be 6-2 and feeling that isn’t so bad. We’ve got a ways to go here, but we’re going to finish.”
In Carroll’s decade as coach, the Seahawks have prided themselves on being a team that plays its best late in games, a team that ascends as the season progresses. That’s Carroll’s vision, anyway, and he spoke confidently about that projection again Sunday.
“This club has finished forever and we’re going to do it again,” he said. “This next eight weeks will tell the whole story, for everybody in the league. The story is not written. You guys write the stories, thinking that you know, but it ain’t written yet for real.
“So we have a chance to do our part and see if we can cause some problems for the rest of the league.”
They seem to have that in them, for extended stretches at least. The first half was probably the Seahawks’ most efficient and most impressive half of the season.
Their offense scored 24 points, their most in a half since November 2016. Their defense shut down Atlanta, which was playing its first game since 2009 without QB Matt Ryan (ankle).
There was Chris Carson spinning out of a tackle and plowing through a defender on a long second-quarter run. He had 86 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown in the first half, playing his first NFL game in front of more than 50 family and friends in his hometown.
There was Russell Wilson finding Tyler Lockett for one over-the-shoulder catch, and then another, each one better than the next (go watch Lockett’s one-handed grab again; you deserve it).
There was Wilson finding a wide open DK Metcalf for a short touchdown in the front of the end zone. There was Wilson again finding a wide-open Metcalf for a touchdown in the back of the end zone, making Metcalf the first Seattle rookie with two TD catches in a first half since Lockett did so in 2015.
There was linebacker Mychal Kendricks with his first interception of the season. There was defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the backfield on the final snap of the second quarter with a strip sack of 38-year-old journeyman QB Matt Schaub. A fitting end to a dominant first half for the Seahawks.
Whatever happened after that, well, Carroll owned the brunt of the responsibility.
“That’s lousy on our part that that happened. That should not have happened,” he said. “Really, I didn’t do a good enough job transitioning from the first half to the second half. I mean, obviously. Our guys went out there and got knocked all over the place.”
The Falcons (1-7) outgained the Seahawks 155-2 in the third quarter. Schaub, in his first NFL start since 2015, was 39-of-52 passing for 460 yards, with one TD and one interception. Julio Jones had 10 catches for 152 yards.
Atlanta scored on four of its five second-half possessions, and was threatening to score on that fifth one until Marquise Blair, the Seahawks’ rookie safety, knocked the ball way from Devonta Freeman and Bobby Wagner recovered the fumble at the Seattle 1-yard line.
It was that close.
The Seahawks had five offensive possessions in the second half. They punted three times and took a knee to kill the final 1:17 after recovering a second onside kick.
Their only points in the second half came on a Jason Myers’ 54-yard field goal with 5:53 left to play. That they had to have that, that the feeling was that desperate at that moment, would have been unthinkable at halftime.
How did it happen?
“It’s something we have to look at,” veteran left tackle Duane Brown said. “They made some good adjustments, but we have to come out with the same sense of urgency that we did when the score was 0-0. I think that’s the main thing. We know what we’re capable of. We just have to continue to do that and come out with a lot more juice in these second half … no matter what the score is.”
The Seahawks offensive line, hit hard by a significant knee injury to starting center Justin Britt on the opening drive, rotated players in at times in the second half. And while Brown didn’t want to blame the second-half struggles on a “relaxed” mentality, he didn’t dismiss it.
And Carroll didn’t want to get into specifics.
“There’s a lot of things,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that take place when you don’t play well. I’ve just got to do a better job.”
Can the Seahawks be even better in the season’s second half?
They’ll happily leave Sunday’s second half behind and start to write their own story anew next week.