PITTSBURGH – They have won two games by a grand total of three points against teams that by November – or sooner – might look like they actually should have been pushovers.
Furthermore, they played the Bengals without star receiver A.J. Green, and the Steelers without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a half and running back James Conner for nearly a quarter.
They have made a litany of mistakes – turnovers, penalties, and big plays that were handed on a platter. If you want to cause instant distress, flick a flea their way. It’s good for 40 yards, minimum.
And yet. And yet these Seahawks, these 2-0 Seahawks, are looking more legitimate by the week.
They are looking like a team that, at crunch time, knows how to win – or maybe, and just as important, how not to lose. That quality will serve them well through the long slog to come, even when the inevitable losses come.
So will the confidence that is brewing, and the ability to toss aside the ghastly breakdowns, such as the two costly fumbles Sunday and the pass-interference call that set up another touchdown.
“We understand mentally where we need to go to get back into that safe place,” is how receiver Tyler Lockett put it after the Seahawks’ 28-26 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Best of all, they look like a team that can and will get better (although if quarterback Russell Wilson absorbs more hits like the rib-rattling one Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt put on him in a first-quarter sack, all bets are off).
Wilson’s wizardry, mastery and durability – he popped back up from that shot, as well as a helmet-to-helmet hit later in the game, as well as an awkward and scary slide when his cleats caught in the turf – is their ultimate crutch. The NFL learning curve is their best friend.
Sometimes, a couple wins such as these have the feel of gifts, or sorcery, or just plain luck. These two victories over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, on the other hand, felt mostly like the Seahawks were toying with their foes, sabotaging an easier victory by dint of their own self-destruction rather than anything being done to them. And that’s far more correctable, and palatable, than being dominated.
As coach Pete Carroll said after the game, “We have so much improvement. We have so many areas and ways we can get better. We’re just getting warmed up.”
That’s just bluster until they make it happen, of course. But the Seahawks have raw, young players who will make huge jumps with playing time, topped by wide receiver DK Metcalf, who oozes star potential. They have injured players (such as Ziggy Ansah and Poona Ford) who will return to revamp an already formidable defensive front. And Carroll’s lineup tinkering coupled with general manager John Schneider’s roster maneuvering appears to have shored up what in Week 1 was a problematic secondary.
With Saints quarterback Drew Brees possibly out of Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field because of a hand injury, with winless Arizona on tap after that (albeit at University of Phoenix Stadium, Seattle’s personal House of Horrors), it’s possible to squint and envision a showdown of unbeaten division foes when the Rams come to CenturyLink in Week 5.
That’s a story line for another day, one that might not come. On Sunday, the Seahawks were savoring a road win in the Eastern time zone, which in other years had been their downfall.
“I was telling the guys that have never played here, enjoy this moment,” veteran offensive lineman Duane Brown said.
“No matter what’s going with their season, (the Steelers) have a good team. Really good defense. It’s always hard to come into Heinz Field, especially first home game, and come away with the win. We have some things to fix, but it’s a heck of a win for us.”
Not everything is rosy, mind you. Until the Seahawks switched to a quicker passing attack, the Steelers’ pass-rushers were having their way with Seattle’s offensive line and putting Wilson in jeopardy with four sacks – three on the Seahawks’ first two possessions.
Three fumbles in two games by running back Chris Carson is alarming (although there is some discrepancy over who was to blame for the last one, a faulty exchange with Wilson). And an old nemesis reared its head Sunday when the Seahawks were penalized 10 times for 93 yards.
They have much cleanup to do, in other words, and some vulnerable areas to shore up. But when asked what growth he saw Sunday, linebacker Bobby Wagner said, “Just understanding what it is going to take to win a football game.”
That’s a great place to start when you’re looking to get back into that safe place, and stay there.