CLEVELAND — So what’s the Seahawks’ reward for matching the second-best start in their 44-year history?
At the moment, only second place in their own division.
While Seattle was undoubtedly enjoying its 32-28 victory over the Browns on Sunday and a 5-1 start that matches the 2003 and 2013 teams (the 2003 team then lost its next game, while the 2013 team went 11-1) as it flew home, the Seahawks also saw the 49ers had stomped the Rams and are now 5-0, and at this point have to be given serious consideration as the best team in the NFC.
The 49ers play woeful Washington next, meaning the Seahawks are going to have to just keep “chopping wood,’’ to use a team expression coach Pete Carroll cited Sunday, to keep pace in the West.
But the Seahawks on Sunday also again showed they are nothing if not resilient.
On to the grades.
By Russell Wilson’s glittering standards, this didn’t always feel like his best game. But then the dust cleared, and the stats show he had another Wilson-like performance, going 23 of 33 for 295 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 16-yard touchdown run. Wilson earned his sixth consecutive passer rating of 100 or better — a career best — at 117.6, which would have been 127.71 if Tyler Lockett had made it into the end zone on the final touchdown (instead Chris Carson punched it in). Wilson now is at 124.7 for the season with a 72.5 completion percentage and an absurd 14-0 TD-to-interception ratio.
Carson had another really gutty performance with a career-high 124 yards — his third consecutive 100-plus-yard game — and a touchdown, with a 5.2 yards per carry average. At this point, we can stop talking about his early-season fumbles. C.J. Prosise, though, had a potentially really costly fumble and also didn’t get in on a two-point attempt late in the first half.
Lockett had another really steady day (five catches for 75 yards) while DK Metcalf had one of his best days with four receptions for 69 yards. Jaron Brown had his best game of the season with two touchdowns, the first with some really nifty footwork on a fade route when Wilson changed the play at the line of scrimmage after sensing a blitz and man coverage.
Ugh. The worst news of the day was Will Dissly’s injury that, by all appearances, will knock him out for the rest of the season. The pass protection from the edges also seemed to lack a few times, especially early.
The big pregame story — Seattle having to play without left tackle Duane Brown and right guard D.J. Fluker — didn’t seem like all that big of a deal when the game was over. George Fant played creditably at left tackle, and Jamarco Jones had another solid game at right guard. And this felt like one of Germain Ifedi’s better days as he often had to go up against Myles Garrett. Garrett had two sacks, but neither was on Ifedi (one seemed like more of a coverage sack), and Ifedi did a good job holding off Garrett to buy Wilson time on his 6-yard touchdown pass to Brown in the third quarter.
OK, so the pass rush is officially becoming an issue. The Seahawks couldn’t get a quarterback hit — let alone a sack — on Baker Mayfield, who was slowed by a hip injury about halfway through, which is telling because the Browns had given up 16 sacks in their first five games. But the line contributed in other ways — Ziggy Ansah forced and recovered a fumble, and Poona Ford helped clog the middle on a few plays, notably the fourth-down stop on Nick Chubb (Jadeveon Clowney and Quinton Jefferson also were in on that one). At least the Seahawks know suspended defensive tackle Jarran Reed can return to practice starting Monday.
The Seahawks linebackers gave up a few big passing plays early. But as the rest of the defense, everything got better as the game wore on — Mayfield was just 7 of 12 for 38 yards in the second half. K.J. Wright turned in what turned out to be the clinching interception in the final minutes.
The cornerbacks had a pretty good game — Tre Flowers had an interception, and Shaquill Griffin forced one with a deflected pass into Tedric Thompson’s hands. The safety play was a little shakier, especially early on: Bradley McDougald missed a tackle that opened the door for Chubb’s 52-yard run. The Seahawks rotated Lano Hill and Marquise Blair in at times, in place of Thompson. Carroll said he feels they deserve the playing time and that the rotation could continue.
The game began with Seattle allowing a 74-yard kickoff return that led to a quick 7-0 deficit. But Carroll said later he wasn’t worried about the play “because of what happened,’’ a reference to what the Seahawks felt were two missed calls on blocks in the back, especially one on Travis Homer that allowed the play to really break open. But Seattle had other tough moments — Jason Myers missed an extra point, and Michael Dickson’s 23-yard punt led to Cleveland’s final touchdown. David Moore’s blocked punt that led to a Seattle field goal, though, ups the grade.