PHILADELPHIA – Maybe the Seahawks can really pull this off.
Maybe they can keep churning out these “bumpy” victories, to use coach Pete Carroll’s term, where you wait in vain for them to forge a comfortable lead, instead of the rope-a-dope, win-ugly, skin-of-their-teeth affairs that are now customary.
Sunday’s 17-9 playoff victory over the Eagles gave them 11 of their 12 wins this season by one score, with a scoring margin of a razor-thin plus-15. They won Sunday by more points (eight) than their cumulative scoring margin for the regular season (plus-seven).
Maybe they can keep winning on the road in hostile venues, defying all the conventional wisdom about what is the optimal road to the Super Bowl. They are 8-1 away from home, including a 6-0 mark in the Eastern time zone, with Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, up next.
Maybe they’ll keep facing teams depleted by injuries, as the Eagles were Sunday even before they lost their quarterback, Carson Wentz, after a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jadeveon Clowney on Philadelphia’s second possession. That’s a trend that started with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger going down in the road opener.
Or, far more likely, the Seahawks are facing a moment of truth Sunday when they meet the Packers on the infamous frozen tundra.
During a season in which they’ve defied odds, trends, stats and logic to win close game after close game, this is the reality: The Seahawks need to play much better to keep their dreams alive.
The Seahawks did much that was admirable – and familiar – Sunday. Foremost, they kept Philadelphia out of the end zone, the first time they’ve done that to an opponent all season. And with the Eagles selling out to stop the run, quarterback Russell Wilson conjured up his customary magic, with help from a dazzling performance by rookie receiver DK Metcalf.
But facing the oldest quarterback to make his playoff debut, 40-year-old Josh McCown, for the bulk of the game, they really should have put away the Eagles more easily. At least, they should have done so a lot sooner than when Wilson’s long pass to Metcalf with under two minutes to play allowed them to finally go into victory formation.
Yes, the Seahawks are facing their own major injury issues that were surely a factor in the rhythm of this game, as well as the recent stretch of three losses in four games entering the postseason.
Seattle is missing its top three running backs, the left side of its offensive line, its center, its tight end and one of its starting linebackers – among others.
But as receiver Tyler Lockett pointed out, teams can’t allow that to be relevant at this stage. McCown turned in a valiant effort, completing 18 of 24 passes for 174 yards and a 94.8 passer rating. Who knows what would have happened if the Seahawks had to punt the ball back one more time?
“I mean, it’s the playoffs, man,” Lockett said in response to a query about their edge with Wentz out. “They’ve been successful when he (Wentz) was hurt before. You can’t look at it like that. There’s times people go down and that doesn’t give the other team an advantage. Their quarterback did a great job when he was out there. He almost got them in position to win the game.
“So you can’t really look at it like that. Injuries are 100% a part of the game. Your question could make us say, ‘What if we had Duane (Brown), what if we had (Justin) Britt, what if we had Chris (Carson). … You can’t look at it like that. You’ve just got to play with what you got.
“I think they did an amazing job playing with what they had. They had injuries just like us and, like you were able to see, both teams kept pressing, both teams kept fighting, and both teams wanted it. That’s what football is all about.”
Of immediate concern for Seattle is the 19 yards on 17 carries by the running-back tandem of Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch. Obviously, that’s an unacceptable output that will have get better. On the positive side, Lynch made his impact felt with a bruising 5-yard touchdown run (“He just wasn’t going to let them stop him,’’ Carroll said) and a key 20-yard reception on third down.
The defense had a season-high seven sacks, and a revitalized Clowney coupled with the return of safety Quandre Diggs bodes well. But slowing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be a big step up from McCown.
Rodgers and Wilson are the only quarterbacks left in the playoffs with a Super Bowl victory. And as long as the Seahawks have Wilson in charge, they have hope of winning ugly, pretty or somewhere in between.
Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker summed it up well after the game, in which Wilson was sacked just once despite a revamped line.
“The thing is, you keep 3 safe, he can do some magical things out there,” he said.
Wilson was phenomenal Sunday, completing 18 of 30 passes for 325 yards and a 108.3 passer rating, and salvaging the Seattle running attack with 45 yards on nine carries, a couple bailing the Seahawks out of dire predicaments.
“I thought his running was spectacular,” Carroll said. “His movement was great. There’s three or four plays he made on the move, creating space for the guys to get open and our guys finishing on the route. That was really beautiful football, and that’s what Russ gives you.”
The Seahawks need to aspire to more beautiful football, more often. But there does seem to be an undefinable quality to this team that has sustained it through much adversity, and about which Lockett was rhapsodizing Sunday.
“You see something special in here,” he said. “It’s a type of light that ignites each and every one of us.”
It will have to shine even brighter on the frozen tundra.