CLEVELAND — Through an often-dizzying haze of big plays, controversial penalties and lengthy reviews emerged the blueprint for victory for the Seahawks in 2019.
It wasn’t clean, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t artful. And for a while, this trip to Cleveland was on track to be as bad as the last one — a 6-3 loss in 2011 regarded as one of the lowest points of the Pete Carroll era.
“They punched us in the mouth the moment they stepped on the field,’’ Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said about the game Sunday.
Despite an early 14-point deficit, and a few times it appeared the Browns were on the verge of building an even bigger lead, the Seahawks somehow never wavered. Or as Wagner put it, “We weathered the storm.’’
When the clouds finally parted, Seattle could clearly see its way to a trademark Seahawks victory, Russell Wilson once again leading a fourth-quarter drive for the winning score in a 32-28 defeat of the Browns. The victory was the Seahawks’ third fourth-quarter comeback already this year.
“That was a character-builder today,’’ Carroll said. “But I just loved the way we hung tough and stayed in this game. There were so many opportunities to let this game get away and our guys just would not do it.’’
Carroll said he also liked the manner in which Seattle finally got the job done.
• Forcing turnovers? Check. A team that lives by the motto “It’s all about the ball’’ forced a season-high four turnovers and finished plus-three in takeaways.
• Running the ball? Check. Seattle finished with a season-high 170 rushing yards and an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
• Winning the game in the fourth quarter? Well, it was more like winning it in the final three. While the offense was finding its rhythm as the game wore on, the defense held Cleveland to just 110 yards on the final six drives after giving up early scoring marches of 69 and 92 yards. And when the Seahawks got the ball back with one more interception with 2 minutes, 41 seconds left, the Seahawks picked up two first downs to run out the clock.
“There was a lot about this game that was really fun,’’ Carroll said.
It was hard to pick what he liked most.
Maybe all those turnovers, which directly led to 17 points and included three interceptions off Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, a fumble and a blocked punt.
Seattle came into the game with just three interceptions for the season. But Carroll said he felt something when the Seahawks had four in practice Thursday — three in a row at one point, he said.
“That was a beautiful thing on defense, to get the football back,’’ Carroll said. “It is so important.’’
Or maybe it was the way the squad’s veteran leaders kept the team together during the early Cleveland onslaught.
The Browns had 302 yards at halftime, with Seattle’s touted-on-paper-if-not-yet-on-the-field pass rush unable to get to Mayfield much and some shoddy tackling on a 52-yard run by Nick Chubb.
At one point in the first half, Wagner gathered the defense on the sideline for an impromptu pep talk.
“I think we were trying to do too much in the beginning and I feel like it showed and it hurt us,’’ Wagner said. “Once we kind of settled down and everybody started playing with a cause we felt like we started to stop people.’’
Wagner said he particularly wanted all the team’s young players to know “it was (just) the first quarter and we’ll be fine.’’
Or, as Tre Flowers recapped what Wagner said: “Slow down and trust your brother and we will win the game.’’
The key play might have come when the Browns were at the Seattle 10-yard line, threatening to score a touchdown and take a 27-12 lead late in the first half. Shaquill Griffin knocked away a pass intended for Antonio Callaway in the end zone with Tedric Thompson diving to make the interception. Wilson then led a quick scoring drive to make it 20-18 at the half.
Seattle took the lead for the first time with six minutes to play in the third quarter, then lost it early in the fourth quarter following a sequence of events linebacker K.J. Wright called “crazy.” The sequence included a lengthy delay as the officials sorted out a fourth-down play that saw the Browns fumble the ball into the end zone on fourth down. Cleveland challenged that it was a touchdown before the fumble, to no avail. Seattle had too many men on the field anyway, giving Cleveland another shot once it was determined no touchdown had been scored.
What happened next was Carroll’s favorite play of the day: The Seahawks ganged up to stop Chubb for a loss of a yard.
“That is when football is at its very best,’’ Carroll said. “It is the height of intensity.’’
He didn’t like what happened next: a three-and-out and a 23-yard Michael Dickson punt. The Browns needed just two plays to score and retake the lead with 9:02 left.
Wilson then turned in another MVP-level drive, completing 3 of 3 passes for 33 yards and running another time for 8 yards, with a 15-yard pass to Tyler Lockett taking it to the 1, where Chris Carson then scored on a run.
“It has to be hard for the other side to try and figure out how you are going to stop the guy,’’ Carroll said of Wilson, who now has a 14-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. “He just keeps making plays.’’
And Seattle just keeps winning games.
The Seahawks now are 5-1 for only the third time in team history (the others being 2003 and the 2013 Super Bowl team that began 11-1) and are 15-5 since an 0-2 start to the 2018 season.
They also have now won four games by four points or fewer.
“Every game has been hard,’’ Carroll conceded. “They’re going to make us better. The tougher, the better for us.’’