A game that originally looked like a breather instead turned into a day that again left Seattle taking a huge sigh of a relief once it was over — if not also leaving those who watched Seahawks’ 40-34 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday largely breathless at its many twists and turns.
“You can’t win the game in the first three quarters,’’ said receiver Tyler Lockett, echoing a favorite phrase of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “Today you couldn’t win the game in the fourth quarter. But we won the game in overtime. We did whatever we had to do to pull out the win.’’
That included the offense driving 75 yards on the first possession of overtime to pull out the victory on a 10-yard pass from Russell Wilson to tight end Jacob Hollister after the offense had just driven 53 yards in five plays in the last 46 seconds of regulation to set up a 40-yard potential winning field goal for Jason Myers.
Myers missed the kick, one of his three misfires on the day, typifying a game that was uncomfortable from the beginning against a Tampa Bay team that played in a manner at odds with its now 2-6 record.
“It was hard, and it was a challenge throughout,’’ Carroll said.
Indeed, Seattle fell behind 21-7 late in the second quarter against a Tampa Bay offense that used a passing attack led by quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Mike Evans to move at will against the Seahawks early on.
Seattle switched at that point to playing more man defense with two safeties deep, instead of a zone with a single safety deep.
“That really helped us out a lot and forced him (Winston) to check down,’’ said Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.
Seattle, meanwhile, feasted on a Tampa Bay defense that already was one of the worst in the NFL against the pass and then stubbornly stuck with its man defense most of the game, even when starting cornerback Carlton Davis III left with a hip injury suffered in warmups. He was replaced by rookie Jamel Dean, who had played only three defensive snaps before Sunday.
“They continued to play man-to-man on us,’’ said Carroll, who on this day happily went against his usual tendency with Seattle throwing 43 times while running just 22. “We were hoping that was going to happen on this day and we took advantage of the concepts that gave us.’’
Another MVP-level performance from Wilson — who tied a career high with five touchdown passes — and another electric one from Lockett (a career-high 13 receptions for 152 yards) as well as a career-best one from DK Metcalf (six for 123) got Seattle back in it. The two teams were left ultimately engaging in an entertaining, if exasperating for Seahawks fans, shootout.
But even if the defense — which also had to resort to blitzing more in the second half to get pressure on Winston — slowed the Bucs down some in the second half, it frustratingly broke down when given a chance to win the game in the final minutes.
Seattle appeared on the verge of finally breaking the Bucs for good when Wilson found Metcalf for a 53-yard touchdown with 4:25 left (Metcalf easily blowing past Dean on the play) to take a 34-27 lead.
But the Bucs methodically drove 75 yards in 10 plays to tie it with 46 seconds left, Winston turning in a key play when he ran for 5 yards to pick up a fourth down with just less than two minutes left. Tampa Bay’s 34 points were the most any team has scored against Seattle all season.
Winston finished with 335 yards and was sacked only twice, once when linebacker Bobby Wagner came through on a blitz and another when Winston lost the ball out for a fumble (linebacker Mychal Kendricks officially got credit for a sack).
“We struggled quite a bit,’’ Carroll said of the defense. “We thought we would find more ways to get to the quarterback and we got to him only a couple times. … We thought we would make more plays on the ball, as well. (Their) running game was nothing for us today. It was really just covering them or pressuring them and we didn’t get enough of it.’’
That left the few remaining remnants of the Legion of Boom days — Wagner and Wright — wondering what was going on.
“We want to be able to win on defense and not have to depend on offense,’’ Wright said.
And even in the celebratory din of a happy locker room, Wagner issued something of a loud challenge to the defense.
Wagner said the defense “needs to be more disciplined’’ and said he was surprised the Seahawks were not able to shut down the Bucs more often, especially after the disappointing ending to the 27-20 victory last week at Atlanta.
“Hats off to the offense,’’ said Wagner. “They played an amazing game. Russ played an amazing game. We have to do better. We have to find a way to limit the points and limit the yards. We have the talent. We just need to put it together.’’
Indeed, this might have been the last time in a while the Seahawks will be able to get away with such a performance.
Seattle now is 7-2, but Sunday was the fifth time this season the Seahawks have won a game by either four points or less or in overtime, four coming against teams that currently have losing records.
But Seattle now plays its next five games against teams with winning records, starting next Monday at 8-0 San Francisco.
True to form, Carroll waxed mostly optimistic afterward, pointing happily to how Seattle overcame the early 14-point deficit and then rallied again after the Myers miss that ended regulation (the Seahawks catching a break when Evans called tails on the coin toss and it came up heads and Seattle playing aggressively for the touchdown to assure Tampa Bay would never get the ball again).
“We’re going to be in close games again,’’ Carroll said. “But we’re getting ready. We’re getting ready for those games.’’
Wagner agreed, to a point.
“It (winning a game like Sunday) builds a lot of resilience, a lot of character,’’ Wagner said. “At the end of the day, games like this are hard to win. Games in the NFL are hard to win. To be in this position, 7-2, that’s amazing. But it’s only amazing if we learn from it. It’s important for guys like myself, K.J, all the other (veterans) to make sure the message is not missed.’’
The success of the rest of Seattle’s season might well depend on it.