Breaking down the three plays in the 80-yard drive that won Sunday's game for the Seahawks over Houston.
Sunday marked the 23rd time in 99 regular season or postseason games Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has played with the Seahawks that he has led a game-winning comeback drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Sunday’s last-minute march to victory gave Wilson the most fourth-quarter/OT comebacks of any QB in the NFL since 2012, breaking a tie with Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
While each comeback had its unique challenges — and some with much higher stakes, including both NFC championship games Seattle has won in Wilson’s time — few were as dramatic.
Other than four overtime games, only one of Wilson’s comebacks came with a winning touchdown scored with less time on the clock — his first as a Seahawk in 2012 on the famous “Fail Mary/Touchception’’ pass to Golden Tate on the final play to beat Green Bay.
And none came in a game when Seattle defense had been so forgiving – in none of the other 22 had the opponent scored more than 30 points.
Houston, meanwhile, had a 38-34 lead when the Seahawks got the ball at their own 20 with 1:39 left and no timeouts (and it should also be noted Tyler Lockett’s heady 11-yard return of a booming 63-yard Shane Lechler punt prevented Seattle from starting even deeper).
Then, in three plays — all passes — and one minute, 21 seconds, Wilson had Seattle in the end zone, its fourth straight win in hand after one of the more roller-coaster affairs in recent Seahawks’ history.
Here’s a day-after examination of each play on the game-winning drive:
PLAY 1 — 48-YARD PASS TO PAUL RICHARDSON.
An obvious question later was to wonder about the psyche of Wilson as Seattle took the field for its final series given how the previous series had ended — a Wilson pass that was intercepted by Houston cornerback Marcus Williams at the Texans’ 6-yard line (and returned to the 8) on a pass to Richardson.
As coach Pete Carroll said later, though, the last thing he ever worries about is how Wilson will respond from one play to the next given his notoriously even temperament — “that didn’t even faze him,” Carroll said.
Here’s another reason it didn’t faze Wilson — the interception wasn’t Wilson’s fault.
As Carroll revealed on his radio show Monday morning on ESPN 710 Seattle, the interception came on a pass play – an out route to the sideline — that called for specific timing by the quarterback and receiver.
And he made it clear it was Richardson who wasn’t in the right place at the right time.
“We are supposed to come underneath right there and he (Wilson) was anticipating that Paul would get underneath the cornerback and he didn’t,’’ Carroll said. “Russ wasn’t going to throw an interception in that game. He just wasn’t. It just happened because we made a little error there.’’
So the more relevant thing to wonder might have been whether Wilson would have the faith to go right back to Richardson.
Wilson, who threw for a team single-game record 452 yards, said later that wasn’t a question. Especially when, as the play unfolded, he realized that Richardson was running down the left side of the field with only one man covering him, safety Marcus Gilchrist.
“We are looking for our shots when we get them and sure enough there it was,’’ Carroll said on ESPN 710 Seattle. “And he’s got a one-on-one on the safety and he chucks it and we do that all the time, looking for those opportunities.’’
Richardson leapt and made the catch to put Seattle at the Houston 32 with 1:09 left.
PLAY 2 — 19-YARD PASS TO TYLER LOCKETT
Seattle raced to the line to get the next snap off but then suffered what appeared to be a potentially significant setback — a false start on left tackle Rees Odhiambo which not only meant moving back five yards but also a 10-second runoff on the clock.
By the time Seattle got its next snap off, back at the Houston 37, just 46 seconds remained.
Carroll intimated later that this play went almost exactly as designed — Lockett, lined up in the slot as one of three receivers who were aligned to the right, cut across the middle of the field and caught a 19-yard pass in front of Williams to take it to the Houston 18.
“Really nice pass pro (protection) and he rips one into Tyler,’’ Carroll said.
Then came an easy thing to overlook (though it was mentioned prominently on the broadcast) that aided getting the next play off quickly — Lockett speedily taking the ball from the sideline to the middle of the field and handing it to the ref to set.
Lockett said it’s something the team practices constantly.
“The coaches teach us, when you get the ball, get what you can get and get the ball to the referee, try to keep as much time on the clock as possible,’’ Lockettt said. “That’s one of the things that we coach on. You have to know which ref to throw the ball to. If you throw it to the sideline ref, it’s going to take a lot more time to get the ball down. You have to run to the spot, try to get it to the ref and get to whatever formation that Russell calls.’’
Lockett quickly ran the ball to the middle where Seattle — going without a huddle — was able to get its next play off with 26 seconds remaining.
PLAY 3 — 18-YARD TOUCHDOWN PASS TO JIMMY GRAHAM
As this play began to unfold it was tempting to wonder if the Seahawks would spike the ball to stop the clock (in fact, play-by-play man Steve Raible asked this question aloud on the radio broadcast as Seattle players ran to get into position).
But Carroll noted Monday on his radio show that the Seahawks almost never spike it in such situations.
One reason, Carroll said, is that in such situations the play calls are all simply one word anyway so there is no real time difference between calling for a spike and calling a play.
“You’ve got to get the call and go execute it (whether it’s a spike or a play call), so we can get a play off and have a shot at it,’’ Carroll said. “So we forgo that for the most part. Rare instances where you will see us do that (spike the ball). So we are just going to be on the attack.’’
That appeared to catch the Texans off-guard.
“I think they thought we were spiking the ball,’’ Carroll said. “They didn’t even rush.’’
And also as an apparent result of Houston thinking Seattle might spike it, as Carroll said “the linebacker didn’t run with (Graham).’’ (Houston had two timeouts left and could have called one if it had wanted to try and get set).
“They never really got lined up the way they wanted to up front,” Carroll said during his press conference Monday afternoon. “(We) took advantage of a little something in coverage, too.”
Indeed, Seattle has rarely had so easy of a play as Wilson tossed it to Graham without a Houston player within three yards or so, Texan cornerback Williams — whose interception just a few minutes earlier appeared as it if might have sewn up the game for the Texans — throwing out his arms in apparent frustration as he tried in vain to get to Graham.
“I kind of looked left, looked off or whatever, and then the next thing I know big 88 is running right down the middle,’’ Wilson said. “That is always a good thing.’’
And somehow, it really did seem just as simple as that.