As long as the Seahawks don’t offer more explanation for the Harvin trade, the storyline will nag for the season. Sunday they took a critical step in marginalizing it with a road win.
The great thing about sports is that deeds always trump words. But after an unusual number of crappy deeds though the first six games, words about Seahawks’ disarray started to sound credible. Which is why the importance of the Seahawks’ 13-9 win Sunday at Carolina transcended its impact on the NFL standings.
It was the chance to tell the sports world to shut the hell up without having to say it.
The result was hardly a rout; it never is against the Panthers, who have the capacity (or flux capacitor?) to force games to travel back in time to the NFL of the 1940s. But it was the way the Seahawks did it — a defense that was ruthless all day in the red zone, and an offense that was good enough when needed — that allowed them to travel back to 2013, when they won numerous games the same way.
“It was a huge win because of the fashion we won it,” said QB Russell Wilson, who overcame multiple mistakes to be flawless in the final 80-yard drive that won the game with 46 seconds left, its only touchdown. “The game on the line with three, two, one minute left — that’s all I can ask for.”
The drive was a breakthrough not only against the Panthers’ stout defense, but against the seasonal pattern of losing despite having the ball and a chance to win in the final chance. The trademark of the Super Bowl champions had mutated into a blemish.
The success also let a football deed validate the urgent contention from Wilson and Pete Carroll that, in the wake of the Percy Harvin debacle, little was amiss.
“People were trying to distract us with stories that we’re not together,” Wilson said. “We’re probably the closest we’ve been. There’s been no distraction at all. People keep finding ways to knock us down. But we keep believing in each other.
“Not black enough? I don’t even know what that means. I’m an educated male who’s not perfect. I’m just trying to lead us to win football games. We’ve lost some tough games against good football teams. We could have been 6-0.”
Carroll was similarly strident in his desire to put controversy behind the team.
“If you think there’s distractions, you’re wrong — you’re just wrong,” he said. “There are things said on the outside . . . we have no problems with that. It’s the job of media to figure things out, but it’s not a problem in here. We don’t care what’s being said.
“Stuff like controversies and storylines . . . that’s not adversity. Adversity is 3-3.”
True enough. But things are never as yippee-skippee as Carroll likes to portray. Even after the win, some skeptics will remain because the fall of defending NFL champions is familiar annual ground, and the Seahawks’ shocking trade of Harvin is an open invitation to scrutiny. As long as the Seahawks don’t resolve it with a credible explanation, the storyline will remain for the season.
The trick is to marginalize it. The Seahawks took a step toward that Sunday.
The defense was at the core of that progress, starting with the Panthers’ first two possessions. Two long, yard-eating drives ended not in touchdowns but field goals. Allowing six instead of three either time might have turned the game.
By the second half, the Seahawks’ front seven was in command of the line of scrimmage, holding the Panthers to four first downs. They even picked up two turnovers, a pick by CB Marcus Burley and recovered fumble from Panthers QB Cam Newton. And after futilely chasing Newton all day, including missing a sure sack for a safety by DE Michael Bennett, they sacked him three times in the final seven minutes.
“We don’t have problems playing a game like that with our defense,” Carroll said. “We stayed with the game plan and slugged it out.
“The finish was a surge. They sensed opportunity to win. It was a beautiful thing to see.”
On offense, it was almost as if the Seahawks were breaking in a partially new team. Besides TE Luke Willson’s game-deciding touchdown reception, Seattle gained significant contributions from Willson’s fellow TE Cooper Helfet, rookie WRs Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood, OLs Alvin Bailey and Garry Gilliam, and increased roles for RB Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.
Part of the shuffle was from the absence of Harvin, the rest were from numerous injuries to front-liners. A slog was inevitable, even against a weakened Panthers defense that allowed at least 37 points in four of its past five games.
As Wilson began the final drive trailing 9-6 with 4:37 remaining, he said he entered the huddle joking and smiling.
“We’ve been here two years in row,” he said. “Let’s go do it.
“We believed we were going to go down the field and make the plays and win the game. There was no doubt.”
That referred to the previous games in Charlotte, won by last-minute TD passes to Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse. Again, as Wilson likes to say, he was the calm in the storm.
He completed all four of his passes, for 53 yards, and ran twice for 11 yards. For all the misplays that preceded it, the Seahawks were flawless except for a five-yard procedure penalty. The 80-yard, nine-play drive closed with the throw to Willson, his first touchdown of the season.
“Man, I’m telling you, it’s just the Achilles’ heel, man,” Panthers cornerback Josh Norman told reporters. “They keep nagging us. They end up making one more play than us, every single time.”
In losses to the Chargers, Cowboys and Rams, that dagger was missing. And while one win against the Panthers proves a little something, much with the offense remains unresolved.
But no one can say they weren’t together for a grueling day on the road.