BY Art Thiel 05:21PM 10/13/2019

Thiel: Seahawks’ kids learn to win the hard way

Pete Carroll hopes that another harrowing win by the Seahawks, 32-28 in Cleveland Sunday, is another teachable moment in a nearly absurd string of them.

WR Jaron Brown had three catches, two for touchdowns, including this one in the third quarter. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Amid the shards, leaks, broken glass and trash fires of a 20-6 deficit Sunday in Cleveland against the irked Browns, it seemed apparent that as good as the record was, the 2019 Seahawks weren’t going to be a dominant team. Just too many talent deficits to be championship caliber.

Then, after the acrid smoke dissipated to reveal a 32-28 (box) Seattle triumph, one requiring surviving a foreboding set of sequences that could only have been created by J.R.R. Tolkien with a migraine, the Seahawks were 5-1.

Yes, it’s only mid-October. But here’s the counter-point.

What if the NFL’s fourth-youngest team, you know, learns?

Four of the Seahawks wins have been by one, two, one and Sunday’s four-pointer, plus a solid 27-10 win at Arizona. Each game contained problems solved and perils avoided. It’s a way a good team gets great.

“Every game’s been hard,” said coach Pete Carroll. “These are character-builders that will make us better. We need all of these situations that happened today.

“These guys are all together. They’re connected. That’s why you can make it through the tough stuff. When we make an error, another guy pulls him up and helps fix it. That’s why we’ve been so positive for months and months with this team, sensing this makeup is part of it.”

Those are developments that cannot be dissected via analytics, nor measured with metrics. But since the Seahawks are 3-0 on the road for the first time since the Carter administration (1980), and 13-6 in the last 19 road games with the formerly dreaded 10 a.m. PT start, Carroll’s claims are hard to refute. Especially since 5-1 happened previously only twice in team history (2003 and 2013).

That doesn’t mean that the presence of will and and a good plan will always overcome a deficit in talent. But since the margins between good and bad in the NFL are thinner than in any sport, it’s possible to get farther faster if a team is purposeful and cohesive.

The alternative was visible in the Browns. With a first-year head coach and a second-year quarterback, their emotional edge — at home and raging after a 31-3 national embarrassment to the 49ers Monday night — evaporated in a hail of mistakes in need-to-win moments.

The Browns gave up the ball four times (three interceptions and a fumble), had a punt blocked and lost 83 yards with nine penalties, many of them critical to sustaining Seahawks drives in the second half. The Seahawks, on the other had, persevered.

“There was so many opportunities to let this game go away from us,” Carroll said, “and our guys just would not do it.”

Examples were numerous, but two sequences, one on offense and one on defense, stood out to illuminate.

Trailing 20-12 with 1:36 left in the first half,  FS Tedric Thompson picked off in the end zone a tipped pass from QB Baker Mayfield and returned it 12 yards.  From there, QB Russell Wilson needed just 1:07 to go 88 yards in eight plays, completing four of six passes, including a 17-yard beauty in the end zone to WR Jaron Brown.

The interception and textbook drive included rushes of four yards by Chris Carson and an 11-yard scramble by Wilson, who had 22 completions in 33 attempts for 295 yards, that turned a potential 27-12 deficit into a field-goal differential.

On defense, early in the fourth quarter and ahead 25-20, the Seahawks turned away the Browns on a goal-line stand after a 10-play grinder suffused with all manner of penalties, mistakes and apparent referee confusion.

On fourth-and-goal at the Seattle 1-yard line, Nick Chubb, a great young running back who had 122 yards on 20 carries, was dumped for a one yard loss by DTs Poona Ford and Quinton Jefferson. Seahawks ball.

All that, after giving up touchdowns on Cleveland’s first three possessions of the game.  Apparently, learning can happen rapidly.

“The goal-line stand — all that it took, and the things that happened down there — was an extraordinary sequence, but our guys stopped them,” said Carroll. “I was so fired up about that. That’s when football is at its very best. The height of intensity, the most intense moments of a game, and our guys figured out s way to get off the field.”

But not for long. The offense, stuck at the one, went three-and-out and P Michael Dickson shanked in haste a punt that traveled 24 yards. The Browns scored in two plays, and with a two-point conversion, led 28-25.

Carroll admitted the sequence was his error. He wanted Dickson to accept a safety and send the subsequent punt deep, to avoid exactly what happened — a Browns short-field TD.

“We didn’t handle it very well — I messed it up,” he said. “I was signaling to Mike, and he didn’t see me. I should have called  a timeout. It was a perfect time to do (take a safety) and kick the ball out.”

The players had the coach’s back.

Wilson took the Seahawks on a nine-play, 79-yard drive for the winning TD from Chris Carson, then the defense sealed it with another tipped-pass pick, this by LB K.J. Wright.

The outcome again was harrowing. But the kids learned another lesson: The NFL is not a beauty contest, but a survival test. Gold stars for everyone Sunday.

TE Will Dissly, warming up for the game in Cleveland, tore his left Achilles tendon in the second quarter. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Dissly likely out for season with Achilles tear

TE Will Dissly’s season is over early. Again.

A non-contact tear of his Achilles tendon — on the left leg, the one didn’t have surgically repaired a year ago, when he tore his patellar tendon — sent a shock wave through the Seahawks Sunday.

“It’s a serious one; a big loss,” Carroll said. “He was in the open field. It just happened like Achilles do — out of nowhere. It’s a devastating injury for him.

“Every play he was in last year and this year, he was a top-flight competitor.”

In five games this year, he had 23 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns. A year ago, the former fourth-round draft choice out of the University of Washington had eight catches for 156 yards and two TDs before his injury.

He had become a staple in the offense, with route-running as reliable as his blocking.

Achilles tears can take a long time to heal, as former Seahawks star Richard Sherman can attest. His tear in the middle of the 2017 season wasn’t fully healed until the start of the 2019 season.


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YourThoughts

  • Matt Kite

    Horrible luck for Dissly, who has to be wondering what he did to piss off the football gods. Overall, this is a strange Seahawks team. They could easily be 1-5. I’m not convinced they’re for real, but I’ll happily eat crow if they keep winning into November and December.

    • art thiel

      Part of my point was to say that by December, some of the youngest will have grown into their jobs. Your apprehension to this point is valid; lots of big mistakes have kept games close.

  • Husky73

    Art, your opening two paragraphs are magnifico.

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • Kirkland

    The impressive thing: They don’t seem to panic. That will help them in the stretch drive.

    Interesting that the 3-0 (eventually 4-0) road start in 1980 had no affect that season, as that team lost their last nine — and ALL of their home games — to finish 4-12. The only upside was that the resulting fourth-overall pick turned into Kenny Easley.

    • art thiel

      Historical milestones are fun, but aren’t predictive. The rarity of the feat is worthy of note, but doesn’t factor in, say, the fact that the opposing coach Sunday was a terrible game manager.

      • Chris Alexander

        Oh, come on …. throwing the challenge flag with the Seahawks in bad position to stop a sure Chubbs TD run on 4th down and giving the opponent a chance to regroup was …. Okay, I’ll concede the point – that was one of the worst coaching decisions I’ve seen in years. Especially given the fact that there has to be “clear evidence” of the play being called incorrectly and there was no way he was going to win that challenge.

        • art thiel

          Remember this episode the next time 12s are ready to impale Carroll over another 4th down decision. The bottom is lower than we imagine.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    Survival test sounds about right – dominance apparently not required quite yet, except for a knack for finishing a game. Stepping back, it doesn’t seem like a 5-1 team. But having these close wins in the bank could come in very handy as the season wears on, and this team continues to grow. Very thankful for the vets all being extremely solid and error free – Wagner, Wilson and Wright, in particular. The young talents have some great stuff to look up to and emulate. There’s something really special about this team.

    What’s amazing to me are the dumb mistakes, game management, etc., that have come about, yet they’ve only lost one game. Those kinda mistakes need to go away, as there will be little tolerance as the schedule only gets tougher, specifically still having to take on the somewhat more formidable 49ers a couple of times, and the Rams at home.

    Dissly – friggin’ bummer! Gosh, he’s such a great kid, and so talented. We wish him the best!

    • art thiel

      Dissly is very well regarded in the locker room, and his play speaks for itself. This is undeniably a blow on multiple levels.

  • Kevin Lynch

    The Hawks have excellent coaching, a very solid offense, with two very good receivers, an MVP QB, and a hard fighting running back. They have an excellent kicking game. They also have an exploitable defense. The big problem – they’re in the wrong division. SF has a very significant advantage in their attacking defense and they are, in fact, second in both points scored per game and points allowed. And they are a game up on the Hawks with a weaker schedule going forward. Handle Baltimore’s running QB next week and then win in SF later and the dynamics change.

    • art thiel

      Niners so far appear to be a superior team in all facets. The Seahawks D is ordinary until the return of Reed, the improvement of Clowney/Ansah and deciding on a free safety.

    • Chris Alexander

      Technically, 5-0 vs. 5-1 is only HALF a game up. And it doesn’t really matter at this point since there’s still a home-and-away series between the 2 teams. That’s what will separate them as I expect one of them to sweep the other. Obviously I’m biased in terms of who I think does the sweeping.

      • Kevin Lynch

        I see what you’re saying. What’s hard to explain away is the fact that in the common games with the Bengals, Browns and Rams…S.F. looked very superior to those clubs. Seattle could easily have lost all three. Cleveland looks like a 4-12 club to me. Weak. Lacking leadership. The Hawks need a breakout game. Right now they are going to have to find a way to pinch Jackson into the middle when he runs. If he gets outside it will be a long day. But if they worry too much about his long throws that will pull the safeties deep and open up runs. Containment issues for the linebackers may limit blitzing. We’ll see.

        • art thiel

          Reed teaming with Ford, even on a limited basis, will be a help, but this game will require Wilson doing everything slightly better than he already has. And without Dissly, Brown and Fluker.

  • Alan Harrison

    Weird game. Bad calls (by refs), bad calls (by coaches, especially Mr. Kitchens), and bad calls (by the TV guys). It felt as though every player and official were a little drunk. But here we are at 5-1 with ten games left to clean things up (or not, and maybe still win).

    • art thiel

      Drunk at 10 a.m. Bad sign, for all involved. But a reasonable description.

  • jafabian

    A sloppy game, on both sides, but the Hawks have been like that all season so far. They just find ways to win. The play of Wilson, Wagner and Wright really showed through and their cool despite a 20-6 deficit set the tone. I noticed Metcalf was all business rather than celebrating each catch. Special teams was inconsistent in their coverage though.

    Hate seeing Dissly go down for the season but the signing of Luke Willson is really paying off and IIRC Ed Dickson will,be back in two weeks. Looking at their schedules the Niners could be undefeated and the Hawks just one loss when they meet on MNF.

    • art thiel

      With this many youngsters, especially on special teams, miscues are more common. Carroll said on the big KOR that two blocks in the back went uncalled.

    • Chris Alexander

      SF should destroy Washington but I think they’ll have their hands full with Carolina (4-0 with their backup QB + potential MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey) and I’m actually expecting Arizona to play them tough (in Arizona). SF could be 8-0 when we play them but they could also be 6-2 and a game and a half behind the Hawks.

      For Seattle, I think the Ravens are our biggest challenge over the next 3 weeks – and thank God we play them at home. Atlanta is struggling and, as Art noted, the Seahawks don’t really suffer from the dreaded 10am start times any more. Tampa Bay playing here works in our favor (although I think that one will also be pretty close – since that’s the story of the season so far).

      SF is going to be tough. Especially in San Fran. Their offense is decent but their D is downright terrifying. At least up front. Their secondary is beatable, even with Sherman. The question will be if we attack it or if we stick with our standard game plan. Business as usual will likely lead to a loss against SF. Being aggressive and going no huddle for large stretches …. I think the Hawks could take the win.

      All that said, Art’s point is spot on. This is a young team that’s having success early and should just keep getting better. Even if we stumble before our bye week (after the Niners game), the back half of the season should be electric. I wouldn’t have thought it coming into the season but Seattle v San Francisco in Seattle Week 17 could be the difference between a first round bye or road game as a wild card team.

      • jafabian

        I don’t really view the Niners as a contender. If they make the playoffs it will be due to an easy schedule and the Rams getting that post Super Bowl hangover. Garrapolo doesn’t seem to be a QB to helm a Super Bowl contender.

        • art thiel

          I have to disagree. The 49ers are almost a complete team, and dominate up front with five former first-round picks in the frony seven. Not saying they’re unbeatable, but the weapons are many.

          Regarding Chris Alexander’s comment above, the remaining schedule boils down to the SF games. The Niners are more dominant so far, and if they stay healthy, figure to win the division.

  • Husky73

    Russell can take notes from the pages of Johnny Unitas, John Hadl, John Brodie, Bart Starr and Joe Namath…..calling your own plays can be done…..and done successfully.

    • art thiel

      These days, maybe the only thing an OC has over a savvy veteran QB is data on success rates of each play vs. opponent defenses. But Wilson probably has that on his private helmet channel.

  • Warchild_70

    Victory in spite of themselves, yet the loss of Tight End Dissly is dismaying. Hopefully Luke will be the Jedi we once loved. Wilson is again a magician and the D was to me coming out of their fog and play like a team. Great nail bitter but improvement shown but more needed.

    • art thiel

      Luke needs to get some Han Solo swashbuckle into his game.

      • Warchild_70

        Agreed he may have to with his upgrade to #1 TE.

  • Chris Alexander

    Nothing against our OC but I’d love, love, LOVE to see what Russ could do if you gave him an entire half to call his own plays the whole way.

    • art thiel

      I should have asked Carroll Monday if Schottenheimer’s job is obsolete.