Maybe it was a little bit like sex with the ex.
“We have a little history, y’know?” said Tarvaris Jackson of Sidney Rice. Since the start of the regular season, the Seahawks quarterback and the highly paid receiver, who were together for four years with the Minnesota Vikings, had been separated in Seattle by Rice’s injured shoulder. That helped make for the worst offense in the infant NFL season.
Not saying everything is all lovey-dovey with the Seahawks offense, but the bromance between Jackson and Rice caused other hearts to flutter Sunday at the Clink.
In his first real game as a Seahawk, Rice caught eight passes for 108 yards, the rest of the offense rushed for a season-high 122 yards and the Seahawks defense was its respectably ornery self. Despite numerous moments that had the look of a frat-house fridge, the result was something shiny-fresh — a victory, 13-10 over the Arizona Cardinals.
“We have a long ways to go, but we got a little bit better today,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who had to do a lot of hard squinting to see much good in the first two games, both losses. The home crowd even seemed on edge, waiting to jump on Jackson miscues to begin the campaign for Charlie Whitehurst, the backup quarterback — the last refuge of the light-thinking fan.
In a tepid first half that produced only a pair of field goals — the first times the Seahawks scored this season in the opening two quarters — and a 10-6 deficit, Seahawks fans were not all that supportive in their first substantive engagement with Jackson, the club-ordered replacement for local hero Matt Hasselbeck (who threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns in Tennessee’s 17-14 win over Denver on Sunday).
“Not at all,” said Jackson, when asked if the boos bothered him. “It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve been through a lot. You want to play for the fans and all that, but I’m playing for the guys in the locker room. I have a lot of people to win over. I’ll probably never win them over.”
In the third quarter, some movement was detectable on the sentiment meter. Deploying the no-huddle offense to great effect, Jackson directed a 12-play, 74-yard drive, the last 11 of which belonged to him on a scramble from the pocket to the end zone and included a fierce hit on the goal line that he won, for six points. Turned out to be the end of the scoring but the beginning, perhaps, of a better relationship between Jackson and Seattle.
“It was great,” said Rice of his pal’s dash. “It showed tremendous toughness. Everybody thought he would have been down a couple of yards before that, or 5 or 10 yards before that, but he continued to scramble and showed his will.”
At least as important was his competence in the no-huddle. Those who followed Jackson’s career with the Vikings said he was at his best when the action was fast. In the standard pace, Jackson tends to be more indecisive, holding onto the ball long enough to induce sacks, of which there were four Sunday.
He now has added the chief virtue of Rice — he can catch the ball nearly anywhere.
“Just throw the ball up, and most of the time, he’s going to make the play,” said Jackson, who was 18 for 31 for 171 yards and a single, meaningless pick. “It’s always good knowing you have somebody like that.”
With the Seahawks offensive line still a study in adolescence, the odds of the quick chuck are high. Which may explain why Rice was targeted 10 times, compared to four for the next highest receiver, Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks’ top receiver a year ago, Mike Williams, was targeted just once and had no catches. Jackson went to trouble post-game to assure that Williams will be more involved, but Rice showed throughout he was worth the targeting.
Through three games, it has become clear that the Seahawks will be defense-dependent until Jackson, Rice and the offensive line get it together. Linebackers David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill were notably active, end Chris Clemons had a sack and three tackles for loss, and safety Kam Chancellor preserved the win with an interception with 1:15 remaining.
It was a win, but it was hardly triumphful. The Cardinals had numerous opportunities to take over, and out-gained the Seahawks 324-261. But Kevin Kolb, the expensive hire in his first year at quarterback with Arizona, was inaccurate and mistake-prone.
“I was not very good today,” he said. “I’m looking at myself right now and I think a lot of those mistakes out there could probably be fixed if I play right.”
Sounds like words Jackson might have offered this season, even Sunday. But the mistakes were fewer this Sunday than last. Now that he has his longtime pass pal back in the crosshairs, the premise that he can win over fans with wins is at least on the table for discussion.