If the NFL insists upon the charade of fake games, something minimally worthwhile needs to come out of them. Thursday night in Oakland, something did for the Seahawks in their 17-13 win (box) over the Raiders: Awareness that newcomer Austin Davis is a better backup quarterback than incumbent Trevone Boykin.
Which is not the same thing as saying he’s the best guy to play behind Russell Wilson. That may be determined Saturday, when more than a thousand players become free agents after NFL rosters are pared from 90 to 53. In the horde may be a veteran QB who has more experience and a stronger arm than Davis. Or the Seahawks could work a trade Friday before the deadline.
But none of the theoretical candidates could have done much better than Davis, who played the entire second half after Boykin played the first. Thursday’s game was on the line with the Seahawks trailing 13-10 and 3:46 left, and Davis was nearly flawless.
A 28-year-old from Southern Mississippi with 13 NFL games of experience, Davis completed all five pass attempts, for 61 yards that included a 16-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler for the game-winner with 1:10 remaining.
“He had a terrific opportunity and was able to come through,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He handled the clock beautifully. Very poised.
“He’s right in the middle of the competition. He’s done very well, had good outings. A great showing for him.”
Carroll was not nearly as generous in his description of Boykin’s night, which finished 13 of 21 of 166 yards and a touchdown (thanks to the defender falling down behind WR Rodney Smith). He also led the Seahawks in rushing with 42 yards on four scrambles.
But his likely Seahawks career-killers were two interceptions, giving him four in the preseason that Seattle nevertheless finished 4-0, whatever that is worth.
“He had two balls he chucked,” Carroll said. “I should say, he threw the ball behind the (receiver) near the goal line. And he threw the other one up for grabs, which is something you don’t see us do very often. We look down upon that.”
Carroll’s unusual frankness, even if he was stating the obvious, suggested that while Boykin may have a higher ceiling for playmaking, his floor for ruining a game is way too low.
Carroll also cited the final possession of the first half, when the Seahawks had the ball with a little over a minute left and two timeouts to get at least within field goal range. Boykin made a couple of poor clock-management decisions that killed the scoring chance, including ending the half running backward to avert a sack when he could have put the ball in play.
“We missed an opportunity at the end of the half to manage the game,” Carroll said. “A really clear situation there. We knew exactly what was happening: ‘We’ll see if he can handle this one.’ (That meant) getting the ball out with time left on the clock so we can kick a field goal. We didn’t do that real well.”
Then Carroll felt compelled to damn with faint praise:
“He’s had a terrific preseason, all in all. Obviously he was stronger in his first two games than his last two. He shows he can do a lot for us. He can really move the football.”
And he can really stop the Seahawks too. In Carrollworld, ball security is everything. It is hard to imagine Carroll investing trust in a QB trying too hard and prone to error.
Boykin certainly has shown a Wilsonian ability to keep plays alive and get first downs with his legs. But a backup has to be a low-risk game manager, who doesn’t feel compelled to hit a home run with each plate appearance.
In the game-winning drive, Davis was under pressure when he checked down to a short throw to TE Tyrone Swoopes, who was wide open and ran to an easy first down. It was exactly the smart choice that Boykin might not see.
Carroll was not directly saying the decision has been made, but after Davis went 10 of 16 for 123 yards and no picks for a passer rating of 107, it was hard to believe he hadn’t played his way on to the roster — at least until Saturday shakes down.
Davis wasn’t assuming anything, or even taking credit for the TD pass.
“We ran four verts, they played single high and the nickel hung outside, and (Lawler) did a good job leaning on him, breaking across,” Davis told reporters. “It wasn’t a great throw. I threw it behind him but I threw it early enough where the defender couldn’t make a play on it. Really a better catch than it was a throw.”
As for the rest of the game, since Seattle sat out 18 starters, clues on the fate of season were scarce. The Seahawks went with their first-unit O-line for most of of the first quarter against the Raiders’ No. 2 defense and moved the ball but faltered in the red zone. The non-QB rushers had an unimpressive 75 yards on 21 carries.
But Carroll was naturally upbeat for what he saw as a substantial preseason.
“I like where we are,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress. We’re pretty strong and healthy going in (to the regular season). We’ve been real clear what we’re trying to get done. Guys have responded in practice. Guys have been right on it. No backward steps at all.
“I like our team. They know what we’re trying to get done. Leadership is in tune with how this is supposed to go, and it’s has been strong on the young guys.”
Reserve CB DeAndre Elliott, who played in 13 games last season, broke his right ankle during a tackle and is likely done for the season. As the cart came onto the field, Seahawks players ran in from the sidelines and surrounded Elliott to show their support . . . Former Seahawk Marshawn Lynch was in uniform and greeted several of his former teammates pre-game, but the Raiders new running back, as with the rest of the Oakland starters, sat out . . . Seattle had nine penalties 122 yards, which six times gave the Raiders first downs . . . . Carroll declined to talk about WR Jermaine Kearse, who was the subject of trade rumors Wednesday as teams test the marketplace to see who may draw interest instead of cutting a player for nothing in return.