After absorbing the astonishments, the gaffes, the greatness of stars and the resolve of scrubs, and exhilaration and despair often in consecutive plays across more than three hours of exquisite tension Thursday night, the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks demonstrated why pro football can be so compelling.
And random. Or cosmic. Depends on your point of view.
We know which way Russell Wilson leans.
After what may have been the best game of his remarkable career, the outcome was out of the hands of the Seahawks quarterback.
The defending NFC champion Rams, winners of three in a row over Seattle, seemingly were headed to a fourth. Trailing by a point in the final two minutes, they had the ball last and were gashing their way down the field to set up Greg (The Leg) Zuerlein, one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL (43 of 53 between 40 and 49 yards in his career) for the last-second game-winner from 44 yards.
On the sidelines, Wilson recalled Zuerlein, an eight-year veteran, hitting from 62 yards in a game at St. Louis. Wilson sat down on an overturned water bucket and prayed.
Zuerlein missed. By the width of a football.
Seahawks, 30-29 (box). Nationally televised pandemonium.
“I don’t know who I — I started shaking, I don’t even know . . .” Wilson said. “I blanked out . . . I started shaking somebody, like ‘Let’s go!’ I don’t even really remember.”
He thought back to the pre-game ceremony in which the Seahawks honored longtime owner Paul Allen, who died almost a year ago, with enshrinement in the club’s Ring of Honor. The 12th member.
“I was telling the guys,” Wilson said, grinning, “I think (Allen) blew a little wind, to the right.”
Feel free to scoff. But make sure to offer a more likely explainer as to why this outcome wasn’t a dead heat, fated to be played into infinity.
An evening marbled with great and ghastly moments ended up great for the Seahawks, who started poorly, recovered splendidly, let the Rams back in, who then died and came back to life, only to expire silently as the ball slid past the outside of the upright.
Cosmic or secular, the fourth-youngest team in the NFL is 4-1, and the 3-2 Rams have scored 69 points in two games over four days and are 0-2. Allen was 3-0 raising the 12s flag, and his successor, sister Jody, is 1-0 after doing the honors Thursday.
“Big night for the family,” said a beaming Pete Carroll. “There was some stuff really amazing tonight.”
For once, the seventh-degree black belt master of rhetorical flourish came up a little short.
He did, however, give it a noble go with Wilson’s game, whose stat line — 17 of 23 for 268 yards and a rating of 151.8 (158.3 is perfect), along with 32 yards on eight rushes — is good but doesn’t give life to his precision and his decisions.
“Russell played one of the best games I’ve seen him play,” Carroll said. “I’ve just never seen him — speaking of magic — (come up with) all of the plays he came up with . . . not to just get out of trouble, but to find the receivers and make the throws, just one after another after another.
“He stole the show tonight — on top of what he’s done to start the season off in great fashion.”
One pass rocketed into his career top five by immediate acclamation.
Russell Wilson & Tyler Lockett’s 13-yard TD in the back of the end zone is the MOST IMPROBABLE completion of the last two seasons (6.3%).@TDLockett12 was 0.2 yards from the sideline and 1.1 yards from the back of the end zone when the pass arrived.#TNFonPrime | @Seahawks pic.twitter.com/vgPRim3Q3h
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 4, 2019
Late in the first quarter at the Rams 13-yard line, Wilson was flushed from the pocket and fled hard left under pressure before twisting his torso to fire a ball that seemed to be a throwaway beyond the corner of the end zone. Somehow, WR Tyler Lockett sprang to spear it, and ballerina-pointed his toes inbounds for the touchdown.
The debate will rage as to whether the throw or the catch was better.
“Man, that was a crazy play,” said Rams SS Eric Weddle. “You can play the coverage perfect, cover him up and (Wilson) throws it and he makes a play. You just chalk it up as a great play by Russ and a great play by Tyler.
“I’m not going to lose sleep over a play like that.”
Wilson explained it by invoking his NBA alter ego, Steph Curry.
“How he shoots a basketball,” he said, “that’s how I want to throw the football.”
Speaking of crazy, SS Tedric Thompson’s fourth-quarter interception of a tipped Jared Goff pass was a Legion-of-Boom-worthy astonisher. The pass went through the hands of TE Gerald Everett, down to a sliding Thompson, and was initially ruled incomplete after he touched it twice juggling for control.
After Seahawks coaches in the pressbox saw the replay, they screamed at Carroll to throw the red flag to signal for a review.
“I just saw the ball, I tried to dive for it, and thank God I got it,” Thompson said. “That’s why I got up like that — I knew I caught it.”
Upon seeing the stadium replay, the crowd erupted. But the long pause for review left the mystery hanging, even if players were already celebrating with 2:08 left in the game.
“What a moment for everybody sitting in the stands to watch it,” Carroll said. ‘The build-up to the replay, and the challenge — all that stuff at that moment was spectacular.
“I was happy to be around it.”
Below the spectacle were two developments that may be lost for their subtlety. After RG D.J. Fluker left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury, seldom-used second-year lineman Jamarco Jones, normally a tackle, went the rest of the way against all-world DT Aaron Donald. The Seahawks rushed for 167 yards and Wilson was sacked just once.
“He’s playing guard and here’s one of the best players in football across from him,” Carroll said. “To hang in there, play a good game and survive — it was a beautiful performance.”
After the Rams scored a touchdown late in third quarter for a 26-21 lead, Goff’s attempt for a two-point conversion on an option-read keeper was thwarted inches from the end zone by a power tackle from DT Al Woods, assisted by LB Bobby Wagner. But it took a replay to overturn the erroneous initial call of a score.
The two points denied turned out to be everything.
That’s how close things were all night between two good, flawed teams who produced a hugely entertaining evening on short-notice Thursday. There’s barely enough air left to mention that after 145 run/receiving yards Sunday in Arizona, RB Chris Carson had 123 more Thursday.
“I felt good out there,” Carson said. “Tomorrow will be different.”
Lots of Seahawks felt good Thursday night. Asked for perspective on the spectacle, LB K.J. Wright reached up top.
“Right up there with the NFC Championship,” in 2015 against Green Bay, he said of the 28-22 win after trailing 16-0 at half.
That game put the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. The win Thursday didn’t have that sort of heft, but for the first week in October, and for the first time in four games, the Seahawks denied the Rams.
Even if they had to welcome help from the departed.