Besides the win, the Seahawks earned something else Sunday in beating, barely, Tampa Bay: Knowledge that C Joey Hunt, DK Metcalf and TE Jake Hollister can be reliable players, and that there’s room for newcomer WR Josh Gordon in the offense, should he deign to be a regular participant in practice.
What do these players have in common? They’re all on offense. No defenders in the 40-34 overtime triumph made a leap forward. They’re still muddling.
The unit is allowing 25.6 points a game, 22nd in the NFL, and 380.8 yards (25th). In contrast, the defense of the next opponent, the 49ers in Santa Clara Monday night, is averaging 12.8 ppg (second) and 241 ypg (first).
Let’s chat up the offense.
The unit’s most noteworthy season-ending injuries, to TE Will Dissly and C Justin Britt, seemed more than adequately patched, at least against the Bucs.
Hunt slowed his 360-pound opponent, former Huskies star Vita Vea, sufficiently to help create room for the Seahawks to gain 145 ground yards against the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense. Hollister jumped in when Luke Willson, Dissly’s replacement in the starting lineup, stepped out temporarily with bruised ribs. Hollister had four catches in six targets for 37 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought Joey played a great game under all of the circumstances of his first start in a long time,” coach Pete Carroll said at his Monday presser. ” (We had) respect for the players that he went against in the front. He did a really good job. The communication was great.
“That’s a huge bonus for us knowing we won’t have Justin for the rest of the season.”
Of Hollister, a former high school quarterback in Bend, OR., acquired in April from the Patriots for a seventh-round draft choice, Carroll said, “He had an extraordinary day for the tight end spot. He should have scored three touchdowns — he missed it by a foot. He also made a touchdown by maybe an inch. But he had a fantastic day for us.”
The most spectacular uptick was Metcalf’s. The rookie second-rounder had six catches in nine targets, including four in the final 20 minutes, for 123 yards and a touchdown after a 53-yard catch and run. The accounting doesn’t include an easy catch for a two-point conversion.
Metcalf leads the Seahawks with an average of 18.1 yards per reception, eighth-best in the NFL, but until Sunday had only 23 catches in eight games. And he was still stinging from an unforced fumble in the Ravens game that led to a 39-yard return for a score.
Carroll on his Monday morning radio show on ESPN 710 was particularly impressed with Metcalf’s overtime reception on a third-and-six throw from Russell Wilson for 29 yards and a first down at the Bucs 6-yard line. He caught the ball falling backward with a defender clinging to Metcalf’s face mask, although the foul amazingly went uncalled.
“It was a remarkable play because the guy had a hold of his face mask, his head was turned (yet) he kept one eye on the football and made the catch,” he said. “I was tuned into the missed penalty. And what a great ball by Russell.”
Carroll said he’s discovering that Metcalf, beyond his imposing physique, is an intrinsic competitor, the coach’s favorite kind of player.
“He’s internally motivated to be great,” he said. “He doesn’t need pats on he back. He doesn’t need numbers and standards that come from outside. He’s driven to be a great player because it comes naturally to him.
“That’s how you prepare, how you study, how you maximize the reps in practice. To me, he’s driven from all the right places.”
Which brings us to Gordon, who might be the opposite sort, a great talent with a tendency to self-destruct. He was an All-Pro with Cleveland in 2014 when he led the league in receiving yards, yet was suspended for the 2015 and 2016 seasons for repeated violations of the NFL’s drug policy.
But at 28, he’s still in his athletic prime, and was cleared to play by doctors Saturday. He was claimed off waivers Friday by the Seahawks following his release by the Patriots, reportedly for missing meetings. His first practice will be Thursday (the Seahawks get an extra day off because it’s a Monday game).
“We talked about getting started, no expectations about what’s going to happen, any timelines,” Carroll said. “Just get going. He’s got a lot of football to learn, he’s got a lot of stuff to show, because we don’t know where he fits in with the group. We’re not going to hand him anything; he’s going to earn what he gets.
“I kinda want to put a kibosh on idea that the whole game is going to turn to Josh Gordon. No, we’re no doing that. Hopefully, he can find a way to help us.”
There would seem to be room. So far, the Seahawks have had a production dropoff after Tyler Lockett (his career-high 13 catches Sunday gave him 59 receptions) and Metcalf’s 29. RB Chris Carson has 24, Dissly had 23, then WRs Jaron Brown has 14 and David Moore 10. Brown wasn’t targeted Sunday and Moore had two.
The nature of Sunday’s win may be the template for the tough sledding in the remaining seven games: Heap responsibility for the outcome on the offense and Wilson’s capable shoulders, and hope the defense can grab a ballcarrier’s shoelace on the pass-by.