The path the Seahawks have taken to get to 10-2 and the top of the NFC West is mindful of the old Paris-Dakar auto rally, the off-road endurance race in Africa where participants had to survive heat, mud, dunes, floods, criminals, animals, washouts and blowouts. The goal is not to end the day upside down.
On Monday night before the football world, the Seahawks, coming off a week of illness that had at least eight players sent home sick, quickly fell behind Minnesota 7-0. By halftime, the deficit was 17-10. Abruptly, the Seahawks were ahead, 34-17. Just as suddenly, they were hanging on for dear life.
At the end, the football world was entertained nearly as much as the win over San Francisco, and the Seahawks again were right side up.
Egregious mistakes were countered with outrageous successes, leaving the Seahawks with a 37-30 triumph (box) that is breeding a confidence that every obstacle has a drive-around.
Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ primary perpetrator of pride and peril, could not help but think the hard road is paying off regarding the Seahawks’ ability to handle the post-season, which now seems nearly certain for Seattle.
“I think we have everything we need, and I think we have everything we want,” he said. “I think you got to have a clutch gene, and I think we have that as a team. We have been clutch all year.”
Certainly that’s true for their wins, all but one of which have by eight points or fewer. By no means are the Seahawks a dominant team, at least not as they were in the Super Bowl years. But they are remarkably resourceful.
Coach Pete Carroll, who reached 10 wins for the seventh time in his Seattle tenure, was so ebullient he nearly sprained his giggle.
“I just couldn’t be more excited to have that kind of win to put us at 10 wins,” he said, beaming. “It’s a nice spot for this time.”
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The spot at the moment is the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, trailing only 10-2 New Orleans, which owns the tiebreaker because of the Saints’ win in Seattle Sept. 22. The 49ers, in first place all season in the division, are 10-2 after a loss at Baltimore Sunday and have tumbled to the fifth seed. The Niners finish the regular season in Seattle Dec. 29.
Four games remain, including Sunday night in Los Angeles against the Rams. But with each hard victory, a little more iron is visible.
Monday night’s first of two magnum doinks by the Seahawks came with 5:09 left in the first half, when Minnesota CB Anthony Harris returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. It was Wilson’s fourth interception and second pick-six of the season, but what made it weird was he handled the ball twice.
The first time, his pass was blocked by a Vikings lineman. The ball came back to Wilson, who attempted to swat it down, only to be hit in the chest by another lineman, which re-directed the ball high enough for Harris to snatch it and score.
“We practice that all the time,” Carroll said. “He did exactly the right thing. But he got banged going up, and couldn’t quite get on top of the ball. So many of these turnovers have been explosive plays, all season long.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just the scourge of the season.”
In a close game against a tough opponent, it could have been demoralizing. But DE Jadeveon Clowney, who joined Hogwarts By The Sea right at the start of season, has gotten used to the bad spells and the antidotes.
“Every time Russell does that, I say, ‘He’ll make up for it,” he said. “He makes more good plays than bad — who cares about a turnover? We don’t. I don’t think anybody on defense was worried. I didn’t see no panic. We never do that. Next play.”
Then he offered a fresh perspective from his sunny side.
“I don’t mind going out there, getting more snaps,” he said. “He takes so much time off the clock (with long drives), I say, ‘Man, I’m gettin’ no snaps this game.'”
The second magnum doink was on the defense. After an astonishing run of 24 points in less than 11 minutes of the second half that put the Seahawks up 34-17, a blown coverage left Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell with acres of room to score on a 58-yard pass from QB Kirk Cousins. With 12:49 left in the game, the lead was cut to 34-24 and the heretofore riotous sellout at the Clink fell silent.
“It was awful,” Carroll said. “That’s happened one time in two years. We’ve (practiced) it months and months. It’s just a regular adjustment, and it didn’t get communicated. We just blew it.”
Clowney wasn’t about to blame the secondary.
“That dude got behind us, but that’s got to be on the front,” he said of himself and the D-line. “We can’t let (Cousins) get that much time in the pocket. That’s on us. He had a lot of time. It’s a team thing. Not gonna blame the backs.”
The Vikes scored on their next possession to return the one-time blowout to cliff-hanger status, trailing 34-30 after a missed extra point. But the Seattle defense made up for the TDs on the Vikings’ penultimate possession with 3:27 left. After a 19-yard pass to TE Kyle Rudolph got the Vikings to their 35-yard line, the Seahawks forced three incompletions, the last a fourth-down throw that easily could have drawn a pass-interference penalty on Akeem King, but did not.
So the Seahawks were allowed to savor a game that, despite Minnesota having a bye week of preparation, went much to their favored script: 40 minutes of possession time, thanks largely to a season-high 218 yards rushing against a defense stout against the run (94 ypg, sixth in the NFL). RBs Chris Carson had 102 yards on 23 tries and Rashaad Penny 74 on 15, each with a TD, plus a 29-yard gain from punt formation by rookie upback Travis Homer.
“That’s a really good front, and our guys continue to run the football and allow us to control,” Carroll said. “Chris is the starter so he winds up getting more carries, but I don’t know who is one and I don’t know who is two.
“They’re doing great.”
The Seahawks pulled off the defeat of the 8-4 Vikings apparently in the only manner available to them: Off-road, the hard way.
“Close games are cool, aren’t they? I like them,” Carroll said, grinning. “Maybe the 17 points was too much. Maybe we shouldn’t have been ahead by that much.”
If you plan to stick out the December ride, make sure you are equipped with a roll bar, helmet, hunting knife and quality scotch. This season is not for poseurs, dilettantes and lightweights.