The outcome of a glorious mess of a game Sunday at the Clink was determined by players that usually get stopped by hotel security people who check IDs to make sure are indeed with the band.
“We were down to our last guys,” said coach Pete Carroll.
While stars such as Cowboys RB Zeke Elliott fell down on his own to give up two points, and Seahawks WR DK Metcalf recklessly mishandled the ball to surrender six points, it became the turn of people such as Ryan Neal, Alton Robinson, Damontre Moore, D’Andre Walker and Bryan Mone to show out.
Didn’t matter that less than five percent of Seahawks fans could place any of these guys in their proper roster spots. It only mattered that Carroll knew. Or at least thought he knew.
“All that happened on the sidelines, with our guys getting banged up,” he said. “We just kept hanging, and guys kept going in.
“Eventually (the Cowboys) have to throw the ball in the end zone, and they did.”
Just as boys used to do at sunset on the agreed-upon final play of street ball, the quarterback says to his receivers, “Y’all go deep,” and the defenders run behind the ’57 Chevy in front of Miz Delores’s place, and jump.
Neal, a 24-year-old undrafted free agent practice-squadder from Southern Illinois and thus the epitome of obscurity, jumped the best.
— NFL (@NFL) September 27, 2020
He came down with the interception from QB Dak Prescott and into the spotlight as the preserver of the 3-0 Seahawks’ 38-31 triumph (box) in a game that helped define how different pandemic ball is than the football played on the previous planet.
Arrayed in front of him a Zoom screen of reporters scrambling to find out something about him, Neal blinked.
“I honestly can’t even walk you through the past 24 hours,” he said. “I was walking into meetings (Saturday) thinking I was still on the practice squad and next thing I know, I’m starting on a couple of special teams (plays). I’m like, all right, here we go.”
Things became much larger and faster in the fourth quarter when a muscle began straining in the groin of SS Jamal Adams, the latest health mishap befalling the defense. The player most likely to replace him, Lano Hill, woke up Sunday morning with a previously undiagnosed back problem, and was scratched.
The call went to Neal, who summoned Adams as he limped off the field: “Soon as I figured out what was going on, I said, ‘Talk to me, let me know anything that you see. I need you more now than I needed you when you were on the field.'”
Whatever was said didn’t make much difference.
On the Cowboys’ final four possessions, they traveled 94, 89, 70 and 54 yards. The last number would have been 80 had a receiver corralled Prescott’s fourth-down heave with six seconds left.
The massive yardage totals — Dallas had 522 total, 461 in the air — are starting to lose shock value. The previous week against New England, QB Cam Newton’s final three drives each went at least 75 yards, and in the opener in Atlanta, two of the Falcons’ final four possessions went 75 yards.
Carroll’s blunt, slightly nervous message: Get used to it.
“If we’re going to win a lot of games this year,” he said, “you’re probably looking at six or seven more games like this, that are going to be just right down to the wire. Maybe it’s more than that.
“It’s so hard to be ahead at the end of the game.”
In part, it’s because the pandemic has changed the game. The absence of fans is a big help to visiting offenses, which can communicate more easily. And the preseason restrictions on practice time to avoid the virus have contributed some unknown amount to the injury toll.
Besides Adams and Hill on defense, Carroll said CB Quinton Dunbar’s sore knee made him a scratch, and rookie LB Jordyn Brooks, in his first career start, left with a knee sprain. On offense, rookie RG Damien Lewis left early with a sprained ankle, and RB Chris Carson has a knee sprain. Special teams captain Neiko Thorpe was scratched with a sore hip.
Dallas began the game missing seven starters, including two cornerbacks, two linebackers and two offensive tackles.
“It’s a big burden to be playing these football games,” Carroll said. “We had a lot of guys get banged today. There was a whole slew of guys. This is subjective, totally, but it seems like it’s really a challenge for the players to make it through these early weeks of the season.
“We just have to take it one day at a time, and one particular player at a time and give them the treatment they need. Also of course, as you talk in anticipation of (adding players). (General manager John Schneider) is working day and night to try to stay ahead of it.”
What a start to the second half, @Benny_b0y10!
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/VMrvrvcZBB
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 27, 2020
At least the Seahawks have the enormous advantage of Russell Wilson, who is a human ShopVac whooshing up everyone’s messes.
All he did Sunday was complete 27 of 40 passes for 315 yards, no turnovers and five touchdown passes, three to WR Tyler Lockett, who had 100 yards on nine catches.
Wilson set an NFL record with 14 TD passes in a season’s first three games, breaking the mark set by Patrick Mahomes in 2018. He’s also the fifth player in history to throw at least four TDs in three games in a row, joining Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Mahomes and Drew Brees.
After a field goal gave Dallas a 31-30 lead with 3:59 left, Wilson went apex cuisine, completing four of six passes on an eight-play, 75-yard drive for the winning points, including a two-point PAT pass.
“I told our guys, I said, Listen, this is the drive,” he said. “If we want to be a championship team, we got to make it right here. And I kind of looked at
(TE Greg Olsen), I said, You’re going to make a big time play for us. Be ready. It’s coming your way. Sure enough, fourth down, game on the line, and he pops open.”
The fourth-and-four pass to Olsen picked up 11 yards. But Wilson’s final pass of 29 yards picked up Metcalf as well as a TD.
In the first quarter, Metcalf hauled in another beautiful Wilson deep ball at the Dallas 9-yard line. But he went into cruise control too soon and had the ball punched out of his hand and out of the end zone for a touchback.
The egregious gaffe was, of course, inexcusable. But not irredeemable.
“I talked to him afterwards,” Wilson said. “I said, Listen, you’re going to have to make a play down the road, so get back in, get focused again, let’s revamp. Things happen. There’s no excuse for it. You know, he’ll never do it again.
“There’s another opportunity. When it comes your way, you’re going to make the play. Just speaking life into it, just knowing that something great’s going to happen. Sure enough . . . ”
Wilson has yet to come up with a vaccine for COVID-19, but as for whatever ails the Seahawks, the man has the cure.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 28, 2020