Eight months of alteration came together in an exultation.
“We want to keep the defense guessing,” said an exuberant Russell Wilson. “We want to constantly have them question: Who’s getting the ball? Where’s it going? What are they doing? We were able to do that.
“You can kind of smell the blood in the water.”
On the road Sunday against a crowd of hostiles indoors and an 11-5 Indianapolis playoff team a year ago with an excellent defense and a new QB, veteran Carson Wentz, who out-performed expectations, the Seahawks nevertheless were in charge of the regular-season opener.
The 28-16 triumph (box) wasn’t perfect, but it did offer evidence that Wilson’s summary evaluation wasn’t merely his usual hyperbolic flattery:
“We could be one of the best offenses, if not the best, in football.”
Ever since Wilson in February made critical comments about the offense’s shortcomings, serious enough to provoke trade speculation, there’s been a low-level tension at team headquarters because the playoff loss to the Rams was so pathetic.
By training camp, Carroll and Wilson attempted to assure fans via public statements that there was no power struggle between them, and that all was well after off-season upgrades that included the hire of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.
But since few starters played in exhibition season, including zero snaps by Wilson, the assertion of smoothness was merely words.
Now there are deeds.
Wilson was 18 of 23 passing for 254 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a near-perfect QB rating of 152.3. RB Chris Carson had 91 yards in 16 carries, part of 143 ground yards that Carroll months ago insisted could not be forsaken in the improvements. Seven receivers ran different routes often from identical formations and caught passes behind the line of scrimmage and behind the Colts’ defensive backs. And the O-line, despite a center rotation between Kyle Fuller and Ethan Pocic, made numerous clean pockets that allowed Wilson to move with more ease and less panic.
Carroll knew such an outcome was possible, but dared not be caught speaking of it publicly. After practice Friday, he said of the anticipated reveal, “I don’t know nothin’.”
He apparently learned something Sunday.
“I was really fired up about this accomplishment to get things started,” Carroll said. “I like the challenge of playing on the road against such a good team in a really noisy setting.”
He was most pleased that Wilson and Waldron interacted the way he had hoped, after the awkward days following Waldron’s poaching from the Rams coaching staff.
“He and Russ were just cooking,” Carroll said, then paused: “Scratch that — sorry I said that. They did really well together. “
Carroll’s deliberate joke referred to the #LetRussCook social media campaign that took off a year ago when the Seahawks started 5-0 behind a near-record onslaught from Wilson, which had him in the early conversation for MVP. It proved to be a sugar high.
Carroll seemed to resent the idea that many, including Wilson, thought going bombs-away was the correct path in a pass-happy league that makes Carroll’s penchant for run-pass balance seem doddering.
“I don’t never think I’d ever said (let Russ cook) one time all that last year, whenever that was happening,” he said, smiling. “It’s big day for the coaches on the offensive side that put this thing together . . . The day goes to Shane.”
The contribution from the defense was considerable as well. Delivering a turnover, two fourth-down stops, three sacks, three passes defensed and 10 QB hits while holding a quality rushing attack to 113 yards, a big chunk coming after Seattle had a 28-10 lead, the defenders were, as Carroll put it, “consistent and persistent.”
But the defense was more or less a known quantity with familiar players returning. The opening-game mystery surrounded Waldron’s offense. There was no mystery for WR Tyler Lockett, who made two superb catches for touchdowns and finished with 100 on four receptions.
“Shane is really, really, smart,” Lockett said. “If you didn’t know football, or even if you think you know football, you will learn a lot just by listening to him. The way he knows the game, the way he understands defenses, the way that he puts people in certain places. He understands how to use defense’s tendencies against themselves.”
Lockett put himself in great places twice. In the first quarter, Wilson lobbed one of his perfect parabolas 23 yards to the end zone, where Lockett caught the ball with his back to Wilson and his head tilted back, a la Willie Mays in his immortal World Series catch in 1954.
“I got the picture on my wall,” said Carroll, a Bay Area native and Mays worshipper. “If you looked at pregame, you know we worked on that exact catch with the ball coming in like that. It’s an amazing chemistry that they have.”
The second, with 41 seconds left in the first half, demonstrated that #LetRussCook still lives, if spontaneously. Following an illegal formation penalty that nullified a big gain with a five-yard sack of Wilson, the Seahawks found themselves in a second-and-20 hole at their own 31.
Wilson dropped back into a pocket that held its shape long enough to step into an epic heave that will be on his one-minute career highlights video — a 69-yard “moon ball,” as Wilson termed it, with nearly 70 yards of flight time.
“It was as far as he could throw it, and it was as perfect as you could get to land,” Carroll said. “Of course, (Lockett) is there. They can’t even knock him down at the end of it.”
That play was not a Waldron scheme as much as it was pure sandlot between two great, well-rehearsed athletes playing, “y’all go long.”
But most of the rest of the opener was a display of offensive versatility that gives Wilson’s brag a chance to come true.
“This is what I was hoping for,” Carroll said. “I had never seen this kind of chemistry be so obvious between the caller and the quarterback. I hope that this is the first step of a great march together.”
Seahawks fans who recall the 5-0 start to 2020 know how ephemeral the early signals can be. Defenses tend to figure things out. All the Seahawks offense can do weekly is the best they can — just never do it the same way twice.