SEATTLE — Inside the most fashionable locker room in football, the Seahawks dressed on Sunday afternoon as if headed toward a runway, or a gala, or a photo shoot for the world’s largest boy band. There were leather pants (Earl Thomas), bright orange shoes (Cary Williams), cowboy boots (Justin Britt) and perhaps the first-ever combo of red jeans and hoverboard (Chris Matthews).
Those weren’t the only statements the Seahawks made on Sunday. The loudest was delivered earlier that afternoon at CenturyLink Field, when Seattle handed Chicago its first shutout loss since 2002 and third shutout loss since 1990. The final tally read, 26-0, in favor of the Seahawks, and what that meant depended on perspective.
The Seahawks defense turned in another dominant performance, holding the Bears to 146 yards, or an anemic 3.2 per offensive play. Tight end Jimmy Graham caught seven passes for 83 yards and hauled in a 30-yard touchdown after reports this week suggested he was frustrated with his role in the Seahawks offense. Quarterback Russell Wilson played an efficient game, with no turnovers and 235 yards passing. All in all, Sunday’s performance certainly beat the alternative, an 0-3 start that would have all but doomed the Seahawks' season, if not outright ended any chance of contention.
But it’s a stretch to find much meaning in the victory beyond that. It came against the Bears, after all, one of the NFL’s worst teams, and a team made worse without quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Both missed this contest with injuries. They could only watch as replacement quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed nine—nine!—passes for 63 yards. That’s not for a quarter. That’s for a game.
Still, the Bears managed to continue to expose what looks like the Seahawks biggest weakness three games into this season: their offensive line. The Bears defense entered this game with no sacks on the season and managed to sack Wilson four times, looking more like the 1985 Bears D early than the 2015 version. That, combined with a lingering calf injury for running back Marshawn Lynch, grounded Seattle’s offense in the first half, when the prospect of an 0-3 start went from improbable to possible. Not likely but possible.
Again: this was against the Bears.
Still, a crisis averted is a crisis averted, and the Seahawks have a winnable slate of games in the weeks ahead. The schedule through Seattle’s bye in Week 9 does feature division leaders in Cincinnati and Carolina, but it also contains games against the Lions, 49ers and Cowboys, the Cowboys without Dez Bryant or Tony Romo.
This time last week, any appraisal of the Seahawks 2015 status started with Graham’s lack of targets in the passing game and safety Kam Chancellor’s continued holdout. Chancellor returned last Wednesday for various reasons, chief among them that he was tired of yelling at the TV—and getting fined game checks.
His presence Sunday, and how the defense played, made the point about his value far better than his holdout did. He took questions in the locker room afterward, with reporters crowded five deep around his locker, wearing only a smile and a towel around his waist. Asked if he was tired in his first game back, he laughed. “I could play another one,” he said.
The Seahawks weren’t celebrating Sunday. They didn’t need to. They know now they drafted a gem in return specialist Tyler Lockett, who set a franchise record with a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown at the beginning of the second half that gave the Seahawks a 13-0 lead. They liked what they saw from Thomas Rawls, who assumed most of the carries after Lynch stopped playing. Rawls gained 104 yards on only 16 attempts.
So that was that. Graham set up in the middle of the locker room, conversing with owner Paul Allen, who made a rare (and brief) appearance with reporters and television cameras nearby. Wilson made a lap to give out fist bumps. The Seahawks answers centered on Lockett’s emergence—“Eventually, people will figure it out: you just can’t kick to him,” Graham said—and Chancellor’s return.
The Seahawks have not yet looked like the best team in the NFC. That would probably be the Packers, who lost a 12-point lead in the final minutes of the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks last January. The Seahawks haven’t even looked like the best team in the NFC West. That would be the Cardinals, who thumped San Francisco liked a youth football team on Sunday. Arizona even may be the best team in the conference. The Seahawks so far are somewhere in the mix behind them.
Of the shutout, cornerback Richard Sherman said, “It says something.” And that was also true. It says the Seahawks have ample opportunity to get their season rolling, the same way they did last year after a mediocre 3-3 start. It’s not time to book Super Bowl reservations yet, but there remains plenty of time for the Seahawks to get back to the title game for the third straight season.
“It’s just a matter of getting things rolling,” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said.
Indeed. The Seahawks took the first step toward saving their 2015 season on Sunday (again: against the Bears). No one expected they’d go 0-16, anyway. Afterward, at his locker, Graham said he’ll never forget the sound of the stadium when he scored his first touchdown at CenturyLink Field, the way the ground shook. The first of many, he added, and the same could be said for a team that is starting to find its stride, be it atop a hoverboard or wearing leather pants.