Russell Wilson overcame adversity to author a vital Seahawks victory. (Robert Beck/SI)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks each came into the NFL through expansion in 1976, and neither one of those franchises had ever experienced anything quite like what happened on Sunday afternoon at Seattle's CenturyLink Field. It was a 27-24 Seattle overtime win that was anything but typical. The Seahawks were trying to rise to an 8-1 record, which would have given them the NFC's best mark with the New Orleans Saints' earlier loss to the New York Jets. The Buccaneers, who have already gone through everything from staph infections to alleged player mutinies this season, were just trying to get their first win of the season.
In the first half, however, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Bucs were trying to hit the top, and the Seahawks were holding on for dear life. Seattle spotted the Bucs a 21-7 lead at the half, only to engineer the biggest comeback in franchise history.
"What a day at the stadium," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said right after.
What a day, indeed. It's hard to imagine a more dramatic reversal of fortune for two teams from half to half. In the first 30 minutes, Tampa Bay outgained Seattle, 209-125 and converted on 7-of-8 third-down opportunities. Seattle put up just 28 passing yards, and though running back Marshawn Lynch gained 50 yards on six carries, there was little else for the Seahawks to believe in once halftime was done.
Whatever kicked in happened with relative authority. Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who was confident and efficient through most of the game, started to break down under Seattle's pressure. That said, Glennon was impressive and surprisingly mobile overall, especially when he had to step up in the pocket or roll outside to extend plays.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who Glennon replaced at North Carolina State, finally put it all together after a long stretch of invisibility. He was directly responsible for all three Seattle touchdowns with a 10-yard scoring run, and passes to Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin. But he also threw more than one interception in a game for the first time this season, and there were times when the constant pressure put upon him this season made him quick and jumpy in the pocket. Still, he managed to avoid any sacks, and wound up outgaining Glennon with 217 passing yards to Glennon's 168. And those Bucs, so clutch on third downs in the first half, managed just one conversion on seven tries thereafter.
"To see how Russell found a way to get us in position to win again -- he's just a terrific football player and a great leader," Carroll concluded. "He never thought for a second that we weren't going to win this football game, and he made the plays he needed to make to put us in the position to do it."
"If there's any time left on the clock, we have a chance," Wilson said simply.
Still, there are things for Seattle to be worried about -- negative trends that transcend one bad team playing over its head. For the second straight game (and the second time in a week), Seattle's generally great defense allowed over 200 rushing yards to an opponent. The St. Louis Rams gained 200 yards on the ground in Seattle's 14-9 Monday Night Football win, and Tampa Bay upped the ante with 205 yards on the ground. Perhaps the most embarrassing moment of the game also came at the hands of rookie running back Mike James, when he threw a jump-pass touchdown to tight end Tom Crabtree with 2:16 left in the first quarter. For a team whose philosophy is centered around consistent drive-stopping defense, it's a problem that goes back to late last season.
"We're in a little bit of a funk [against] the running game," Carroll said. "We're not tackling very well -- we're trying to take the ball away so much, that were not tackling very well, and until we continue to fix that, we're going to continue to struggle. It's really obvious to me what the difference is -- going for a little too much and trying a little too hard. There were a lot of yards after first contact by their running backs, so we need to do much better there."
Another area the Seahawks must somehow shore up if they're to stay on a Super Bowl path is their pass blocking. They've been without starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini for weeks, and lost Pro Bowl center Max Unger to a concussion in this game. Wilson was pummeled through most of the afternoon, and though he's found ways to make plays around it all season, that will catch up to this offense sooner or later in a way that even Wilson can't escape.
An 8-1 record is 8-1, and the Seahawks will certainly take it. But there are quite a few things for them to work out in the second half of the regular season. Because in the playoff slate, more impressive foes will come calling.
As for the Bucs and embattled head coach Greg Schiano? Painting this as a moral victory with everything that's happened to this franchise in the recent past will be a tough sell.
“We have to close out," Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "We have to close out. There is nothing to say but that, we have to close out! Especially with a team that is one of the best teams in the NFL. Their record speaks for them. They have great players on their team. When you have a team down like that you have to choke them out. You have to choke them out. Because great teams come back, and they are a great team. They fought back, and great teams do fight back.”
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