Jumping out to a 24-point halftime lead an undermanned, reeling opponent, the Seahawks looked to be well on their way to an easy Week 8 road victory.
Losers of five consecutive games, the reeling Falcons entered Sunday without the services of star quarterback Matt Ryan and were missing numerous starters on both sides of the football. On the hottest of hot seats, speculation has run rampant about coach Dan Quinn failing to keep his job through the upcoming bye week.
But after building a three-score lead, the anticipated blowout never materialized at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Instead, Quinn’s squad exhibited plenty of fight, and Seattle had to fend off a furious second half comeback attempt by Atlanta to hold on for a 27-20 victory.
“We’ve been saying it for a long time, you can’t win the game in the first half.” coach Pete Carroll said following the game. “And that’s what that was so clearly illustrated.”
After a somewhat sluggish start with just three points on its first two possessions, quarterback Russell Wilson and Seattle seized control thanks to a balanced offensive attack and an opportunistic defense.
Following a missed 51-yard field goal attempt by kicker Matt Bryant, running back Rashaad Penny zipped through Atlanta’s porous defense for 26 yards on back-to-back carries to get to the Falcons 33-yard line. Four plays later, Wilson quickly snapped the football against an unprepared defense and found DK Metcalf for a four-yard touchdown reception.
Before Atlanta could mount much of a response, backup quarterback Matt Schaub underthrew a pass down the seam to Julio Jones. In perfect position dropping into his zone, linebacker Mychal Kendricks reached up and pick the pass off, setting up Seattle with excellent field position once again.
Leaning on the run game despite losing center Justin Britt to a knee injury, Chris Carson and Penny proved to be the catalysts for another Seahawks scoring drive.
Carson stiff-armed linebacker Deion Jones and powered through cornerback Kendall Sheffield on a 19-yard run to push his team back into the red zone. After a 12-yard run by Penny set up first and goal at the Falcons five-yard line, Carson made a filthy cut two plays later to find the end zone and extend the Seahawks lead to 17-0.
Benefiting again from a Bryant miss from 53 yards out, Wilson went back to work, hooking up on two extremely difficult passes to receiver Tyler Lockett, who continues to play at an All-Pro level. One on particular pitch-and-catch, Lockett reached up with Sheffield draped all over him and reeled in a marvelous one-handed reception.
Shortly after Lockett’s highlight reel grab, Wilson capped off the quick nine-play, 57-yard drive by finding Metcalf wide open for their second touchdown connection. It appeared to be an insurmountable deficit for a Falcons team that had shown signs of giving up in recent weeks.
Out of the break, however, Atlanta refused to go away. Led by a poised Schaub under center, the Falcons marched 75 yards in a little over four minutes to open the third quarter and backup running back Brian Hill exploded through a crease for a 23-yard touchdown to put them on the board for the first time.
“We had a great first half.” Carroll commented. “Everybody did everything exactly the way we want to do it and functioned like crazy and it just didn’t go that way after halftime. We obviously have to do a much better job than that.”
With momentum clearly shifting to the home team’s sideline, Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett blew past backup center Joey Hunt on the ensuing third down and sacked Wilson, forcing the Seahawks to punt after a quick three-and-out on their first possession of the half.
Continuing to target star receiver Julio Jones and also taking advantage of an aggressive defense with screens to running back Devonta Freeman, Schaub and the Falcons promptly marched deep into Seahawks territory once again. Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who became the franchise’s all-time leading tackler on Sunday, thwarted the drive with an eight-yard sack, but Bryant connected from 47 yards out to trim the lead to 24-11.
After another quick Seahawks possession led to a second straight punt, the Falcons appeared to be on the verge of making it a one score game during the early stages of the fourth quarter. Picking on backup cornerback Akeem King in coverage, Schaub hit Jones three times for 52 yards and then made a beautiful downfield throw to Calvin Ridley along the sideline to move Atlanta to the Seattle eight-yard line.
Luckily for the Seahawks, unlike a week ago, the ball bounced their way on numerous occasions in this contest.
After catching a quick pass from Schaub, Freeman tried to extend the ball towards the goal line, rookie safety Marquise Blair punched it out, and Wagner recovered for a crucial red zone turnover. After the fumble, Wilson orchestrated a 58-yard scoring drive that concluded with a 54-yard field goal by Jason Myers to bring the lead back to 16 points.
Blair’s heroics proved to be the difference in a game that wound up being much closer than it should have been in large part due to the strong play of Schaub. The 38-year old veteran completed 39 out of 52 pass attempts for 460 passing yards, carving up Seattle’s secondary throughout the second half to will his team back into the game.
“I thought Matt Schaub played fantastic today.” Carroll said. “He did a great job and they’re very fortunate to have such an equipped backup.”
Refusing to go down without a fight, Schaub again sliced and diced Seattle’s defense with quick passes, guiding the Falcons 75 yards in less than three minutes before hitting tight end Austin Hooper for a one-yard touchdown. Wagner made a pivotal pass deflection on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, keeping the lead at 10 points with 3:08 remaining.
A late field goal by Bryant trimmed the deficit to seven points, but without any timeouts left, the Falcons weren’t able to recover an onside kick. Wilson and the Seahawks broke the huddle in victory formation and survived to move to 6-2 on the season.
While Carroll wasn’t necessarily pleased with the performance of his team during the final two quarters, he’s never going to complain about his team winning games on the road and he shouldered some of the blame for the Seahawks coming out flat in the second half.
Officially at the midway point of the season sitting in second place in the NFC West, he still sees the Seahawks peaking in November and December as they have consistently done in prior seasons.
“We’re not quite there. In one regard, to be 6-2 and be feeling that is not so bad. We’ve got a ways to go here, but we’re gonna finish. This club has finished forever and we’re gonna do it again. These next eight weeks will tell the story for everybody in the league.”
After escaping with a fortunate victory in Atlanta, Seattle will aim to start the second half of the season off on the right foot hosting Bruce Arians and Tampa Bay next Sunday.