Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Finest Win of the Pete Carroll Era...So Far

Russell Wilson throwing fourth-quarter picks and running for his life. Richard Sherman vomiting on the sidelines. Marshawn Lynch pumping his legs desperately from within a crowd of tacklers. Doug Baldwin being tossed about like a rag doll. Michael Bennett lying in a hospital bed, anxiously awaiting a CTC scan. Two Pro Bowl offensive linemen sitting thousands of miles away and powerless to help against a fully healthy Texans team.

And yet here we stand, fans of the first 4-0 Seahawks team in history.

The sheer incredulous delight is unspeakable.

How do we quantify this? How do we capture the gritty, determined, unshakeable belief that this team displays week after week? The analyst in me wants to get to the source, wants to extrapolate it to next week. I want to know where it comes from.

Maybe that's what bugs me. It doesn't feel like we can quantify it. It just happened. It's an intangible. I hate intangibles. I can't systemize or predict them, they just decide whether to happen or not.

Or maybe what bugs me is the fact that the only discernible cause seems to be the gut and fortitude of QB Russell Wilson. When he gets going, things happen. Release the guy from the trap of Bevell's mewling play calls and opponents just start collapsing. And something in me sinks. That feels dangerous. I wish the trigger to Seattle's patented comebacks did NOT rest with one man. It feels like there's no redundancy there. Like it's not sustainable.

Yet the Seahawks now stand on a nine-game streak of regular season wins, four of them those classic road nailbiters that all came down to fourth-quarter fireworks by Russell Wilson. Starting with the Bears, up to the present day. It sure doesn't look like a mirage or a situational fluke. Instead, it looks like a champion. I'm not sure what more the Seahawks can do to prove their readiness for the big stage. All they can do now is play on it.

Some of us don't want to rest on intangibles. We want understandable factors, tangible causes and effects, something we can use to guess next week's outcome. We turn our noses up at "belief" and "resilience", dismissing it as the product of over-exciteable sports media, and try to explain things in terms of the X's and O's that make us feel more in control. And surely those played a part today.

But this team's habit of winning ugly makes us feel frustratingly out of control. We truly are along for the ride with this team, no matter how many swings of momentum we experience along the way, no matter how many times Golden Tate stops our hearts by returning punts from the end zone, no matter how many of those awful ugh-I'm-done towel throws we suffer through. Have they let us down yet?

Nothing should have gone right for the Seahawks today. We were on the road. The offensive line was spotted with backups against the AFC's finest defensive line. Our receivers were off their game against CB Jonathan Joseph. The Texans had actual receivers to throw at the Legion of Boom, and a QB to utilize them. It's hard to overstate just how much more talent Houston's passing offense boasts over our last three opponents. It's not even close. Schaub looked rattled in the second half, all right, but given time he can slice and dice the best of them, especially a Seattle linebacking corps that hadn't been truly tested in coverage yet. It's a fact that was lost amidst the mockery of Houston's slow start this year, and they chose today to unearth it again. For a while, the league's #1 defense was badly exposed.

And on a day when Seattle looked determined to undermine themselves with timid and repetitive play-calling that played right into Houston's hands and away from Russell Wilson's strengths, it seemed that rawness and injury were just the recipe Houston needed. This went beyond simply needing a comeback. The Seahawks looked flat-out incompetent in all three phases and didn't have the bullets on offense to compensate. Halftime adjustments seemed pointless. I confess I was already trotting out the "it's just one game, better health will shift our fortunes" lines.

But the darkness didn't hold. Perhaps I should say it was Doug Baldwin who actually flicked the switch, with his requisite weekly OMG-did-that-just-happen miracle catch (he has 123 yards on such catches in four games). Perhaps it was Wilson pulling more of that old spinning, freewheeling scramble magic and picking up first down after first down. Perhaps, as Richard Sherman said, it was the unexpected return of grievously injured Michael Bennett that sparked the team from the sidelines. Whatever it was, the defense heard it. They woke up and slammed the door on Matt Schaub in the fourth quarter.

Seattle was outgained badly in yards and time of possession. Wilson was horribly beat in passing stats. They didn't get a third-down conversion until impossibly late. Schaub, at least for three quarters, was the one with the gaudy conventional whiz-bang that analysts eat up because they understand it. On this day, every number on the planet pointed towards a Houston win - maybe a close one, threatened briefly by admirable Seattle grit, but a Houston win nonetheless.

Pete Carroll's team wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than a win. In the end, the numbers on the scoreboard contradicted every other. How Seattle continues to win with Wilson getting half the passing yards of the other guy, look 20 points down while leading by three, week in and week out is just crazy.

This team keeps giving me reasons to silence my inner cynic. The irritable contrarian that wants to grouse about how Seattle needs an entire platoon of pass rushers to match the production of a single JJ Watt. The peevish churl who loses faith against any actual pocket-passing quarterback because we seem forever barred from finding the linebackers to shut him down. The nattering naysayer who's critical of the Michael Robinson cut and disappointed with our tight end situation and aching for a consistent separation receiver and OMG WHY CAN'T YOU GUYS JUST SUCCEED MORE CONVENTIONALLY SO MY SEAHAWKS FANDOM DOESN'T FEEL LIKE LIFE ON A HIGH WIRE!!!

Yep, that guy needs to shut up.

This is a game whose significance leapt beyond records and statistics and into the realm of statements, character, and immortal sports memories. No Seahawks game of the Pete Carroll era has had the odds more heavily stacked against them. Their resilience has done nothing but produce a string of wins and lead the team to its first-ever 4-0 start. At some point, success becomes hard to criticize. We're past that point.

The Seahawks have nothing more to prove, except that they can win a Super Bowl. That is the lone remaining hurdle. This team has once again stared valley-of-the-shadow-of-death adversity in the face and overcome. If you don't yet grasp this team's entertainment factor, I don't know what you're waiting for. The Seahawks are where miracles happen. Repeatedly.