That's right: the Seahawks went from last place to controlling their own destiny Sunday afternoon.
A 34-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers might not have saved Seattle's season, but it made the possibility of a fifth consecutive NFC West title a little more realistic.
The Seahawks (2-5) are now tied for second place and trail division-leading Arizona (4-3) by just two games. Seattle has two upcoming games against the Cardinals, who lost to Carolina on Sunday, leaving their fast start suddenly looking less like that of Usain Bolt and more like the one that the hare put on the tortoise.
"I think a win like this can spark us," said fullback Leonard Weaver, the star of Sunday's blowout win after scoring two long touchdowns in the second half. "We're just going to take it day-by-day, week-by-week, and we'll just see what happens."
The division title, of course, is still a long way away. And the Seahawks' season is still on thin ice. What Seattle did Sunday was take advantage of another NFC West have-not, thereby putting itself back in the playoff picture.
"This is a crazy division," said Seahawks defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, who had two sacks Sunday. "You never know how it's going to fall. There have been seasons when we felt like we had it sewn up from the very beginning, and then it comes down to the last week. So you never know."
The Seahawks spoiled the debut of new 49ers coach Mike Singeltary and may have ended the starting career of San Francisco quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan. Two O'Sullivan turnovers, including an interception that Josh Wilson returned 75 yards for a touchdown late in the first half, allowed Seattle to take a 20-3 halftime lead.
Shaun Hill took over for O'Sullivan and gave the 49ers a little lift early in the second half, but another big play essentially put the game away. Weaver's 43-yard catch-and-run gave Seattle a 27-6 lead with 1:50 left in the third quarter to put another nail in the Niners' coffin. Weaver added a 62-yard touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter to cap off a stellar day.
"I can't remember the last time I caught two touchdown passes in one game," he said. "It's a true blessing."
Playing without injured quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle offense did enough to keep the 49ers at bay -- and at times the angry home crowd sounded ready to throw them into the San Francisco Bay.
The Seahawks scored the first 13 points of the game and led by double digits for almost the entire afternoon.
While Weaver was the star of the day, Wilson might have made the game's most important play.
San Francisco (2-6) was making its best push late in the second quarter, a touchdown away from cutting the Seattle lead to three points, when Wilson brought back momentum for good.
Trailing 13-3, the 49ers went into a two-minute offense and started driving into Seahawks territory. But O'Sullivan's pass -- it would be the last one he would throw all day -- was picked off by Wilson in stride. Wilson returned his first NFL interception 75 yards to put the Seahawks ahead by 17 points at the break.
"That took the wind out of them a little bit," Seahawks defensive end Darryl Tapp said. "The momentum swung. They were driving down the field, looking to score, and Josh put a big end to that."
It was undoubtedly the Seahawks' day, but by no means have they turned their season around. The game was reminiscent of a 37-13 win over St. Louis five weeks ago, and that victory was followed by three consecutive losses.
"We can't afford anymore losses, especially in our division," running back Julius Jones said. "We need to try to catch up, and (Sunday's win) was good for us."
What the game provided was a glimmer of hope, and that's something the state of Washington hasn't had for a while -- not in football, and not in any of the major sports that call the area home.
The Seahawks ended a three-game losing streak and ran their division record to 2-1. In order to challenge Arizona for the NFC West title, Seattle would likely have to beat the Cardinals twice -- on Nov. 16 and Dec. 28.
There is indeed a lot of football left to be played. But at least for now, the games involving the Seahawks might be meaningful again.
"We forgot what it was like to win," Jones said.
Linebacker Leroy Hill was among the players trying not to make too much of the win.
"To us, we're 2-5," he said. "We're still toward the bottom of the division."
When informed that the Seahawks were actually tied for second, Hill shrugged.
"I haven't really been looking at it," he said. "All I know is that we're not at the top of the division, and that's where I want to be."
Offensive lineman Sean Locklear said the Seahawks felt like the upcoming Arizona games could decide the NFC West champion -- even after Seattle got off to the 1-5 start.
"That's our division, and that's a part of it," he said of still being in the thick of the race despite the awful start. "We're not going to complain about it.
"We knew it would come down to (the games against the Cardinals). Arizona had a good start to the season, but we kind of knew it would come down to that. We control our own destiny now."
As improbable as it sounds, the lowly Seahawks are back in control.
RUN OFFENSE: D-Who says running the football is important to a team’s success? Woody Hayes certainly wouldn’t understand what’s going on with the 2008 Seahawks. When the team runs the football, it typically loses. Then there’s Sunday, when Seattle won a blowout but had just 39 rushing yards on 28 carries. The only glimmer of hope came on a pair of T.J. Duckett conversions in short-yardage situations. Julius Jones had 14 yards on one carry but minus-5 on his other five. Seattle averaged 1.4 yards per carry Sunday, and its ground game seems to get worse each week _ which might not be a bad thing. PASS OFFENSE: B-The Seahawks will definitely welcome Matt Hasselbeck back with open arms, but at least this part of the offense is starting to show signs of life. After combining for 137 passing yards in the past two games, Seattle had 222 on Sunday. Much of that came on FB Leonard Weaver’s two long catch-and-run touchdowns. QB Seneca Wallace looked better, but he’s still overthrowing too many receivers. Getting WR Bobby Engram involved early in the game was a good move. Weaver saved the day … and the passing offense. RUN DEFENSE: BThe Seahawks have struggled with Frank Gore in the past, so his 94-yard rushing performance was no reason to stress out. He did break a couple of runs, including a 29-yarder. But Seattle’s run defense was generally strong. Most of the top-tier runners are behind them, so the Seahawks should continue to improve in this area as the season moves along. PASS DEFENSE: B-If it weren’t for the 49ers, the Seahawks might not get any sacks. Thirteen of Seattle’s 19 sacks on the season have now come against San Francisco. That was good Sunday, but is a bad sign for the future. CB Josh Wilson ended another futile string by getting the Seahawks’ second interception of the season. He took it to the house for the most important touchdown of the game. On the negative side, San Francisco’s quarterbacks did combine for 304 passing yards. SPECIAL TEAMS: B+Seattle’s return game was as strong as it has been all year. Justin Forsett (6.5 yards per return) has given the punt-return game a jolt, while KR Josh Wilson went 40 yards on his only attempt. K Olindo Mare continues to be steady. The Seahawks gave up a couple long returns, and P Jon Ryan continues to struggle with consistency. Ryan did kick a 63-yarder, which is worth noting. COACHING: BMike Holmgren had his share of troubles facing Mike Singletary, the linebacker. On Sunday, Holmgren got the better of Singletary, the coach. Experience trumped athletic ability on this afternoon. We’ve been pretty hard on Holmgren this year, so maybe it’s time to give him his due. The future Hall of Famer -- Holmgren, that is; Singletary already has a bust in Canton -- had a good game plan and seemed to catch the 49ers by surprise. MISC.: CRepeat after us: “Thank goodness for the NFC West.” It’s a phrase that has defined Seattle’s recent run of postseason appearances, and this is shaping up to be the most improbable division race yet. The Seahawks’ win, combined with Arizona’s loss at Carolina, makes the NFC West crown look a little more attainable. But Seattle still has a long, uphill climb.
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