By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
HOUSTON — Film work provided the game-changing play.
Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn knew the Houston Texans liked to leak tight end Owen Daniels into the flat on third-and-short.
Just that situation came up late in the fourth quarter Sunday, when the Seahawks were on the ropes.
Friday, when the Seahawks had the scout team run the play in practice, cornerback Richard Sherman came up with an interception.
The same thing happened Sunday. Though, the stakes were a tad higher.
On third-and-4 from the Seahawks’ 40-yard line, Daniels went in motion and settled into a stack formation. That tipped Sherman. It also tipped safety Kam Chancellor.
That was Chancellor’s cue to blitz off the right side. He ended up in the face of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub who lofted the ball toward Daniels. Sherman went hard to the flat, knowing just what Daniels was going to do.
He grappled with Daniels, then pulled the ball away. When it was secured, Sherman looked up to nothing but green and teammates. He scored 58 yards later, shocking almost everyone in the building and tying the score 20-20 with 2:40 to play.
“It was like the world stopped for a second there,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said.
Sherman ran into the end zone, sans one shoe, while two stunned sidelines watched. The Seahawks couldn’t believe the shift. Nor could the Texans.
“Trying to make a play to win the ball game,” Schaub said. “We had Owen (Daniels) there and I should have probably just ditched it at his feet or held it and just live to punt and let our defense play.”
Sherman touts his preparation and knowing what’s going to come. That time, the Seahawks as a whole defense saw every indication of what was to happen.
That doesn’t mean it was the safe play.
Jumping Daniels’ route leaves the safety behind Sherman, in this case Earl Thomas, one-on-one with a receiver. Schaub didn’t go there, Sherman pushed hard into the flat, the game changed.
“It’s a high-risk, high-reward kind of play,” Sherman said. “We stand up when we need to.”
After being lit up in the first half — Schaub had 105 passing yards at end of first quarter, the Seahawks secondary wants less than 100 per game — the defense locked up the Texans.
“You have to go out there and take it,” Sherman said.
He did just that.
It was a slog for the Seahawks’ passing game.
Seattle converted just three third downs all day. Doug Baldwin caught passes to convert two of those.
The first was crucial.
Faced with third-and-7 from their own 5-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter, quarterback Russell Wilson connected with Baldwin with a pass up the left sideline.
The play was at first ruled incomplete. Carroll threw the challenge flag. Turned out Baldwin had both feet down by the tips of the toes.
“It was right in front of all of us,” Carroll said. “Honestly, I saw it the way the official saw it. It was the right thing to do to challenge because, at the time, we were reaching and clawing and scratching a bit.”
Later in the same drive, Baldwin picked up eight yards on third-and-7. At the end of the drive, Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown on a 3-yard run. The Seahawks went 98 yards on the drive, gaining more yards than they had in the entire first half.
Carroll recruited Texans’ linebacker Brian Cushing to play for him at USC. Earlier in the week, Carroll said Cushing was one of the most talented players he brought into the Trojans’ program.
That showed up Sunday. Cushing led the Texans with nine total tackles before leaving in the third quarter because of a concussion. The Seahawks — notably Wilson — benefited from his absence. Wilson began to find more running room on the second level once Cushing left the game.
“It’s like anything else,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “Like having a backup quarterback going into the game, the communication system and you’re working through a new guy.”
Fellow linebacker Whitney Mercilus noticed Cushing’s absence.
“He is one of our great playmakers on defense,” Mercilus said. “Having him not out there kinda sucks, but we know we have to suck it up and play ball.”
Hauschka was ready
Though there was a pregame downpour and cloudy skies rested over the stadium, none of that affected Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka. The roof at Reliant Stadium was closed.
Hauschka was 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts Sunday, hitting from 48, 39 and, for the game-winner, 45 yards out.
“My goal is treat (a game-winning field goal) like any other kick,” Hauschka said. “We decided that the 36-yard line would be the normal range for the entire game and we could stretch it out to 60 or 62 yards if we needed to.”
There wasn’t a need and Hauschka banged it through from 45 yards to cap the unlikely win.
RT Breno Giacomini (knee), C Max Unger (arm), FB Spencer Ware (ankle), S Jeron Johnson (hamstring), DT Jordan Hill (biceps) were inactive for the Seahawks. … Texans head coach Gary Kubiak was asked if he intends to replace Schaub at quarterback: “No. I think we’ve got some things to fix,” Kubiak said. “I have to fix me. I have to be better for him.” … After missing practicing most of the week, Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson started and was a handful for Sherman and company. Johnson finished with nine catches for 110 yards.