PHOENIX — Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington had latched onto Russell Wilson and the play was a heartbeat from being over.
Washington was twisting Wilson’s legs as gravity did the rest. As he fell, Wilson shoved a throw 6 yards downfield. Tight end Zach Miller came across the field and made a diving catch, which was good for a first down.
That third-down conversion was inches from failing on both ends. Instead, it was one of seven third-down conversions the Seahawks pulled off in their 34-22 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night.
After starting Week Six against the Tennessee Titans 0-for-3 on third down — part of a 5-for-29 stretch of ineptness — the Seahawks are 12-for-22. That’s 54.6 percent, which would be good for second in the NFL behind Denver.
“We’ve been trying to turn the corner on that thing,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “We know we can be a good third-down team and we know we have it in us. … But that’s a big goal for us, to get a third-down game and a red-zone game, and we’ll continue to work at that. When that happens, we’re going to be really hard to stop on offense.”
Wilson was magnificent in those situations Thursday.
He completed six of seven third-down passes, five of them for first downs. One pass to wide receiver Sidney Rice was complete, but fell short of the needed distance.
Unlike prior weeks, Wilson used his arm instead of his legs to convert third downs. He also was in better third-down situations. The Seahawks gained a first down five times when there were 3 yards or fewer to go.
“I thought we did a great job on third down (Thursday),” Wilson said. “That’s how we kept the drives alive. That’s how we separated ourselves, and that’s what we need.
“We did a great job in the red zone, too, but that (third-and-3 pass to Miller) was just one of those plays where they made a good call and I got away from a defensive player and Zach Miller just made a huge play.”
Despite the improvement, the Seahawks are converting just 35.6 percent of their third downs, which is 22nd in the 32-team league. Their goal is 50 percent.
As Wilson pointed out, the Seahawks were 3-for-4 in the red zone Thursday. Coming into the week, the Seahawks were tied for 15th in red-zone touchdown percentage at 50 percent. That was down from 53.85 percent in 2012.
Thursday’s efficiency elevated Seattle to 13th (with a game in hand), at 53.85 percent, the same as last season.
The Seahawks are taking these steps during the difficult portion of their schedule. The Oct. 28 game at St. Louis will cap a run of four road games in five weeks. Seattle closes the season with four of six at home, where it has won 11 consecutive games. It plays just two teams the rest of the way, New Orleans and San Francisco, that currently have winning records.
“We haven’t played our best ball yet,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We’re far from where we want to be.”
Carroll gave the Seahawks four days off with the players not gathering again until Tuesday when they’ll start preparing for their Monday night matchup at St. Louis. The game against the Rams begins a favorable four-game stretch against opponents who are a combined 5-16. Then comes Seattle’s bye week.