SEATTLE — Through most of three quarters, the Seattle Seahawks hardly looked like one of the NFL’s elite teams. With an array of bobbles, foolish penalties and other miscues — including a special teams calamity on the final play of the first half — the Seahawks trailed Tennessee 10-7 before a nervous crowd at CenturyLink Field.
But in the game’s final 20 minutes, Seattle overcame its earlier foibles to overtake and eventually defeat the visiting Titans 20-13 on an unusually balmy fall afternoon.
The victory gives the Seahawks a 5-1 season record, which matches New Orleans for the best mark in the NFC (the previously unbeaten Saints lost on Sunday to New England, 30-27), and keeps Seattle one game ahead of San Francisco atop the NFC West.
Still, it was anything but easy.
“We kind of made it rough on ourselves,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll acknowledged. “We made enough mistakes to make it a close game.”
“Every (game) is not going to be smooth sailing,” said Seattle safety Earl Thomas. “In football and in life, it’s kind of like a roller coaster where you never know what’s going to happen. … I don’t care how we win as long as we win, and as long as we win I’m fine with it.”
Coming off their first loss of the season last week at Indianapolis, and in their only home game in a stretch of five weeks, the Seahawks sputtered in the early going. The team’s first three possessions ended with punts, though Seattle finally went on top late in the second quarter with a 12-play, 74-yard drive capped by a 1-yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown run.
The Seahawks had another scoring chance in the final seconds before halftime, but instead saw the lead and the momentum swing to Tennessee on a truly bizarre and potentially game-changing play.
Having reached the Titans 4-yard line, and with just two seconds on the clock, Seattle set up for a field goal that would have given them a 10-3 lead at the break. But with place-kicker Steven Hauschka in the locker room getting checked over for a possible concussion — he was flattened trying to make the tackle on the kickoff after Lynch’s touchdown — punter Jon Ryan became the kicker and backup safety Chris Maragos became the holder.
Maragos dropped the center snap, tried to pick up the ball and run, was stripped by Tennessee’s Michael Griffin, and Titans cornerback Jason McCourty picked up the loose ball and ran back 77 yards for a touchdown.
Instead of a 10-3 Seahawks halftime lead, they trailed 10-7.
“It was a crazy play,” said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. “It was just a fluke play. You don’t expect that to happen.”
Fortunately for the Seahawks, the defense was playing well enough to give the offense time to get untracked, which it finally did in the second half. Though their first possession ended with a Lynch fumble, Seattle followed with a long drive for a game-tying field goal — Hauschka was back, having been cleared by the team’s medical staff — then got another field goal early in the fourth quarter, and finally a Lynch TD run of 3 yards for a 20-10 margin with 7:33 to play in the game.
The Titans later kicked a field goal, but Seattle was able to run out the game’s remaining minutes.
“We could have had a better day of it, but some stuff got away from us,” Carroll said. “The ball was greased today. I haven’t seen that many fumbles and that many mishandles, and it really gave (the Titans) a chance to get in the game.”
The Seahawks finished with five fumbles, losing two, and “that’s just too many loose footballs for us,” Carroll said. “That’s not the way we play. So we’ll be all over that one for sure.”
“Whew, (it was) not pretty by any means,” said Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate. “But I think we’re a good enough team where we can overcome some of those (things). In the past, I’m not sure we would’ve overcome some of those plays that (Tennessee) capitalized on.”
It was “a battle out there,” Wilson said, “(but) we did a great job of finishing the game and that’s what we talked about at halftime. Our whole thing was, let’s just finish the game.”
The Seahawks have blowout victories against San Francisco and Jacksonville this season, but they also managed to pull out close, hard-fought wins against Carolina, Houston and now Tennessee. And as Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman pointed out, “you gotta win ugly sometimes. And when we do, shoot, a win is a win.”
“It’s hard to win in this league,” added Seattle defensive end Red Bryant. “My first two years in the league we went 4-12 and 5-11, so I know how hard it is to win. So every win you get, whether it’s by three (points) or whether it’s by 21, you take it, you enjoy it and then you move on.”