By Rich Myhre
SEATTLE — After three quarters of field goals, Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field came down to fourth-quarter drives by both the Miami Dolphins and the Seattle Seahawks.
Miami went first and did something NFL opponents accomplished in four of Seattle’s first six games a year ago — score a late touchdown to take the lead against the Seahawks. All four of those 2015 games became Seattle losses.
But in this 2016 season opener, the Seahawks changed the script. Led by quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle drove 75 yards in the final four minutes for the go-ahead touchdown and an eventual 12-10 comeback victory before a relieved home crowd of 69,012.
The dramatic final drive included fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-7 conversions by the Seahawks. Then, after reaching the Miami 2-yard line, Wilson found wide receiver Doug Baldwin in the left corner of the end zone for an over-the-shoulder touchdown reception with 31 seconds remaining.
Seattle’s defense did its part in the final half-minute, holding the Dolphins on three plays deep in their own end to wrap up the win.
It was, said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, “a pretty exciting opener” and “a good, hard-fought football game. … When it came down to it, our guys were able to do what we needed to do to win.”
“As long as there’s some time on the clock, we believe we can make it happen and we were able to do that today,” Wilson said. “We were clutch when we needed to. We were precise when we needed to. We were gutsy when we needed to. And ultimately we made the plays when we needed to.”
No question, the Seahawks still have room for improvement. The offense was stagnant much of the day, with just two scoring drives (both field goals) in the first 11 possessions. Wilson threw an unwise pass for an interception in the first half, and he misconnected on a second-half handoff to running back Thomas Rawls — Wilson got tripped by teammate Mark Glowinski and ended up flipping the ball to Rawls, who lost it — and Miami recovered.
“(The offense) just never got going,” Carroll said. “We need to run the football better to get our rhythm. It seemed like it wasn’t there the way we wanted it to be.”
The defense was mostly outstanding, but at times lucky, too. In the second quarter Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills came wide open in the Seattle secondary due to a coverage breakdown, but inexplicably dropped a pass that would have been a sure touchdown.
But for all Seattle’s first-game miscues, there were other heroic moments. The defense stopped Miami on fourth-and-1 at the Seahawks 17 in the first quarter, and defensive end Cassius Marsh thwarted another Dolphins scoring try by blocking a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
“We played as hard as we could and we gave it everything we had,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. “Our offense caught fire at the end and figured out a few things. I think we had some missed opportunities on both sides of the ball unfortunately. … For the mistakes that we made and the holes that we kept digging ourselves in to, it’s a blessing that we came out with a win.”
“There were times we could have given up, especially when (the Dolphins) got that score at the end,” added linebacker Bobby Wagner. “But we showed grit.”
On their do-or-die, 14-play final drive, the Seahawks mostly gained yardage in small chunks. Twice the Seahawks had to convert on fourth down _ the first on a 7-yard burst up the middle by Rawls and the second on a 22-yard Wilson-to-Baldwin completion. The march reached the Miami 2, where Wilson’s looping toss to Baldwin on a fade route resulted in the winning TD.
“When it came to the defining moment of the game, (Wilson) did what he did,” said Seattle defensive tackle Michael Bennett. “That’s what you do under pressure. That’s why I define him as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL because the great ones play good under pressure. … He never got rattled.”
Though their showing was less than flawless, the Seahawks did what was difficult early last season _ winning a game in the fourth quarter. And after starting their 2015 schedule 0-2 and later being 2-4, a 1-0 mark this season looks pretty good.
“At the end of the day getting a win, no matter how you got it, that’s what matters,” said Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril. “You just have to get a W … and last year a lot of them went the other way for us. But this is Week 1, and now we just have to keep building and keep getting better.”