The only thing that prevented me from doing a spit take was the fact the first half wasn’t over yet, so I hadn’t had the opportunity to make my halftime tea.
The Seattle Seahawks had just received the ball at their own 25-yard line with 24 seconds remaining in the first half of their their 31-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. With so far to go in such little time I knew the Seahawks would simply run out the clock, because coach Pete Carroll isn’t one to take long-odds risks in the first half. As Seattle lined up for the snap with quarterback Russell Wilson in the shotgun I thought to myself, “Well, here comes the draw play.”
As I took my first steps toward the kitchen I did a double-take as Wilson actually threw the ball, completing a quick-hit 11-yarder to Greg Olsen before calling timeout. I was forced into an abrupt about-face as I headed back to the television.
What in the world was happening here? Were the Seahawks actually going to play for points?
Carroll, at 69, may be the NFL’s oldest head coach. But I guess this old dog is showing even he can learn some new tricks.
Throughout Carroll’s 10 years at the helm in Seattle, he firmly established his risk-averseness in the first halves of games. Facing fourth-and-short after nudging into opposition territory? Better to punt and pin them deep than risk surrendering initiative in the field-position battle. Have the ball deep in your own territory with just seconds remaining? Best to take a knee rather than risk a turnover that could gift the opposition points. Keep it close in the first half, then let the, “finish strong,” mantra take over in the second.
But things have shifted offensively for the Seahawks this season. Seattle has finally relented to the “Let Russ cook” crowd, giving Wilson more opportunities to make plays on early downs and early in games. And it worked as the Seahawks opened the season 3-0 while scoring 37 points per game.
A question remained, however. How much of this was an an actual change in philosophy, and how much of it was situational? As much as the Seahawks opened up the playbook, Carroll continued to stress in his postgame press conferences the importance of establishing the run game. And the play calling on both sides of the ball turned conservative when Seattle held leads late in games. A leopard’s spots do not change overnight.
But Sunday’s game against Miami finally convinced me the philosophical revolution is complete.
There was the moment in the second quarter when, facing fourth-and-3 from the Dolphins 18, the Seahawks decided to go for it rather than attempt a chip-shot field goal. Carroll of the past wouldn’t have hesitated to kick the field goal to extend his team’s lead to seven points. It didn’t work out in this instance, but it also didn’t deter future aggressiveness.
“We’re going to continue to look for those opportunities because we believe in our guys,” Carroll confirmed during his Monday morning radio show on 710 AM.
Then in the fourth quarter Seattle twice defied convention. First, leading 17-15 with 8:31 remaining, the Seahawks went straight into attack mode, hitting Tyler Lockett on a play-action pass early in the drive, then catching the Dolphins with a no-huddle snap that resulted in a 17-yard touchdown pass to David Moore. Later, when Shaquill Griffin’s ensuing interception gave the ball back to Seattle in Dolphins territory, the Seahawks again went for the jugular, needing just two plays to score another touchdown to give Seattle a secure 31-15 lead with less than five minutes remaining.
There was no sitting on the lead Sunday.
“We go for stuff like that every day in practice, we work the situations like that,” Moore said following Sunday’s game, further reinforcing the notion that the change in philosophy is permanent.
“We have faith in everybody who plays,” Moore added. “We know everybody knows their job, and all they have to do is go out there and believe in it. That’s one thing Russell always says, ‘Believe, believe.’ The fact we work situations like that in practice and stuff, going out there it’s like second nature, so you’re just doing it to have fun.”
At the end of the first half, much to my amazement, the Seahawks cashed in on their long-odds bet. Wilson scrambled and found Moore wide open for a 57-yard completion, and with just three ticks left on the clock Wilson squeezed a pass to Travis Homer in the end zone, giving Seattle a 17-9 halftime lead. Four plays, 75 yards, 21 seconds, and an emphatic momentum swing in Seattle’s favor.
The lesson of the story? Don’t try to win that race to the bathroom as the clock winds down on the first half of future Seahawks games. There’s a new philosophy being followed in Seattle, and even Pete Carroll is fully on board.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.