SEATTLE — Pete Carroll learned his lesson.
The Seattle Seahawks coach steered his offense away from running back Chris Carson last week in a loss to Chicago because, as he said after that game, he thought Carson looked “gassed” in the first quarter.
Carson looked the same way again Sunday, but Carroll decided to keep feeding him the ball anyway.
So he did, and Carson sparked the Seahawks to a 24-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys with the best game of his young NFL career.
Carson carried the ball 32 times for 102 yards and his first NFL rushing touchdown, helping the Seahawks control the game throughout and lifting them to their first victory of the season.
“He was tired,” Carroll said. “Honestly, I looked at him in the first quarter and that’s what I responded to (last week). He looked tired in the first quarter, but it didn’t matter. I got it now. I got it.
“OK, I screwed that up last week,” Carroll said. “I’m OK now.”
In the loss to Chicago, Carson carried the ball three times on the first series but just three more times the rest of the way. He finished with six carries for 24 yards – a respectable 4.0-yard average – and the Seahawks lost 24-17.
Carson, who played in just four games last year as a rookie before a broken leg ended his season, averaged a modest 3.2 yards per run on Sunday, and his longest run was just 13 yards.
But the pounding took its toll and had an effect.
The Seahawks (1-2) converted a season-high 44 percent of their third-down attempts (7-for-16), in large part because they were in third-and-4 a lot more often than third-and-8.
“This is the offense that we claimed to be the whole off season,” Carson said. “Be a balanced attack. Run the ball. Throw the ball. Put points on the board. It felt good to do that today.”
The numbers aren’t eye-popping. The Seahawks ran for 133 yards as a team, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.
And the Cowboys (1-2) finished with more total yards than Seattle, 303 to 295.
But Seattle’s ground game looked and felt better Sunday than it did at pretty much any time last season, when quarterback Russell Wilson was the team’s leading rusher with 586 yards and three touchdowns.
Carson’s 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter on Sunday was the first touchdown run by a Seattle running back since the fourth game of last season, and it was the first in a goal-to-go situation since the last game of 2016.
“This is the how we want to play,” Carroll said. “We want to run the football, we want to play defense and use the kicking game as much as we can to control the field. All those things happened today.”
The running game got a boost as new right guard D.J. Fluker made his first start for Seattle after missing the first two games with an injury. Fluker was signed as a free agent to improve the run game.
Several players said after the game that Fluker was begging the coaches to run the ball to his side.
“D.J. is as tough as it gets. He’s as tough as nails,” Wilson said of the 6-foot-5, 342-pound Fluker. “I love his energy. He loves football. He’s passionate about the game, so that was exciting.”
At the same time, two other starters on the line missed the game with injuries, center Justin Britt and left guard Ethan Pocic. Joey Hunt started at center and J.R. Sweezy moved to left guard from right guard, where he had been filling in for Fluker.
Still, it was the line’s best game of the season by far, including in pass protection as Wilson was sacked just twice. One of those was when Wilson scrambled out of bounds for no gain, which is a sack on the stat sheet but not on Wilson’s body.
He had been sacked 12 times in the first two games.
“We haven’t arrived yet,” Fluker said. “I’m not going to say we were perfect today, but we did a great job keeping them at bay, only giving up two sacks, and we did a great job executing.”
Left tackle Duane Brown said it was a fun day to be a Seahawks offensive lineman.
“That’s what you want to do,” he said of the commitment to the run. “No one wants to drop back 40, 50 times a game. When you’re able to be aggressive and come off the ball, that’s what we want to do as an offensive lineman.
“When you’re able to run the ball effectively and the defense knows you’re going to run it and you’re still able to get yards, there is no better feeling.
Hunt, who was making only the second start of his three-year career, also contributed by inciting Dallas defensive lineman Randy Gregory to commit a personal foul penalty with five second remaining in the first half.
The 15-yard penalty moved the ball into field-goal range, and Seattle’s Sebastian Janikowski made a 47-yard field goal as time expired to give Seattle a 17-3 lead at halftime.
“There might have been some words exchanged,” Hunt said of the kerfuffle, which ended with Gregory hitting Hunt in the helmet. “I was kind of shocked that he would do that because it was a bad time to do that, man. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
Altogether, it was the kind of game the Seahawks want to play.
And, for the record, Carson said he was not tired, either Sunday or last week.
“I’ll probably feel more of it tomorrow morning,” he said when asked about getting 32 carries, 12 more than his previous career high. “I’ll let you know more about that, but right now it feels good.
“If it’s 32 carries or five carries, whatever it takes to try to help the team win,” he said. “It’s football. I mean, I’m 24. I’ve got a lot of energy.”