Seahawks prove they are capable of greatness

RENTON — The final moments of the third quarter Sunday were a perfect summary of the Seattle Seahawks’ day in Houston up to that point.

How they responded is the perfect reason to believe this team is capable of living up to even the loftiest expectations.

A quarter of the way into the 2013 season, the Seahawks are 4-0 for the first time in franchise history, and if up to this point you’ve been cautious to buy in, perhaps hardened by years of, say, watching the Mariners, Sunday’s win should finally be enough for even the most jaded fan to start thinking big. Maybe don’t book that nonrefundable plane ticket to New York for Super Bowl weekend just yet, but it couldn’t hurt to check on fares, right?

If, heading into the weekend, you needed a reason to believe the Seahawks are capable of greatness this year, the way the third quarter ended, and the way they responded, ought to convince you.

Trailing by two touchdowns with the third quarter winding down, Golden Tate made a poor decision to field a punt at the 3-yard line. Kellen Davis also was flagged for a hold on the play, backing the Seahawks inside their own 2-yard line. And then, as if the degree of difficulty wasn’t high enough, a failed exchange between backup center Lemuel Jeanpierre and Russell Wilson backed the Seahawks up another yard.

It was a horrific end to a horrific three quarters of football, and just another reason to believe it wasn’t the Seahawks’ day. Only somebody forgot to tell the Seahawks that NFL teams aren’t supposed to be able to just flip a switch, especially on the road, and turn a dismal day into an incredible comeback win.

Wilson and his offense didn’t believe that just because the Texans’ defense had been manhandling them all afternoon, they couldn’t put together a 98-yard drive to cut the lead to seven points. A defense that had given up 324 yards and 20 points in the first half didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to pitch a shutout in the second half and overtime while forcing two huge turnovers. The later turnover was the game’s defining moment, Richard Sherman running alone down the sideline sans right shoe — Shoeless Sherm, if you will — on his way to the score-tying touchdown.

“It means a lot more when you win in this kind environment, when you win that kind of game, when you’re down 20-3 at halftime, when your team pulls deep within themselves to pull out a win like this,” Sherman told the NFL Network after the game. “You learn something about your quarterback, you learn something about your defense, you learn something about yourselves.”

This wasn’t another blowout of an inferior team, it was something more meaningful for a young team with Super Bowl dreams. The Seahawks were overmatched for three quarters against a playoff-caliber team. They were getting beat up on both sides of the ball, yet they found a way. It was the kind of win that could be the difference between home-field advantage in the playoffs or a trip to somewhere like New Orleans in the NFC Championship game.

“It was a great win to get, a big challenge, and we’re going to be stronger because of that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “That’ll help us.

Exactly what it helps the Seahawks do remains to be seen, but Sunday’s win sure felt like a potential season-changer. Lose in Houston with another tough road test coming in Indianapolis, and suddenly everyone is fretting about a possible 3-2 start. Now it feels like the Seahawks are heading to Indy playing with house money — though they’d never look at it that way — assured of nothing worse than a 4-1 start to the season despite three 10 a.m. road games, a tough test against a division rival and, … well, I’m not going to try to make the Jacksonville game sound like anything other than the cakewalk it was.

Suddenly, when you look at the schedule, 13, even 14 wins doesn’t sound crazy. Difficult? Yes, but hardly impossible. After all, short of an injury to Wilson, when will the Seahawks be going against tougher circumstances this season than they faced in Houston?

It was a 10 a.m. kickoff. They were playing without three starting linemen, two of them Pro Bowl players, against the best defensive linemen in football. They were still missing Percy Harvin, who could return as soon as midseason, and Bruce Irvin, who returns this week. Michael Bennett, perhaps their best defensive lineman through three games, left before halftime with an injury and even the usually stingy defense was getting picked apart.

What game on the schedule looks tougher than that right now? Maybe at San Francisco or Atlanta, if either of those two 2012 NFC powers turns things around. But if the Seahawks didn’t lose Sunday with so much going wrong, when will they?

Any one thing could have happened in that fourth quarter or overtime to cost the Seahawks a ninth consecutive regular-season win, yet they got every third-down stop, picked up every crucial first down, came up with the two second-half turnovers, and got just enough Russell Wilson magic to pull out the improbable victory.

“That was really a difficult one,” Carroll said of Sunday’s win. “We needed the defensive score, we needed every aspect of it, we needed the penalties. We needed every aspect of that thing to go the way it went to get us back in that thing because (Houston is) such a good football team. I think that’s really the clear point to me — that we played against a really tough football team that was really ready and that put everything into that game. Their fans were on it, every aspect of it was going and we were able to get out of there (with a win).”

As Carroll points out, the Seahawks, “have a lot of football out there that we have to improve, and we have a long haul. … We’re a long ways from home right now.” And that’s true, 4-0 doesn’t mean a thing by itself — just ask last year’s Arizona Cardinals, who turned a 4-0 start into a 5-11 season — but the way the Seahawks came back in Houston should cause even the most pessimistic fans to start dreaming big.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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