SEATTLE — An up and down season appeared to be headed towards rock bottom Sunday.
Hosting the team with the NFL’s worst record, Seattle inexplicably found itself trailing by two touchdowns early as the one-win Carolina Panthers bullied the Seahawks in front of a stunned — and based on the amount of booing — angry crowd of 66,577 at Qwest Field.
But just when it appeared that the Seahawks were headed to their fifth loss in six weeks, one that would have all but killed their playoff hopes, they managed to turn things around with two quick touchdowns in the third quarter and roll to a 31-14 victory.
And it wasn’t so much a schematic adjustment that led to the turnaround, though there were strategic moves made to be sure. The change, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained, was in the team’s attitude.
“This was an attitude day,” Carroll said. “… This was the time. We either had to turn it or get our butt kicked today. We did it.”
Trailing 14-3 after two quarters against a team that came into the game averaging 12.7 points per game, the Seahawks went into the locker room to face one unhappy coach.
“He let us have it,” Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said of Carroll. “He let us know what was going on and that he wasn’t pleased with the way we were playing. He came out and said, ‘Look, you guys don’t want to hear it but you’re getting out-muscled.’ He goes, ‘I don’t know if you want to hit or not, but do something about it. If you’re a man, do something about it.’”
And do something about it the Seahawks did. Seattle started the second half the same way they played the first — poorly. But after Leon Washington bobbled the second-half kickoff, the Seahawks’ offense responded with a 96-yard drive that running back Marshawn Lynch capped with a 1-yard run, the first of his three touchdowns.
“Being backed up, we got in that mindset and attitude that we were going to drive the ball down the field,” center Chris Spencer said.
Three plays after Lynch’s touchdown, Tatupu stepped in front of a pass by Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. It was Tatupu’s first interception return for a touchdown since his rookie season, and gave Seattle a 17-14 lead in a game that a few minutes earlier was trending towards becoming an outright disaster.
“That was a great play, especially by one of the leaders on the defense,” Seahawks rookie safety Earl Thomas said. “A lot of guys look up to him. I think that changed the game.”
The defense followed Tatupu’s touchdown with another stop — the Seahawks allowed just 86 yards in the final two and a half quarters after giving up 197 yards on Carolina’s first four possession. The ensuing punt was returned 84 yards by Leon Washington, who was tripped up just short of the goal line by Carolina punter Jason Baker. Other than a bit of embarrassment for Washington, who was caught because he began celebrating some 40 yards short of the end zone, the inability to score on the return didn’t matter because Lynch punched in another 1-yard touchdown.
“I think it was good because we needed the goal-line offense work,” Carroll joked. “We needed to run that ball in there.”
Lynch scored on a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter, giving the Seahawks 31 unanswered points, and a game that early on looked like a potential crushing defeat turned into a convincing victory for Seattle, which at 6-6 remains in a first-place tie with St. Louis in the NFC West.
A brutal start could have derailed the season for a struggling team, but instead the Seahawks turned the game around thanks to a much-needed attitude adjustment.
“It was everywhere,” Carroll said. “It was the look in their eyes, it was in every hit, it was in every conversation. We just needed to step up. For some reason it just got away from us somewhere in here in the last month or so, and I just didn’t feel right. We haven’t been feeling right about what we’re capable of doing. … At halftime, it finally just jumped.”