CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This was as ugly as they come. But the end beautifies the means.
And this deeply flawed 13-9 victory over Carolina on Sunday might turn out to be the win that saved a Seahawks season on the brink of slipping away.
For most of the afternoon, the Seahawks exhibited so many of the deficiencies that led to their three losses this season. But this time they managed to remember a talent that generated so much success in 2013: They finished the game strongly.
Roughly 41/2 minutes from having to face the painful reality that they were going to be written off as serious contenders, the Hawks drove 80 yards for the game’s only touchdown.
“We’ve had three really close games that we didn’t finish,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “And we needed to finish a football game. That’s why we’re so proud to take this one on the road today.”
In the last couple seasons, the Seahawks often charged into the locker room in boisterous celebration of a win. This time, they seemed to be sighing in relief.
“That felt pretty good,” Carroll said of savoring a win for the first time in 20 days. “I particularly liked the way we did it … this is a good football team in a tough situation, and we were up against it all day long.”
They were “up against it” because they lost two turnovers deep in Carolina territory, quarterback Russell Wilson again was under pressure and uncharacteristically inaccurate, they failed to capitalize on a number of seemingly available takeaways, and because they again got off to a flailing start offensively.
“There’s a lot more there for us,” Carroll said of the spotty execution. “We can play better; we can do better. This team is still growing.”
Most in the locker room seemed willing to mentally photo-shop the homely quality out of the game in favor of stressing a simple fact: This “W” on the schedule still will be printed in capital letters despite the aesthetic shortcomings.
Linebacker K.J. Wright said Carroll delivered a strong message to the team this weekend.
“He told us that we’re really talented, but there’s talent everywhere in the NFL,” Wright said. “It takes more than talent; it takes attention to details, it takes playing hard and playing together, and that’s what we did.” Everybody on the team knew what it would mean to have lost a third straight game and fallen below .500 at 3-4.
“We knew this was a game that had to be won — losing was not an option,” Wright said. “And we responded; the defense allowed no touchdowns and the offense did a great job on that last drive getting into the end zone instead of settling for a field goal.”
The win also buys the Hawks some time to heal up as the next few struggling opponents, Oakland and the New York Giants, have to come to CenturyLink and face them.
There was the sense in the locker room that the Seahawks feel like a team that, emotionally, has bounced up off the canvas. They’d been doubted by fans and had their very nature questioned by national media.
It caused Wright to offer: “When we lose, don’t just call us sorry and think we’re the scum of the earth; we’re playing hard, we’re practicing hard, and we’re going to do our best to get back to where we were last year.”
Scum of the earth, really?
“Yeah, you wouldn’t believe the stuff we’ve heard,” Wright said.
Receiver Doug Baldwin, who led the Hawks with six catches for 61 yards, saw long-term value in Sunday’s win.
“Any true competitor will tell you, sometimes when you get up against a wall, you press, you try to find a way to pull something out,” Baldwin said. “I think this game is going to relieve that stress and give us our swagger back.”
You may wonder if a slim win over a struggling team is completely swagger-worthy. But let’s allow Baldwin to finish his theory.
“Sometimes when you get punched in the mouth, you’ve got to check yourself, you’ve got some questions you’ve got to ask yourself,” he said. “And we answered the questions with the right answers and found a way to win.”
Everybody on that team knows they’re nowhere near where they were expected to be at this point.
But closing the deal against the Panthers at least buys them some time to figure it out.