Football games, as the cliche´ goes, are played on fields instead of paper.
That became apparent to those who witnessed the Seattle Seahawks’ dramatic victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
The standard line prior to the contest was that Seattle’s upset hopes rested on a big game from running back Marshawn Lynch and a pass rush that could subject New England quarterback Tom Brady to the same type of unrelenting pressure that bedeviled Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers during last month’s famous (or infamous) Monday night victory.
Those qualities were viewed as necessities, since it was assumed that Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson would make more mistakes than future Hall of Famer Brady.
There also seemed little chance that Seattle’s Pete Carroll, never known as a master tactician, would outcoach New England’s legendary Bill Belichick.
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
None of the above-listed scenarios transpired. yet the Seahawks still emerged with a stunning, come-from-behind 24-23 win.
For three quarters, the Patriots conducted a clinic on how to beat the Seahawks.
They neutralized Lynch, limiting him to 41 yards on 15 carries. Brady, meanwhile, dissected Seattle’s defense with surgical precision.
Afforded excellent protection (he wasn’t sacked until the final minute of the game), Brady sliced and diced Seattle’s secondary for 388 yards passing. Given Brady’s limited mobility, the Seahawks’ decision to send a three-man pass rush in most passing situations probably worked against them.
The Patriots could have put the game away except two critical mistakes.
Leading 17-10, the Patriots were on Seattle’s 3-yard line when they used their final timeout with six seconds remaining in the first half.
Surprisingly, Belichick passed up a chip-shot field goal that would have made it a two-possession game and opted to go for the touchdown.
“We were trying to score,” the taciturn Belichick told reporters afterward.
That quote evoked memories of a comment by an announcer for Mizlou Television — a long-defunct network that specialized in covering bottom-of-the-barrel college bowl games. “We thought they were going to score,” the announcer intoned, “but they settled for a field goal.”
On the verge of being sacked, Brady threw the ball out of the back of the end zone with one second remaining — only to be correctly called for intentional grounding. The resulting 10-second runoff stipulated for such infractions in the National Football League ended the half.
The Patriots were similarly well-positioned for a field goal that would have increased their lead to 23-10 early in the fourth quarter when safety Earl Thomas intercepted Brady in the end zone.
Those missed opportunities loomed large when Wilson engineered two touchdown drives in the game’s final 7 1/2 minutes.
Carroll also deserved some kudos for making a gutsy, unpopular decision between TDs.
Down 23-17, the Hawks faced a fourth-and-three situation from their own 17 with 3:14 remaining. To the accompaniment of boos from many of the CenturyLink faithful, Carroll sent the punting unit onto the field.
“I thought about (going for it),” Carroll acknowledged, “but we had all our timeouts.”
With three timeouts, plus the two-minute warning, the Hawks had an excellent chance of getting the ball back quickly if they could prevent the Patriots from making a first down. Thanks to two timeouts and a Brady incompletion, they regained possession only 36 seconds after kicking it away.
Wilson did the rest, teaming with Sidney Rice on a 46-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 remaining. Although running only a simple post pattern, Rice could not have been more open had he been wearing a sign designating him as a carrier of the swine flu virus.
This was Wilson’s breakout performance, in a game in which the Seahawk coaching staff finally took the training wheels off the rookie quarterback from Wisconsin.
Known primarily as a scrambler, the diminutive Wilson (who in person looks even shorter than his listed 5-foot-11) proved he could throw the deep ball with accuracy.
“We asked him to not be so quick to take off, not cross the line of scrimmage,” Carroll said. “He really had his eyes down the field.”
While it seems likely that Wilson will continue to make rookie mistakes in the future, Sunday’s performance should at least put the brakes on the early season Seahawk quarterback controversy.
It is impossible not to be sympathetic toward former Green Bay back-up Matt Flynn, who signed as a free agent with the Hawks during the offseason on the presumption that he would become the starter. Flynn performed decently enough during his preseason appearances.
From the outset, however, it was evident that Wilson was the type of athletic playmaker that the Seahawks have traditionally lacked at quarterback. He also appears to be unusually mature for a rookie.
“I try to make plays and facilitate the offense and get the ball to the right people,” he said during his post-game press conference. Facilitate is a word not often uttered in NFL locker rooms.
There’s a sense that the Seahawks have gotten away with a couple of wins thus far in games they might well have lost.
Many people, however, believed they would be entering Thursday night’s showdown at San Francisco with a 1-5 record — if not 0-6. Instead, they are 4-2 and tied with the 49ers and Arizona for the NFC West lead.
On paper or on the field, that’s cause for optimism.