HOUSTON, Texas — The Seahawks were battered on defense in the first half, bruised on offense and soundly beaten in every statistical category.
What hadn’t been broken, though, was their confidence — their belief in themselves and each other.
“The mood in the locker room was unbelievable at halftime,” quarterback Russell Wilson insisted after the game. “We knew that if we could just hang in there, if we could just play one play at a time, stay in the moment … and we did that, throughout the whole entire second half.”
The Seahawks turned what was an afternoon of misery for most of three quarters into a day of history, rallying from 17 points down to beat the Houston Texans 23-20 in overtime.
The comeback from a 20-3 halftime deficit was the largest for the Seahawks since 1997, and the win improved Seattle’s record to 4-0 for the first time since the franchise began play in 1976.
“This is an extraordinary day,” said coach Pete Carroll. “That game was all about grit. You just had to keep hanging and just not let all the things that had happened build up and stop you from believing.”
Steven Hauschka completed the comeback, hitting a 45-yard field goal with 3:19 left in overtime. He was one of just many heroes, though.
There was Richard Sherman picking off an ill-advised pass from Houston’s Matt Schaub and returning it 58 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
There was Doug Baldwin making a tiptoe catch on the sidelines in the fourth quarter to spark Seattle’s first significant drive of the game, which cut the Houston lead to a touchdown with 7:43 left in regulation.
And there was Wilson, at times seeming to single-handedly will the Seahawks back after unleashing the reins on his legs in the second half, running for 74 yards after the break.
“We found a way to make some big-time plays in big situations,” Wilson said. “That’s what great teams do — they find a way to make a play when they need one.”
In the first half, though, it was all Houston, as the Texans simply dominated on both sides of the ball.
The Texans pushed around a Seattle offensive line playing without three starters, holding the Seahawks to 88 yards and four first downs in the first half while sacking Wilson twice.
Even more surprising, the Texans plowed through Seattle’s defense, which came into the game ranked No. 1 in the NFL, allowing an average of just 241.7 yards in the first three games.
Houston had 324 yards in the first half as Schaub, who rarely was pressured, hit on 17 of 27 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
“They handed it to us every way they wanted to in the first half,” Carroll said.
The only mystery at the half was why the Texans weren’t up by more. An Earl Thomas interception, though, stopped one drive inside the 20, and the defense also rose to hold Houston to a field goal after a Marshawn Lynch fumble at Seattle’s 19.
Seattle’s defenders blamed themselves, many echoing Thomas’ comment that “we were just trying to do too much. We were just playing outside ourselves. We got back in at halftime and calmed down.”
They also reminded each other that they had been in similar situations before, down 20-0 at halftime against Atlanta in the playoffs last year before rallying to nearly pull out an improbable win, and also behind 14-0 against the Redskins before coming back to win.
Still, the result seemed a foregone conclusion when Seattle took over at its own 2, down 20-6, with 11 seconds left in the third quarter. But the Wilson-to-Baldwin pass for 24 yards on third-and-seven — which was ruled a completion after a replay review — got the Seahawks going, and Wilson ran for 4 yards on fourth-and-three later in the drive to lead to a 3-yard Lynch touchdown.
The game again seemed out of reach after Wilson threw a pick with 5:13 left, giving Houston the ball at its own 43 with a 20-13 lead.
On third-and-three from the Seattle 40, though, Schaub got heavy pressure from Kam Chancellor and threw a floating pass that Sherman stepped in front of, and then took to the end zone, losing his shoe in the process. That tied the game at 20 with 2:40 left in regulation.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak later took the blame, saying he put Schaub “in a bad situation … probably should have run the ball there and punt and play defense.”
Seattle — which held the Texans to 152 yards after halftime — then stopped another Houston drive, and two more in overtime, before moving into position for Hauschka’s winning kick.
“It hurts real bad knowing how important of a game it was, and against a very good opponent, and we had them on the ropes,” Schaub said.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, celebrated madly after having again proven able to take an opponent’s best punch and deliver the ultimate knockout blow.
“The character of this team was really challenged today,” Carroll said. “There were so many times where we could have said, ‘OK, not today.’ And they just would not go there.”