SEATTLE — For a split second Sunday, Russell Wilson morphed from quarterback to safety.
It was four plays into the fourth quarter, and Tennessee’s Zach Brown had his eyes on a bouncing ball that had just been blasted away from Marshawn Lynch, a go-ahead touchdown in his sights.
Brown, though, couldn’t quite get a handle on the ball, forced to watch in frustration as Wilson—who had been preparing to make a tackle—corralled it instead.
“I felt like I was playing shortstop again,” said Wilson, who played one year of minor league baseball before turning for good to football. “I got the big hop and went and got it. That’s what they teach you in baseball.”
Three plays later, it was the Seahawks who instead took the lead for good en route to a 20-13 win over the Tennessee Titans in front of 68,127 at CenturyLink Field.
And it only made sense that it was Wilson who proved a rare player able to control the football on a day when it often seemed to have a mind of its own.
Seattle, now 5-1 and still atop the NFC West, had five fumbles, losing two, one turning into Tennessee’s only touchdown of the game, while the Titans also had three (losing none) while also throwing two interceptions.
“We had some fluke plays out there today,” Wilson said.
Flukiest was a 77-yard fumble return by Tennessee’s Jason McCourty after Seattle backup holder Chris Maragos had the ball ripped from him after he fumbled a snap on a field goal attempt. Maragos was holding because punter Jon Ryan—the usual holder—was kicking after Steven Hauschka had been momentarily knocked from the game, injured while trying to make a tackle on a kickoff.
“We made enough mistakes to make it a close game,” said Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
It was Wilson who provided the stability, along with a return-to-form game from the Seattle defense, that allowed the Seahawks to finally pull away.
Wilson was 23 for 31 for 257 yards and no interceptions, including 4 for 4 for 100 yards on two fourth-quarter scoring drives that gave the Seahawks the lead for good.
“You could see him making things happen and coming through in a lot of really crucial situations for us,” Carroll said.
Wilson also ran 10 times for 61 yards and expertly executed a hard count to draw Tennessee offsides on third-and-four on the final drive of the game, bringing a merciful end to the game.
“I felt like I was really in tune with the game,” Wilson said. “And that’s where I want to be every week.”
Also back in the proper key was a defense that a week ago allowed 34 points (27 coming directly against the defense) in a loss to the Colts.
Sunday, though, the Titans had just two drives longer than 31 yards, only once getting closer than the Seattle 21-yard-line.
After a 29-yard Hauschka field goal, which followed Wilson’s save of Lynch’s fumble, put Seattle ahead 13-10 with 11:23 left in the game, the defense made the play that turned the tide for good.
To no surprise, it was Richard Sherman who made it, picking off a deep pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick intended for Nate Washington. That gave Seattle the ball at the Tennessee 41, and Wilson quickly completed three passes leading to a Lynch 3-yard touchdown run with 7:33 remaining that finally gave Seattle some breathing room.
Sherman had been beaten for a key touchdown in the loss to the Colts, but had vowed it wouldn’t happen again.
“We were frustrated with our performance last week because we easily could have played way more sound and eliminated those big plays,” he said. “All we want to do is play disciplined football and we were unable to do that last week. We cleaned it up and we did that this week.”
It was that sense of control that allowed the Seahawks to feel as if they were still in control, even when the Titans took a 10-7 lead at halftime after the McCourty fumble return.
Seattle had been held to just two first downs on its first three drives. But then the offense got going in the second quarter, a 74-yard drive leading to a Lynch 1-yard touchdown run to put Seattle ahead, seemingly ready to tack on more before the ill-fated field goal attempt.
Seattle kicked with the ball at the four and two seconds left. Carroll said later that he should have gone for it and not put the backup battery into the game.
“I screwed it up,” he said.
Players said not to worry.
“They hadn’t scored on our defense and we were feeling good about our offense,” Sherman said of the mood at halftime. “We felt good about everything that was going on.”
The Seahawks, in fact, never punted in the second half, stopped only via a Sidney Rice fumble on their first drive, scoring on their other three until running the clock out at the end.
Ultimately, Seattle had 404 yards on offense — 38 more than their season average—while holding the Titans to 223, the second-lowest total they have allowed this season.
And when the gun sounded, Wilson was able to walk off CenturyLink Field in the same fashion as he has every other game he has played there—in victory—Seattle having won 11 straight home games, the longest current streak in the NFL, all occurring once Wilson took over at quarterback.