Sunday turned into a day of new sensory experiences for Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
For periods of time, his play generated a sound slightly foreign to him: Cheering.
And when he left the field, he was not limping nor aching from having been pulverized all afternoon by surly defensive linemen.
Yes, there was the familiar feeling of defeat, but Jackson came out of the game with a sense that progress was being made by the Seahawks, even though their exciting second-half rally against the Atlanta Falcons came up short, 30-28.
That the Seahawks fell behind 27-7 was in part a function of Jackson’s shortcomings; that they outscored the talented Falcons 21-3 after that was largely a function of Jackson’s excellent play.
“I thought Tarvaris showed us what we’ve been counting on,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Tremendous plays, tremendous throws poise, toughness, and the ability to execute when it’s really hard.”
Jackson finished with a career-high 319 passing yards after 25 completions in 38 attempts for a 96.3 passer rating – all of which is remarkable given the Seahawks had the ball for less than 20 minutes. By comparison, Atlanta’s Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan passed for fewer yards (291) and had a lower rating (94.4) while having the ball for twice as long.
Jackson has been a polarizing figure among fans this fall, mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with him. Some believe the Seahawks should have tried harder to re-sign veteran Matt Hasselbeck, that they should have signed or traded for somebody other than Jackson, or they should have promoted backup Charlie Whitehurst.
In the first three games, Jackson did little to convert the doubters, although his play was limited by the 14 sacks he absorbed behind spotty blocking.
What we discovered against Atlanta was that when the Seattle offensive line allows him to play from a vertical position, it enhances a quarterback’s effectiveness.
Especially when the Hawks went to a no-huddle or up-tempo pace, he stopped locking onto receivers so hard, was quicker getting the ball out of his hand, and he spread it around (seven Seahawks had at least three catches).
His 52-yard scoring bomb to Sidney Rice was a perfect arc of almost 50 yards in the air. And there was a 30-yard completion to Doug Baldwin, and some delicate touch passes to backs in the flat.
Perhaps the most revealing was his patience on the 8-yard scoring pass to Ben Obomanu that cut the Falcons’ lead to two points in the fourth quarter.
Obomanu, Jackson said, was “my last read.”
He spotted two receivers covered on the right, tried to lure the safety out of the middle of the field, and then finally came back to Obomanu alone in the left side of the end zone.
“The great one is when he hangs onto the ball and finds Obomanu so late in the end zone,” Carroll said. “He demonstrated his poise in the pocket right there. This is the guy we watched and thought he could be . He just hasn’t had the chance to open up yet.”
The first thing Jackson did after that play was go over to the offensive line and tell them their blocking made that score possible.
In the final two minutes, Jackson led the Seahawks from their own 15, completing all five passes before spiking the ball to stop the clock, and then misfiring to tight end Zach Miller and leaving the team with a fourth-and-8 on the Atlanta 43 with :13 on the clock.
Although the Seahawks had a timeout remaining, Carroll decided to send on kicker Steven Hauschka to attempt a 61-yard field goal. The kick was short and left, which makes it easier to question why he didn’t put trust in Jackson to pass for a first down, call a timeout and then try the kick from a more reasonable distance.
Jackson had completed 75 percent of his passes in the second half, so it would have seemed a good bet to give him another chance.
But Jackson wouldn’t second-guess anybody afterward, and he wouldn’t be too down about the loss, either. Instead, he voiced his pride in the way the team responded to a 20-point deficit.
“Guys could have easily given up,” he said. “(It’s) very encouraging to see that we have the type of guys on this team that never give up. So I’m looking forward to the future for this team.”
Maybe the process of rebuilding a team includes some near misses. But it’s certain that any quarterback who gets more cheers and fewer bruises has to feel as if he’s on a welcome trend upward.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org