The Seattle Seahawks were beginning an overtime they never expected to be in. The offense was beginning what would soon become one of the more memorable drives in Russell Wilson’s wondrous young career — if not Seahawks history.
Over the roar of the largest regular-season crowd in CenturyLink Field’s existence, the Seahawks said to themselves in that huddle: “It’s now. Or never.”
Denver never got a chance to win in overtime as Seattle posted a 26-20 victory Sunday.
Under the NFL’s newer overtime rules, a touchdown on the opening drive of the extra period would end the game, but a field goal would give the Denver Broncos’ offense a chance to answer. So the Seahawks offensive players’ thought was as sound as their finish: Don’t let Peyton Manning get back on the field.
“Yeah, it’s not optimal,” center Max Unger deadpanned of that prospect. “Not something you want to do.”
Adding more lore to a three-year career already full of it, Wilson scrambled five times for 28 yards to begin overtime. That included for two of the six first downs on Seattle’s decisive, 13-play, 80-yard trek. He threw right to Percy Harvin for 11 yards. He threw right on the run to Jermaine Kearse off another scramble for 12 more. He was 4 for 6 passing on the march.
With the game to win, Wilson out-Manning-ed Manning.
Finally, Marshawn Lynch took a handoff, bolted up the middle, jab-stepped left and then dived across the goal line head-and-shoulders first — a Superman style finish to a super game. Lynch’s 6-yard touchdown run ended Seattle’s pulsating win.
This was Wilson’s 40th NFL game. It was his 11th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. So Wilson has done what he did so exquisitely Sunday in 28 percent of his career games.
Not bad for a third-round draft pick that was supposed to be too short to stand so tall.
“Just a championship drive,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s an amazing football player, he really is.”
The first Super Bowl rematch in the following season in 16 years didn’t have the stakes of the NFL championship game Seattle won for the first time 7½ months ago, beating Denver 43-8. But it terms of drama and resiliency, it was better.
“It was a tremendous game,” Wilson said. “One for the ages.”
It was such a party, Seahawks defensive back DeShawn Shead proposed to his girlfriend on the field minutes after the game, with his teammate filming the moment. She had no idea it was coming.
Then again, no one saw this thrilling afternoon coming.
Manning had improbably tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion pass with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter, when the Broncos (2-1) outscored Seattle (2-1) 17-3 to erase all of a 14-point deficit. But Manning remained helpless on Denver’s sideline in overtime. His hands stayed stoically on his hips and helmet remained on his head. He looked ready for a chance that never came.
“They changed the rules a little bit, but it doesn’t really change if you go down and get a touchdown,” Manning said.
He was 31 of 49 for 303 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — plus one, long flight home to Denver knowing he never got a chance to win it, only tie it.
“That’s the way it is, and you don’t like to not leave it at that,” he said. “Not that situation.”
Unless you are the Seahawks.
At the first sign of Denver’s blitzers coming through in overtime, Wilson took off to keep the game in his hands, and legs. He did it for 5 yards on third-and-3. He did it for 5 yards on third-and-4 — the last of his nine rushes for 40 yards.
“I knew I had to fight for it,” Wilson said.
Of the winning drive — the only drive — in overtime, a baker’s dozen of plays that baked the Broncos, Wilson said: “We just put our will on them.”
The six first downs on the overtime march was one fewer than Seattle had in the third and fourth quarters combined.
Wilson finished 24 of 34 passing for 258 yards, two touchdowns, one interception — his first pick in 165 regular-season and postseason throws. His three sacks would have been at least eight if not for his speed and improvisation. Wilson even caught his first career pass, 17 yards from Kearse on a fleaflicker. Denver’s Rahim Moore was so anxious to knock Wilson out of the game at the end of that reception the safety knocked his own helmet off his head on the tackle.
“They threw punches at us and we had to take them; we were able to do that,” Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said after his four catches for 56 yards. “That last drive, to go 13 plays, 80 yards for the score, for the game, that’s a testament to what this team has become.”
Lynch’s winning touchdown was his 26th carry, for 88 yards. He also had a touchdown receiving in the first half. That made it 17-3 Seattle at halftime.
The Broncos had been talking and thinking of redemption in this rematch since, oh, about halftime of their 35-point loss to Seattle in February’s Super Bowl. They spent on marquee free agents such as rush end DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib to bolster their defense. They had standout left tackle Ryan Clady back on offense. And their defense stunted and blitzed and attacked the mostly nonplussed Seahawks starters last month — in an exhibition opener.
The Seahawks were coming off a 30-21 loss to the Chargers last week — just their sixth loss in 31 games — having basically melted in San Diego.
But Denver’s NFL record-setting offense of last season produced a mere field goal over this game’s first 46 minutes. Then the Broncos outscored Seattle 17-3 on its home field in the final 14 minutes of regulation.
With the score 17-12 and 2:25 left, Seattle’s Kam Chancellor coyly stepped underneath Broncos receiver Wes Welker on a seam route inside the Seattle 20. Manning never saw Chancellor. The safety returned the interception 52 yards to the Denver 35.
When two runs by Lynch got the Seahawks to the Denver 10 with 1:48 to go, Seattle thought the game was over. But it only got a Steven Hauschka field goal, and Manning had one shot with 59 seconds and no time outs left, down 20-12 with the ball at his own 20.
Manning coolly, characteristically led a 41-second, 80-yard drive to tie it. The final eight points came with 18 seconds left in regulation. Manning had time to wait on tight end Jacob Tamme’s double move that left Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright flat-footed and beaten on a 26-yard touchdown catch. Manning again had time on the conversion play to find Demaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone, the wide receiver making a leaping catch while toeing inside the back line to improbably tie this wild one at 20 and force overtime.
“We had ’em,” Carroll said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
Until they absolutely had to. Thanks to Wilson.
“Those big-time moments where you have to go up and down the field and make plays … that was a great experience,” Wilson said. “It definitely felt like a Super Bowl matchup.”
With another Seahawks-super result.