Marshawn Lynch plowed. He plundered. He pulled half of downtown Seattle with him across the goal line to score.
“I think maybe six of them was my own team,” Lynch said —yes, he actually spoke — “so it was all good.”
He ran 21 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns, as the Seahawks began this game against Oakland, the NFL’s only winless team, the way they bulled to the Super Bowl last season: with Lynch’s power running early and often. Sunday was the first time since they traded for him four games into the 2010 season that the Seahawks began a game with three consecutive runs by Lynch.
He caught five passes for a team-high 76 yards receiving, too, because ongoing injuries and protection issues on the porous offensive line reduced Russell Wilson’s passing game to screen passes.
Lynch’s bluest-collar day perfectly fit this slog of a Seahawks Sunday — and season.
“He was terrific today,” coach Pete Carroll said of Lynch’s screens. “Those were fantastic plays.”
They had to be.
Lunch-pail Lynch, Bruce Irvin’s brilliant, tipped-ball-to-himself interception and 35-yard return for a touchdown and an avalanche of Raiders mistakes allowed the Seahawks to build a 21-point lead. Subsequent errors on Seattle’s special-teams units filled with young fill-ins and an inert offense outside of Lynch in the second half marred the Seahawks’ escape of a 30-24 victory over Oakland.
This win over a two-touchdown underdog wasn’t the Seahawks’ until Lakes High School and University of Washington product Jermaine Kearse recovered a high-bounding, onside kick by Sebastian Janikowski following a touchdown by the Raiders (0-8) with 1 minute, 52 seconds left. Kearse secured the ball amid a mad, tense scramble after it bounced off Seahawks teammate Cooper Helfet.
“My first dogpile with me having the ball. Ever,” said a smiling Kearse, who also forced a fumble on a Raiders’ kickoff that kicker Steven Hauschka recovered. “I just did whatever for the team.”
Starting wide receivers scrapping for a loose ball beneath a pile of 300-pound mad men to preserve the win …
Nothing is coming easily for these battered, but persistent Seahawks (5-3).
“It’s going to be a rough next couple of months,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said, nailing the essence of what’s going on with the champs.
“But,” Baldwin added, “we are up to the task.”
With the San Francisco 49ers losing at home to the St. Louis Rams, the Seahawks moved to second place in the NFC West. They are two games behind the first-place Arizona Cardinals (7-1), with the New York Giants (3-4) coming to Seattle on Sunday.
“That’s how this is. I know you all like it easier and smoother and cleaner and all that, but it’s a battle,” Carroll said.
“So suck it up.”
About the most fan- and Seahawks-pleasing moment came during a timeout midway through the fourth quarter. Doug Baldwin pumped his fist in the huddle. It wasn’t for anything going on for the Seahawks, because that wasn’t much.
It was accompanying the roars of the CenturyLink Field crowd celebrating the giant videoboard behind the offense’s huddle showing Colin Kaepernick fumbling late to seal the 49ers’ loss.
That’s what kind of Sunday it was here: Perhaps the most celebrated moment was for something happening almost 700 miles away.
“You saw that?” Baldwin said of his fist thrust. “Any time San Francisco loses it’s a good thing.”
This was also the kind of day/week/month/season it was and has been for the Seahawks: At one point in the second half the offensive line featured a fourth-string center the team cut and then re-signed three weeks ago (Patrick Lewis), a former defensive tackle at right guard (J.R. Sweezy), an undrafted college tight end at left guard (Garry Gilliam), a second-year fill-in at left tackle (Alvin Bailey) and a rookie at right tackle (Justin Britt).
No wonder Wilson was 17 for 35 passing for 179 yards while getting chased around by just about every Raider who played Sunday. .
This was the sixth time Wilson had completed less than 50 percent of his throws in a game in his three-season career. Seattle is 3-3 in those games. This was the seventh time Wilson failed to throw a touchdown pass in his 45 career starts. Seattle is 4-3 in those games.
The O-line was missing two starters then had a third, guard James Carpenter, leave in the second half with an ankle injury. Asked if the line’s problems are affecting his game, Wilson protected his blockers better than they are protecting him.
“I think we are doing a good job of protecting me. I think the guys are doing a great job, especially with what’s going on in terms of the guys that have to step up,” Wilson said.
“In terms of the passing game, we’re going to pick it up.”
How bad was it in front of Wilson? Coaches didn’t want to use Stephen Schilling, the fill-in for also-injured starter Max Unger, at center because Schilling had a bad knee. But they had to put Schilling in for Lewis during the second half to, as Carroll put it, “settle it down.”
Savior Schilling was playing his fourth career game at center.
“That,” Carroll said, “is about as hard as you can get.”
Offensive line coach Tom Cable, a 1982 Snohomish High School graduate, has been coaching for 26 years, including as a college and NFL head man. He told Carroll that Sunday was the most challenging game he’s ever coached.
Seattle was missing seven injured starters and had a left tackle, middle linebacker (Brock Coyle) and safety (DeShawn Shead) each making his first regular-season start. Then Oakland gained 79 of this game’s first 119 yards.
But ... ah, this is the Raiders.
Rookie Derek Carr’s interception on that splendid touchdown return by Irvin. A miscommunication with a receiver that Richard Sherman grabbed for his first interception of the season and 21st of his career. A lost fumble on a kickoff. A 36-yard pass-interference penalty and then a taunting penalty, both on Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden that extended drives for the Seahawks’ two other touchdowns in the first half.
That is why the Seahawks led 24-3 at halftime in a drizzle at CenturyLink Field, despite missing four injured starters on defense.
But then the Raiders broke through a lapse in Seattle's punt protection full of injury replacements up the middle on the fourth play of the second half. Denico Autry blocked Jon Ryan’s punt before the ball got kicked around into the end zone. Oakland’s Brice Butler recovered it there for the touchdown that trimmed the lead to 24-10.
Another punt-team breakdown by Seattle set up Oakland’s next score. Rookie TJ Carrie returned Ryan’s punt 27 yards to the Seahawks 30-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from inches off the goal line, Carr found Mychal Rivera open in the back of the end zone. The tight end’s leaping catch just inside the back boundary cut Seattle’s lead to 24-17 entering the final quarter.
That quieted the soaked Seattle crowd to a nervous murmur. The Super Bowl champions losing to winless Oakland?
Then: A return to Lynch’s running, a key catch by rookie Kevin Norwood for a first down, a fortuitous defensive-holding foul on Tarell Brown on a third-and-3 incomplete pass by a harried Wilson. That’s how Seattle drove to the first of two field goals in the fourth quarter. Those made it 30-17.
Lynch touched the ball seven times on the first 10 plays of the game, on the 72-yard drive that ended with Lynch’s 3-yard touchdown run to make it 7-3 in the first quarter.
But then the offense bogged down while Lynch had just three carries combined over the next four drives against the league's 26th-ranked rush defense. When Seattle went back to Lynch starting from its own 22 late in the second quarter, it sparked the 78-yard drive that ended with Lynch's second touchdown, the five-yard run that made it 24-3 at the half.
After that, the 2014 season happened to the Seahawks. Another struggle.
“We’ve just got to keep harping,” safety Earl Thomas said. “And finishing. Finishing. Finishing.”
Plus, eventually, starting. Starting. Starting.
“We are going to get it fixed,” Thomas said.