With the game, the NFC West race and the season all in a nervous balance for the Seattle Seahawks — when they absolutely had to have someone step up — Russell Wilson did.
With six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Seattle led first-place Arizona 12-3 after it had mostly squandered four prime opportunities for a more comfortable lead. The unflappable quarterback stepped into his huddle. He looked Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin and eight other teammates in their eyes.
“This is a big drive right here. This is a momentum-getter,” Wilson told them amid the din of CenturyLink Field. “We have to seal the deal.”
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Deal sealed. By Wilson. Yet again.
Wilson was perfect passing on the 75-yard march. He was Houdini-like running. He was gritty leading the defending Super Bowl champions to the clinching touchdown pass to Cooper Helfet with a minute left in the third quarter.
Returning middle linebacker Bobby Wagner tied refreshed strong safety Kam Chancellor with a team-high eight tackles while playing every snap in his first game in six weeks. They and the defense shut down Arizona to finish off a 19-3 victory Sunday afternoon that revived the Seahawks’ late-season push for the playoffs.
It leaves Seattle 7-4 and tied with the 49ers two games behind Arizona (9-2) in the NFC West entering a Thanksgiving night showdown at San Francisco (7-4) on Thursday. It’s a long-awaited rematch of last January’s NFC Championship Game.
The Seahawks are looking as back to normal as they’ve been all season.
“Definitely, I saw this as a must-win,” Chancellor said. “This was critical.”
Chancellor, All-Pros Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, wide receiver Doug Baldwin, running back Marshawn Lynch and Wilson were among 10 core veterans who met with coach Pete Carroll a few days ago. The consensus emanating from that meeting following last weekend’s loss at Kansas City: These Seahawks needed more unity. They needed to check egos at the locker room door before taking the field Sunday. They needed to play more together.
United they rose.
Cliff Avril had two sacks and three of Seattle’s eight hits on quarterback Drew Stanton while spending so much of the afternoon in the Cardinals’ backfield he should have been wearing red and white. The revitalized Seahawks’ defense held Arizona to its fewest points (3) since Seattle shut out the Cardinals, 58-0, here on Dec. 9, 2012.
The defense had 10 of 11 starters healthy and available for the first time in six weeks — with only out-for-the-season nose tackle Brandon Mebane missing. Then Kevin Williams, the 11-year veteran who got pushed around with the rest of the unit when the Chiefs rolled to 190 yards rushing last weekend, stood stout with his finest game since Seattle signed the five-time All-Pro last spring.
Arizona had just 64 yards on 20 carries.
The Seahawks allowed just 204 yards in all, their fewest surrendered since the 2013 regular-season finale against St. Louis. It was Arizona’s fewest yards since Dec. 16, 2012, when it managed just 196 against Detroit.
“This,” Chancellor said accurately, “is the best we’ve been all season.”
With more loses than they had all last season and on the verge of falling into a hole too deep to climb out of, the Seahawks look like champs again.
And Wilson looked like he did in September and October, when he kept the offense and the team afloat amid injuries, the chaos after suddenly trading Percy Harvin, and fourth-stringers on the offensive line.
“Magic” is what Carroll called Wilson’s latest excellence. “Under extreme duress (he) showed great poise, and kept coming back.”
Wilson was 17 for 22 passing for 211 yards and the touchdown for a passer rating of 121.6 — remarkable any day but extraordinary considering the Cardinals sacked him seven times. They blitzed him 33 times in 58 plays, including 22 times in 33 plays after halftime.
Wilson also ran 10 times for a game-high 73 yards while scrambling away from six more would-be sacks.
Seattle’s season-long problems of pass protection continued along an offensive line that was again missing starters Max Unger at center and James Carpenter at left guard. Three of the Cardinals’ seven sacks came on the relatively few times they did not blitz.
Running back Marshawn Lynch was limited by Arizona’s run blitzes, a sore back and what Carroll said was nausea that had him sitting on an exercise bike without moving the pedals during a two-drive absence during the first half. The NFL’s No. 4 rusher finished with just 39 yards on 15 carries, after 264 yards in the previous two games.
So the offense — and much of the game — was in Wilson’s hands. And feet.
The Seahawks had a 12-3 lead after getting to Arizona’s 20 or beyond four times in the first 21/2 quarters yet managing only field goals each time. Then Wilson turned exquisite.
He was 6 for 6 passing on that TD drive that made it 19-3 late in third quarter. He escaped two sacks. He spun from right to left away from one and found Lynch drifting alone in the left flat for 23 yards. On third-and-11 at the Arizona 30 Wilson looked to throw, got forced by two charging defenders on each flank to run and took off up the middle. He pumped-faked a linebacker into the air — despite having no intention to throw 3 yards past the line of scrimmage. That freed him for the final 10 or so yards of his 15-yard dash.
“That was a huge moment,” Wilson said of the drive, and the running. “I just tried to be in the ebb and flow of the game. I don’t try to do anything extra. I just try to trust myself.”
After a false-start penalty pushed the ball back to the 20, Wilson rolled right toward Helfet and fellow tight end Tony Moeaki. Helfet was on right wing, Moeaki tight at right end. Helfet, the No. 3 tight end with starter Zach Miller out for the season, said it was “honestly, a little bit of a broken play.”
Moeaki had no one to block inside, so he drifted to the right flat. The Cardinals blitzed linebacker Sam Acho outside Helfet. Helfet chipped Acho, then slipped behind him into open field in the flat, 3 yards behind Moeaki, who was now an accidental lead blocker. Wilson flicked a pass Helfet caught at the 21. The former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player bulled down the right sideline inside Moeaki’s block of overmatched Cardinals star cornerback Patrick Peterson. Helfet deftly stepped inside safety Tony Jefferson, dived head-and-shoulder-pads first from the 3 and landed just across the goal line for the second touchdown of his career.
“Oh, glued in. Glued in,” Helfet said when asked if his vision and determination for the goal-line pylon. “Pretty psyched.”
At that point Wilson was 14 for 17 passing for 169 yards. His passer rating was 127.7 — while he’d been sacked six times in less than three quarters. Only 13 NFL players have ever finished a game with a higher quarterback rating while getting sacked that many times.
Wilson also had seven rushes for 56 yards then, including a 40-yard run on which he crossed the goal line — but Jermaine Kearse was caught holding at the 10 to negate the touchdown.
Other than that, he didn’t do much.
The rest was the defense being back to near-full health. Wagner’s return from a torn foot ligament and broken bone allowed fill-in middle linebacker K.J. Wright to move back outside to his normal spot. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn blitzed Wagner and Wright far more than usual on third downs Sunday.
Chancellor ran the best he has looked this season on the bone spurs in his ankles. He sat out the wins over Oakland and the New York Giants earlier this month for precisely this reason, to be healthy for these ultra-important division games.
All that allowed Thomas to play more of his usual, flying-around style rather than filling a Mr. Fix It role among fill-ins in front of him.
"We are all getting healthy at the right time,” Wagner said. “That’s going to be important down the stretch with all these divisional games.”
The healthy — and the unity meeting — got the champs looking and feeling like, well, champs again. During time outs before drives they were hopping up and down like pogo sticks again.
They definitely weren’t doing that last week at Kansas City. If they are doing it again on Thanksgiving in Santa Clara, California, the Seahawks will really be back.
“When we are good, we are very calm, very relaxed. It’s like a party out there,” Wagner said. “That’s how we want to have it. It’s a fun game.
“And we want to keep it as a fun game.”