SEATTLE Richard Sherman was screaming at teammates. He was tipping a pass off a receiver’s hands to teammate Earl Thomas for a crucial interception late.
Then, after the Seahawks rallied to get back the lead they’d earlier given up, Sherman got away with one.
Steven Hauschka kicked a 44-yard field goal with 1:57 left, after he’d missed his first one of the season and had a tying extra point blocked. Then Sherman broke up a fourth-down pass to Atlanta’s Julio Jones while grabbing the All-Pro receiver’s arm and pulling before the ball arrived. That ensured the Seahawks beat the Falcons 26-24 at rockin’ CenturyLink Field on Sunday.
"An extraordinary job by our team," coach Pete Carroll, the man who did not bench Sherman but instead praised his passion.
"You saw those guys rally together to make sure to calm everybody down to get back to business," Carroll said. "And look how we finished. I think the last four plays exemplified the heart, and the hang-in-there and the tough and all that stuff.
"It was awesome."
Russell Wilson stayed calm through all the chaos while completing 25 of 37 passes in all for 270 yards. Six of those completions went to Jimmy Graham, on nine targets, for 89 yards, as the Seahawks improved to 4-1 and stayed on top of the NFC West heading into next Sunday night’s game at Arizona.
The wild victory was Wilson’s 50th of his career, against 19 losses. He is the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach 50 wins.
Matt Ryan completed 27 of 42 passes for 335 yards, three touchdowns and the interception that shouldn’t have been for the Falcons (4-2), who had won four consecutive games coming in to take the lead in the NFC South.
Ryan’s last pass had Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, Seattle’s former defensive coordinator, getting restrained by assistants from storming the field. Quinn was arguing what should have been a pass-interference call on Sherman against Jones on fourth down in the final minute.
As Ryan scrambled from pressure he threw deep across midfield to Jones, who had seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown -- most of them versus Sherman. Before the ball arrived, Sherman pulled Jones’ right arm down. That left the Falcons’ star having to try a one-handed grab. Jones almost made it, but the ball fell to the turf. Sherman and Thomas celebrated and the home crowd made the press box shake.
Asked if he felt like he got away with one on that final play, Sherman said: "No. I feel like we won the game."
Jones, of course, disagreed.
"Before he took off he grabbed my right side and spun me around before I jumped up," Jones said. "It was just a missed call.
"It’s over with. It’s done. We are on to the next right now."
The Seahawks looked doomed with 4 minutes left after the Falcons blocked Hauschka’s point try after Christine Michael’s 1-yard touchdown run made it 24-23 Falcons, and after Ryan had Atlanta moving to midfield yet again in its runaway second half. But then Jones allowed the ninth pass his way to go off his All-Pro hands.
Sherman, shadowing Jones most of the day, tipped the ball back to Thomas for the most well-timed turnover of the Seahawks’ young season.
"It was one of those ‘Angels-in-the-Outfield’-type plays," Thomas said. "You didn’t see the angel -- but the ball popped into my hands."
The free safety was magical all day. His two, huge hits in both halves that separated Falcon from ball on third downs to end Atlanta drives.
Wilson, still playing on a sprained knee and ankle, then made his most ridiculous, improvisation play of the month, maybe season.
On third and 3 outside the edge of field-goal range, Wilson got pressured by three Falcons. Just before he got drilled he flipped the ball about 5 yards to Alex Collins -- after the rookie running back missed his block. That gave Seattle first down at the Atlanta 33 instead of fourth fown at midfield. Three plays and seven yards later, Hauschka kicked his go-ahead field goal.
"That’s what I wanted," Hauschka said after the fourth game-winning field goal in his six seasons with the Seahawks. "Especially if some plays don’t really go your way earlier in the game you really want that redemption.
"Just really proud of our team," Wilson’s former teammate at North Carolina State said. "Not many teams are like this. There’s just mental strength throughout the locker room here that keeps us in these games. And it starts with Coach Carroll...
"That’s how we are able to pull out games like this."
The much-anticipated faceoff of Sherman and Jones had everything -- including Sherman fighting with his own coaches and teammates on Seattle’s sideline immediately following Jones’ touchdown catch that cut the Seahawks’ lead to 17-10 early in the third quarter. Sherman was not covering Jones on the play in which the Falcons had him inside and then sent him outside behind a teammate’s slant. Jones got free behind McCray, who was the strong safety because Chancellor was inactive with a groin injury. Thomas was late getting over the sideline Jones roamed free for the 36-yard score.
"Kelcie hasn’t been in the defense long (this season not until Chancellor got hurt Thursday) and we tried to make an adjustment," Sherman said. "Just a miscommunication."
Sherman said it was a pre-snap audible call on which the defense had worked all week, expecting that route combination near the goal line from Atlanta.
Jones, the league’s leader in yards per catch (21.5) coming in, finished with seven catches for 139 yards. Four of those catches and 45 yards came when Sherman was covering him. But not that touchdown.
As Sherman got to the Seahawks’ sideline following the TD he slammed his helmet into turf and yelled at defensive coordinator Kris Richard. Richard barked back. Eventually teammates, even Chancellor in sweat clothes and a team beanie, interceded. So did Carroll. Sherman just kept screaming. Eventually, he simmered the rest of Seattle’s ensuing offensive drive: a poorly timed three and out when Wilson’s pass was too high for open Tyler Lockett.
Atlanta went 79 yards swiftly on the next drive, tying the game at 17 on Ryan’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu in front of McCray and inside cornerback DeShawn Shead.
Seattle’s offense continued to betray its defense during the Falcons’ uprising. The Seahawks managed a first down on Doug Baldwin’s third-down catch and a Falcons face-mask foul, but then Christine Michael failed to get a first down on third and 1 running left at the Atlanta 45. Seattle punted from there.
Starting at their own 3-yard line, the Falcons went 97 yards like Seattle’s was the 32nd-ranked defense, not the league’s No. 1. Ryan to Jones for 24 yards got them near midfield. Then tight end Levin Toilolo got way, WAY open behind Sherman down the right sideline. No Seahawk challenged Toilolo to the end zone to complete the 46-yard score, and Atlanta led 24-17 as quickly as you can say, “Richard Sherman boils.”
The Falcons gained 252 yards to Seattle’s 29 in that third quarter, and out-scored Seattle 21-0.
To make bad worse, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett, who had four hits on Ryan in the first 2 1/2 quarters, left the game with a right-knee injury. He went to the locker room after Atlanta tackle Jake Matthews cut-blocked him just before the Falcons’ go-ahead score.
“A b**ch-a** play,” Bennett called it -- multiple times.
Bennett and Carroll said team’s medical staff does not consider the knee injury that kept him out of final 1 1/2 quarters Sunday as major. Bennett said he should be able to play next weekend at Arizona (2-3).
Seattle led 17-3 at halftime behind Wilson’s continued pinpoint passing from the pocket, Collins’ first career touchdown run -- and a defensive front that relentlessly hit Ryan. Cliff Avril had two of Seattle’s three sacks in the first two quarters, the first time Atlanta scored fewer than 10 points in a half this season. The Seahawks held the Falcons to 86 yards in the first half, 33 fewer than the previous low in any half this season for the NFL's No.-1 offense.
This is how riotously fun that first half was for Seattle: Its kickoff-return team mauled team mascot “Blitz” beyond the end zone at the end of a touchback by Hauschka.
This how rotten the start of the second half was for the Seahawks: Atlanta gained 154 yards, almost twice its first-half total, while scoring the two touchdowns on two drives that tied the game at 17 in the third quarter.
“Without a little rain, there is no harvest,” Wilson said, his latest one of a steady stream of one-liners.
“I think the will to win, that’s what we have.”