Little came easy Sunday for the Seahawks. During a slog that was as ugly as the afternoon was lovely, it took 59 minutes and 30 seconds for them to put the ball in the end zone.
Fittingly, the extra-point attempt missed.
“We came into this game expecting to win,” Hawks center Justin Britt said after the NFC West co-favorites beat the Miami Dolphins, 12-10, in a game that packed unanticipated suspense. “But it’s hard to win in this league.”
How hard was it to win Sunday? They needed quarterback Russell Wilson to put aside the pain in his ankle and look like the MVP candidate the Dolphins had prevented him from resembling until just over four minutes remained in the fourth quarter.
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“When it came to the defining moment in the game,” said Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, “he did what he did. That’s what you do under pressure. That’s why I define him as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, because the great ones play good under pressure, and the bad ones, they get stuck in their mind. He never got rattled.”
For the better part of three hours, Wilson never got into a rhythm, either. Between the field goal they scored on their second drive and the winning drive at the end, the Seahawks punted five times, committed two turnovers and surrendered another possession on downs.
Some of the sputtering had to do with field position that had Hawks’ offense starting all but one drive inside their 35-yard line. Some of the sputtering had to do with penalty flags — nine of them — that corrupted momentum.
But most of the sputtering had to do with an ill-suited Week One opponent. In a month or two, when the offensive line achieves cohesion, maybe the Miami Dolphins don’t cause the headaches they caused Sunday.
“That’s about as high-powered a bunch of guys we’re going to face,” Hawks coach Pete Carroll said of a Dolphins front four that lines up Ndamukong Suh and Earl Mitchell as tackles flanked by Mario Williams and Cameron Wake on the edge. “It was a great start for our guys to get through it. There was a lot of pressure on them.”
Down 10-6, the pressure intensified during the game-winning drive, when the offense finally found a way to click against a Dolphins defense that had come close to dominating.
“It goes back to our formula, our mode of operation: It doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish,” said wide receiver Doug Baldwin, whose ninth reception of a Wilson pass was the two-yard touchdown catch with 31 seconds to play. “Yeah, our offense looked ugly in the first half. We weren’t consistent, and we weren’t completing drives.
“However, when the plays count, we know how to finish. We’ve shown that for the past five or six years, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. Obviously, we want to start cleaner, we want to do things more consistently, but you can always count on us to execute at a high level when you need to finish things.”
Despite the uneven performance on one side of the ball, there was a lot to like Sunday. Running back Thomas Rawls and tight end Jimmy Graham were back on the field after offseasons devoted to rehabilitation following major knee surgery. And while neither appeared to be in vintage form — Rawls had 12 carries for 32 yards, Graham caught one pass for 11 — their simple presence provided an emotional boost.
“A great accomplishment,” Carroll said of Graham’s rehab. “To work through it and make it back was incredible. I couldn’t be more fired up about him and his courage. And Thomas, too. Both those guys did that within two weeks of each other. It was amazing, a statement about who those guys are.”
Reserve defensive end Cassius Marsh offered a different kind of statement on special teams, competing with an everywhere-at-once energy level Carroll referred to as “ridiculous.”
And Britt showed that the thumbs-up reviews he drew over his conversion to center during the preseason were justified. It’s possible the third-year veteran from Missouri has found a permanent position.
“A great boost,” Britt called the victory, pointing out how the Seahawks will face “a great test next week in St. Louis.”
A test, for sure. But if the Seahawks show up in St. Louis for a game scheduled in Los Angeles, not even Russell Wilson’s last-minute magic will be able to save them.