John McGrath

Best in the NFC? For one night, the Seahawks’ effort was good enough to beat the Eagles

Seahawks running back Mike Davis lunges for an extra yard after a run in the second quarter. His hard charging style against the Philadelpia Eagles helped him gain a game-high 64 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Seahawks running back Mike Davis lunges for an extra yard after a run in the second quarter. His hard charging style against the Philadelpia Eagles helped him gain a game-high 64 yards rushing on 16 carries.

The Seahawks on Sunday started December the way the usually finish it.

On a roll, aiming at the playoffs.

And though their 24-10 upset of the high-flying Eagles doesn’t displace Philadelphia as the NFC team most likely to advance to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks reasserted themselves as relevant.

Against a powerhouse that hadn’t lost since Sept. 17 – and hadn’t been tested in five weeks – the Seahawks never trailed.

It wasn’t a laugher, and there were some nervous sighs when quarterback Carson Wentz directed a so-easy-it-looked-casual touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. But the Hawks, proving all that is possible when an offense achieves balance, retaliated in a hurry.

With a 10-1 record, Philadelphia brought an abundance of gaudy numbers into CenturyLink Field, and the Hawks had an answer for every one. So adjust the Eagles’ record to 10-2.

Among the Eagles accomplishments during their hot start was an ability to strike early and build double-digit leads forcing offenses into a one-dimensional comeback mode. Coaches whose teams are trailing by three touchdowns are disinclined to run the ball – a key reason why Philadelphia began Sunday leading the league in rushing defense.

Through 11 games, the Eagles outscored opponents 78-18 in the first quarter. More impressive was the edge developed over the first two possessions, when they scored 64 of those 78 points.

It’s football as a reincarnation of Mike Tyson’s prime, when the young heavyweight champ typically won the psychological battle by stepping into the ring. That there soon would be blood – none of it Tyson’s – was a given.

But the visitors accustomed to comfortable leads early failed to follow form against the Seahawks, who aren’t accustomed to comfortable leads early.

The game’s first play produced a 7-yard gain on quarterback Russell Wilson’s zone-read run around left end. The second play found Wilson hooking up with Tyler Lockett for a 16-yard pass and a first down.

Although they were forced to settle for a 46-yard field goal, the opening drive – it included three first downs as Wilson connected with four different receivers – served as a tone-setting statement: The Hawks were not backing down.

Later in the first quarter, Seattle executed a five-play, 85-yard touchdown drive abetted by a pair of defensive penalties. Wilson’s 11-yard scoring pass to tight end Jimmy Graham put the Eagles deficit at 10 points – unfamiliar territory for a team that took the field owning the NFL’s No. 1 margin-of-victory average.

Philadelphia resembled that team on its first drive of the second half, when Wentz figured out how to finally get tight end Zach Ertz involved in the passing offense.

Coming off a 10-catch, 103-yard effort against the Bears, Ertz went into the night ranked among the top five tight ends in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He finished the first half with one catch for zero yards.

Then Wentz went to work with him, and an offense that had been dormant for 30 minutes suddenly was in position to score the game-tying touchdown on a quarterback keeper.

Wentz is 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, and when he gets moving in the style of a steamroller, bringing him down tends to require a group effort. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson didn’t bring Wentz down. He did something better, stripping the ball. It bounced out of the end zone for a touchback, and the prevailing suspicion this wasn’t to be the Eagles night.

The Hawks opening drive of the second half, which concluded with Wilson’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Lockett, reinforced that notion. Two defensive holding penalties sustained the possession, while Wilson’s 47-yard bomb to Baldwin highlighted it.

Because of injuries and inexperience, this isn’t Pete Carroll’s best Seahawks team. But its effort Sunday night was, without question, the best we’ve seen in 2017.