When the Seahawks absolutely had to have him be Russell Wilson again--instead of what he’d been the first 3 1/2 quarters--he did it.
With the Seahawks embarrassed to be down 9-6 to San Francisco midway through the fourth quarter, still without a touchdown this season, right guard Mark Glowinski became the latest Seattle offensive lineman beaten. All four of the San Francisco 49ers rushing on this game’s decisive play were bearing down on Wilson on third down.
Then Wilson did what maybe only he in the NFL can. He ran away from all four those Niners rushing free. He made two of them run into each other. He turned his shoulders to the right, against the momentum of his mad dash to the left.
“Russell kept running,” Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson said. “That’s what he does.”
He also does this: Wilson flipped a pass just inside the left sideline, in the end zone. Richardson juked his man and caught the ball in his chest while San Francisco cornerback Rashard Robinson was hanging all over him.
Richardson, who in the first quarter had his finger broken through the skin by a pass Wilson skipped short to him off the wet turf and had to get it sewn up in the locker room, got both feet down inbounds. And Seattle had its first touchdown this season--in its eighth quarter of play.
That and rookie Chris Carson’s subsequent, closing runs over the final 4-plus minutes -- with Thomas Rawls healthy but watching on the sidelines and Eddie Lacy healthy but in street clothes, inactive -- were what allowed the Seahawks to escape Sunday with a 12-9 victory.
And I mean escape.
“It was ugly,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said.
“Ugly as hell.”
It was also the Seahawks’ seventh straight win at home over their fallen divisional rival that is starting over after going 2-14 last season.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the 49ers,” Baldwin said, “but we felt like we should come in an have success. And it was ugly.”
Indeed, Wilson’s timely magic didn’t make the rest of this alarming day go away.
“We found a way,” Wilson said.
More accurate: He found a way.
Wilson acknowledged that he decided on the game-winning drive the best way for the Seahawks (1-1) to avoid a galling, 0-2 start was for him to just take off running. Even on pass plays.
“At a time, yeah,,” Wilson allowed, with a coy grin.
“You know me, I don’t necessarily try to run...I try to get the ball in the play-makers’ hands.”
But on this dreary day, those play-makers were failing to make plays. Tanner McEvoy dropped two passes, including one that would have been a touchdown. C.J. Prosise dropped two more, including one that would have been another touchdown in the first half. Jimmy Graham dropped a pass on the first drive on his way to another disappearing act (one catch, one yard, one hundred questions as to what’s up with him).
Wilson was high on a throw to a wide-open Baldwin. He skipped the pass that broke Richardson’s finger. He had the ugliest 23-for-39, 198-yard game in the history on 23-for-39, 198-yard days.
Ugly as hell.
When San Francisco’s Robbie Gould kicked his third field goal of the day to put the Seahawks behind 9-6 with 11:36 to go in the game, CenturyLink Field was so quiet you could hear all of the Pacific Northwest’s panic and angst.
This aptly summed up the Seahawks’ day by the end of the third quarter, when the game had 12 total points and 13 total punts, seven of those by Seattle’s Jon Ryan, husband of Sarah Colonna:
But then Seattle went into the same hurry-up mode with no-huddle plays that worked for their only two scores, field goals, the previous week in the 17-9 loss at Green Bay. Wilson realized his team’s best chance on this day of his errant passing and more poor pass protection by his offensive line was with him taking off running.
“If it’s not there, I’ve got to find a way,” Wilson said.
How much do Seahawks coaches lack faith in their running game right now? On third and 1 from their own 27, 10:29 left and Seattle down 9-6 to a team that’s won just twice in its last 18 games, they employed three tight ends in a tight formation. And they called for Wilson to pass.
Wilson dropped back, looked like he had no intention to throw the called pass, and took off to the right instead for 7 yards to extend what ultimately became the winning drive.
“I have to find a way to convert and get the first down,” Wilson said. “That was big for us to stay on the field, and we needed it.
“It’s nice to be able to run again (after his sprained knee and ankle in 2016 limited him all last season). Last year I couldn’t run at all, for the most part. So big first downs, when we needed it.”
He scrambled two more times on pass calls, for 16 yards, to get the Seahawks to the San Francisco 32-yard line. Then he heaved a pass down the right sideline for rookie Amara Darboh. The 49ers’ Robinson mugged Darboh with both hands and arms. The 20-yard pass-interference penalty got Seattle to the 12. Three plays later, on another third down, Wilson did what he does. For the win.
“When you grind it out like that, it’s something special,” Baldwin said. “I know it’s not pretty. We had a lot of mistakes. But for us to come out the way we did, come out of it with the victory, beautiful part of the game.”
As for that “ugly as hell” part: The first half ended miserably for Seattle, which next plays at Tennessee (1-1) -- with many issues to fix.
Despite having run almost twice as many plays, 45 to San Francisco’s 23, and despite gaining 127 of the game’s first 144 yards of offense, the Seahawks were tied at 6 with the 49ers at the break.
The Seahawks called a defensive timeout with 42 seconds left in the half, and San Francisco facing third and 12 at its own 30. But then Carlos Hyde romped on his second huge run in as many drives. His 27 yards became a 42-yard gain to the Seahawks 28, when Seattle Pro Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril was called for a face mask personal foul well behind the run in the middle of the field. Michael Bennett’s hit of quarterback Brian Hoyer and K.J. Wright’s pass breakup on third down prevented worse damage, but the 49ers were still able to tie the game at 6 on Robbie Gould’s second field goal.
Gould’s first field goal came on San Francisco’s previous drive, after Hyde’s 61-yard run on an outside zone read. That run came with the Seahawks’ ace against those, new defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, watching from the sidelines.
Some in another Seattle sellout crowd booed the team as it went off the field for halftime. The Seahawks still hadn’t scored a touchdown this season, in six quarters. Plus, it was pouring rain, for the first time steadily here throughout a day in months.
But the defense played well enough to win most games. Again.
“At the end of the day,” three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said, “it’s really on us.”
His side of the ball has essentially allowed just one touchdown drive through two games, discounting the 6-yard stroll Green Bay took to a TD after Wilson got sacked and lost a fumble at the 6 in the opener.
“Games are hard. Hard to win,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Particularly when we did a couple of things that are uncharacteristic for us.
“I thought we didn’t catch the ball as well as we normally do, and we gave away a couple touchdowns early that would have been a whole different in this football game (as in, 14-0 instead of 6-0 early).
“I think we are moving in a good, positive direction. ... Really fired up about the defense....
“A lot of room for improvement, and we won’t miss any of that.”