This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Seahawks.
They’re a playoff team now, by sticking to their convictions, even if they’re not in line with the rest of the league.
The Seahawks secured a playoff berth Sunday night with a 38-31 win over the Chiefs, improving to 9-6 on the season.
They’ve done it by going back to coach Pete Carroll’s roots, after an offseason spent jettisoning old players and former assistant coaches. They’re still playing a reasonable facsimile of their old defense, but it’s their old-school offense that’s the difference.
The Seahawks lead the league in rushing, which is a matter of intent as much as talent. They entered the game with 80 more rushes than pass attempts (457-377), and they kept that pace up against the Chiefs.
They ran for 210 yards on 43 attempts (including late knees which took the average below 5.0 per carry), and attempted just 29 passes.
Coupled with the kind of late-game magic by quarterback Russell Wilson (three touchdowns, the passing kind) they’ve always enjoyed, it’s an interesting mix. And it definitely goes against the current trends in the league, which suggest you have to fling it all over the place, all the time, to be successful. When everyone is moving in one direction, there’s always room to succeed by going against the grain.
Some might call it innovating.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes probably won’t have to throw another pass in a visiting stadium this season.
He’s done quite enough already.
Mahomes’ sidearmed third-quarter touchdown pass was his 30th this year. In the road games, we mean.
That broke Tom Brady‘s record of 29, set in 2007 for the most in league history.
It’s an interesting dynamic that he’d put up better numbers on the road (he has 17 touchdowns and five interceptions in seven home games so far, heading into next week’s finale), but so much of what he’s doing this year is unprecedented.
He pushed it to 31 in the fourth quarter, against just six interceptions in eight road games. They can clinch home field advantage in the AFC by beating the Raiders next week.
They’ve worked with committees and used a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny (who was inactive with a knee injury), but the 2017 seventh-rounder has emerged as a guy they can trust.
Not every team can pluck a back out of thin air (and their improvements on the offensive line have been significant), but Carson’s style is a perfect fit for the scheme and personality of the Seahawks.
3. Chiefs safety Eric Berry may not be quite back. But he’s getting there.
He was limited to just a half in his debut last week, as he works his way back from a bone spur issue in his heel (after missing 15 games last year with a torn Achilles).
He’s yet to look like the old Eric Berry, and he was on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter, as they continue to monitor his snaps.
Their defense has enough problems, and getting him back to anything resembling his old form will be crucial to their playoff chances.
It’s an oddball unit, because they have top-shelf talent, such as defensive end Chris Jones (who extended his streak of games with a sack to a record 11) and outside linebacker Dee Ford. They’ve been missing Berry all year, and if he gets his legs underneath him and Kendall Fuller gets back, there’s clearly room for improvement.
4. Elder Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski was hurt in the third quarter, on a roughing the kicker penalty.
He was able to hit a 28-yard field goal later in the possession, but clearly wasn’t right.
That opened the door for Australian punter Michael Dickson to kick off, and he drop-kicked it inside the 5-yard-line.
Dickson has been a difference-maker in terms of field position for the Seahawks this year, and his ability to be effective in other ways (and his drop-kick field goals in pregame warm-ups were amazing), only adds to the layers of novelty.
Dickson’s second attempt went out of bounds, giving the Chiefs the ball at the 40, so it wasn’t nearly as cute then.
5. Chiefs wide receiver Marcus Kemp had played just 22 snaps of offense this year.
But he made one of the most athletic plays you’ll see, proving his value to a good team.
The Chiefs were able to pin the Seahawks inside their own 10-yard line on a punt that went into the end zone, thanks to Kemp’s leap. He took off before crossing the goal line, and batted it back into the field of play before he landed. His teammates seemed stunned at first, as they gave away a few yards by letting it role.
But the former undrafted rookie from Hawaii, who hung around on their practice squad last year, gave a perfect example of how fringe players can hang on for years. The number of players who can physically make that play are few, but the number who are willing to practice the craft of special teams to the point they know when and how are smaller still.