It wasn’t enough for Russell Wilson to drive his Seahawks 97 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of regulation to take the lead over the Bears in Soldier Field. Nope, Chicago had to force him to do it one more time.
The Bears rallied in the final 24 seconds to tie the game as regulation expired with the help of a stunning 56-yard connection between Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. The stadium was rocking and the Bears had stolen the momentum by forcing an improbable overtime.
But Wilson and Co. didn’t blink.
“We had to continue to believe,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t worried. I knew we would have to get the ball back hopefully and I believed in the situation and the circumstances.”
Seattle won the overtime coin toss and Wilson marched the offense 80 yards in 12 plays, again silencing the Bears’ crowd by tossing the winning score to WR Sidney Rice.
“We felt like all day long we were fighting against ourselves a little bit and we were battling,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “We just kept hanging in there. It gave us a chance to take care of the opportunity when presented.”
Though a loss might not have been devastating to Seattle’s playoff hopes, make no mistake: This breakthrough victory away from home was sorely needed. The Seahawks came up just short in five of their first six road games, falling by a combined 24 points in those five losses, and the Bears’ frantic comeback looked like déjà vu.
“Obviously we faced adversity a few times,” said WR Golden Tate, who caught the go-ahead score on a 14-yard catch-and-run in the final minute of regulation. “To see us battle back like that, our offense being able to move the ball at the end of the game, two long drives at the end to win, really twice, is huge.”
Carroll, who admitted he can’t help but look back at the team’s missed opportunities this season, called the victory “a long time coming.”
“This [comeback victory] could have happened four times already this year,” he said. “Now everybody knows that it can. It’s a powerful illustration for a young bunch of guys that it can happen and this is how it does happen.”
You can’t help but think this must be a turning point for a young Seahawks squad that finally showed some swagger away from home in Carroll’s third season. Even more encouraging, the team’s clutch road performance after their well-documented shortcomings could very well say as much about the Seahawks as it does about its rookie quarterback, who threw for 293 yards (with two TDs) and ran for 71 more against one of the league’s most ferocious defenses.
“[He] kept the chains moving, with his speed, so athletic, making plays throwing on the run, hitting the right guys," Tate said. “Then, when it mattered most, you saw him shine.”
Carroll couldn’t stop gushing about Wilson’s performance, obviously struggling to contain his enthusiasm for what might lie ahead.
“He was just so beautifully poised tonight and so confident that it gives himself the kind of chance to play at this level,” Carroll said of his rookie QB, who helped the team convert three third downs and one fourth down on the final two drives. “We all know that with quarterbacks, that kind of stuff is really important as they grow. He didn’t need (the victory), honestly, but we all wanted to see it for him.”
Don’t look now, but Wilson has committed only one turnover in his last four games and has now strung together four consecutive performances with a passer rating of 100 or better. And while he may have played more as a game manager early in the season, Seattle’s coaching staff clearly had no problem turning him loose late against Chicago, as he racked up a career-high 37 pass attempts to go with nine carries, tied for his career most in a game.
“I know it was painful [losing close games], but we’re just trying to make a really good progression with no backward steps,” Carroll said. “I don’t feel like (Wilson) took a backward step. He continued to grow and we have now come to the point where we want him to go out and do all the stuff he can do. We don’t have to hold anything back at all.”
Likewise, Wilson emphasized the progress he has made this season after claiming a victory he called a “huge momentum getter.”
“I’m so much more composed,” Wilson said. “The game moves fast. You have to be able to slow down the game and it’s definitely slowing down for me. Now I know how to put the defense in a bad situation, in a situation they don’t want to be in.”
For a team that also sports a powerful, effective running game and a nasty, athletic defense, the thought that its rookie quarterback might be blossoming could be a scary one for other NFC playoff contenders. Thanks to the Rams’ overtime victory over the 49ers Sunday, the NFC West lead is a game and a half out of the Seahawks’ reach with three of four games remaining at home, including a visit from the 49ers in Week 16. If San Francisco isn’t careful, Seattle might just steal the division out from under the Niners’ nose, which would earn Wilson and his squad a playoff game back in cozy EverBank Field. Who knows what might happen then?
Still, this young, maturing team isn’t letting itself get caught looking ahead.
“I think the biggest thing is just focusing on the now, focusing on what we can do to control the game when the game’s on the line,” Wilson said. “I have to continue to trust the process. It’s a long, long journey.”
Having secured this breakthrough victory with a signature performance, that journey’s destination might be a little further away than we think.