Pete Carroll wanted to believe that what he saw in Week 1, in his Seahawks’ 31–13 loss to the rival Rams, was nothing more than a bad half of football. Because, really, that’s what he had to believe after Seattle was outscored 23–0 and outgained 259–12 on its home field in the final 30 minutes of the opener.
But Carroll’s been around long enough to know believing is one thing. Seeing is another.
So while, yeah, there were good signs last week that his promising roster full of burgeoning young talent was effectively turning the page, there was no moment for him, on Wednesday or Thursday or Friday, when he felt what was coming next.
“It’s not quite that easy,” Carroll said Sunday afternoon, as he and his team waited out a flight delay in Detroit. “But yeah, we really stunk up the joint in that second half. And that [that’s all that it was is] what we were hoping was the case. And we had to get back to prove it. You got to prove it. You got to know the truth. Before that even happens, you need to get to the game and get it right.
And now that Carroll has seen it—in the form of another nerve-racking win in Detroit, this one coming in OT by a score of 37–31, to match last season’s white-knuckler—he can confirm what he, and his team, know is the truth.
The second half against the Rams was just a bad half of football, after all. And Bobby Wagner, now back in Seattle for an encore 12 years into his career, after a single season as a Ram, is still very much a difference-maker for Carroll’s program.
“And really, I give a lot of credit to Bobby Wagner for calling our guys out on Wednesday.”
Wagner’s message, as it turns out, really wasn’t much different than Carroll’s coming out of the Rams game: The Seahawks, to put it politely, needed to wake up, and play with urgency. But where the message was coming from, with the institutional knowledge of a player who’d hung banners in Seattle and captained a generational defense, made all the difference in the world.
“You asked me to measure stuff; I don’t know how to measure it,” Carroll continued. “When he spoke, he didn’t say anything much different than what I’ve been saying. But when he spoke, it was like freaking gospel to them. I mean, it was such an instant, immediate turnaround. And before we broke the huddle [at practice that day], they’d already let it go. He ripped them pretty good and told me, Yeah, let’s get going, and that we’re going to be a great team, and everything just fell to the wayside.
“And we were back on, focused, like you’re supposed to be in conference away games. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and he knows how to do it. … He knew they needed it, and I knew they needed it. But we needed to hear a response to that.”
Carroll got one in a very big way with a win that was, very much, a program win.
To start, it was that because of the complementary game Carroll wanted his team to play—with the defense establishing a tone and setting the offense up. It happened in the third quarter when Uchenna Nwosu met David Montgomery in the backfield, hitting him so square that the ball popped loose. Jarran Reed collected it to set up a tidy, two-play, 23-yard scoring drive for the offense. And it happened again in the final quarter when a fourth-and-2 stop from the defense set up a nine-play, 45-yard touchdown drive to give Seattle the lead.
And it most certainly was the case when the defense scored on its own to stretch that lead to 31–21 midway through the fourth quarter.
“This whole game was set up to have that, those kinds of rewards were there for us if we could just get the job done,” Carroll says. “And we regard their team so highly and respect them and the coach and the whole team; it just meant a ton. And so that’s why I’m thrilled about this conference win by these guys. And what we’ve talked about, what we know about us.”
They also know about Geno Smith, who showed, on an individual basis, another tenet of Carroll’s program: resilience.
Smith’s had his ups and downs through two weeks, and hit a pretty tough ditch at the end of regulation Sunday, taking an unsightly 17-yard sack on third-and-18 with two minutes left, one that forced the Seahawks to punt from their own 3-yard line, which gave the Lions a short field to drive for an OT-forcing field goal.
It would’ve been an easy spot for Smith to come undone, even if, as Carroll said afterward, “That was the only play he had all day that wasn’t awesome.” But, of course, Smith didn’t come undone there, just as he hadn’t come undone after a rocky season-opener.
“Geno was rock solid,” Carroll says. “He needed to get away from that first game. The first game didn’t go the way we wanted it to, and he was not happy with it and he knew that it wasn’t us at our best. And so he proved it today. He came right back, and he is right back on. And this is the guy. The way he played today is where we’ve seen him the entire offseason and last year. The opener, we didn’t help him enough and we didn’t do enough good stuff.”
In OT, the Seahawks would do plenty, and Smith was right in the middle of all of it. There was a strong, tight-window dart to DK Metcalf for 16 yards over the middle on third-and-6 to get Seattle going. There was a dime of a touch throw to Colby Parkinson. Then, there was the game-winner on third-and-2 from the 6-yard line, when Smith escaped the clutches of Aidan Hutchinson and threw off-balance to Tyler Lockett at the pylon for the deciding points.
And so just as the defense had set Smith and the offense up, they returned the favor by needing nothing from the defense in the extra session. Suddenly the Seahawks are back awake and look like the team they thought they’d be in camp.
So is it possible that Wagner’s Wednesday sermon winds up being a turning point in the Seahawks’ season? Carroll, for previously stated reasons, wasn’t going to go there quite yet.
“We’ll find out. We’re going to have a blast with this tomorrow and we’ll get through Tuesday and we’ll get back and then we’ll get back on track. It won’t mean a damn thing unless we can do something with it,” he says. “Just like the loss last week, if we put it behind us properly, it has nothing to do with what happens next week. We just proved that; that’s how we learn from these lessons that have come along the way. And we can’t think we got it made because we got Detroit.
“Screw that, that’s not going to help us. We’ve worked on this constantly. We’re never not on these topics of building a team mentality. And this is a great one to grow from that we needed to get the season kick-started … hopefully.”
So you can see, ever so slightly there, that Carroll does believe it.
Now, he just needs to see a lot more of what he saw Sunday.