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Seahawks Survive Scare From Bucs

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Tampa Bay jumped out to a 21-0 lead at Century Link Field, but Golden Tate changed the tide of the game with a 71-yard punt return to help the Seahawks cut the deficit to seven. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images).
Tampa Bay jumped out to a 21-0 lead at Century Link Field, but Golden Tate changed the tide of the game with a 71-yard punt return to help the Seahawks cut the deficit to seven. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images).

The winless Buccaneers faced a daunting task this past Sunday, as they had to travel across the country to play the NFC West-leading Seahawks at Century Link Field, one of the toughest venues to play in all of professional sports.

Star running back Doug Martin, standout receiver Mike Williams and powerful guard Carl Nicks were all out of the lineup due to injuries. Reports had surfaced that head coach Greg Schiano had “lost the locker room” amid a turbulent 0-7. The team would be taking the field led by a rookie quarterback, in Mike Glennon, who surely would be affected by the crowd noise generated by the Seahawks' famed 12th man. Simply put, this game had the makings of an old-fashioned blowout prior to kickoff.

Someone forgot to tell the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay came out on fire, using two touchdown passes from Glennon and a trick pass from running back Mike James to build a 21-0 lead late in the first half. The Seahawks' crowd stood silent as Schiano’s team continued to whip Seattle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Considering Seattle’s recent offensive struggles, the game appeared to be over before halftime.

This particular game went against logic in every possible way.

Tampa Bay played the role of rude house guest throughout the first half, as a poised Glennon calmly led three scoring drives to build a seemingly insurmountable lead. Seattle once again struggled mightily to stop the run, surrendering several big plays to James on the ground. Yet, a late touchdown toss by Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse gave the Seahawks much-needed life going into intermission and put the team within striking distance to make a historic comeback in the second half.

The Seahawks had never won a game after trailing by more than 21 points in franchise history — and they’d never faced this situation with Wilson at quarterback. After Glennon led the Buccaneers to a field goal to open the second half, Wilson responded by conducting a signature drive of his own, one that ended with a beautifully-executed, read-option touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-14.

Despite playing horrific football for much of the first half, the Seahawks remained calm and believed they would win this game. Once the offense had cut the deficit to 10, the normally-stout defense found its footing. The Bucs had gashed Seattle on the ground all afternoon, but Dan Quinn’s unit stepped up its game when it mattered most and held the Bucs scoreless for the remainder of the contest. A holding penalty halted Tampa Bay’s next drive, and Golden Tate returned the ensuing punt 71 yards to put the Seahawks back in scoring position. The offense failed to move the ball after Tate’s magnificent return, but a field goal by Steven Hauschka made it a one-score game.

Momentum had completely shifted back to the home team, and the crowd once again became a major factor. With Century Link Field rocking, the Buccaneers felt the game slowly slipping away, and a pivotal third-down sack by Michael Bennett forced yet another punt. Armed with great starting field position, Wilson and Marshawn Lynch marched Seattle all the way to Tampa Bay’s 3-yard line. It looked like Seattle was on the verge of tying the game with plenty of time to get the ball back for a winning drive.

In a game that featured a number of crazy plays, Wilson made an uncharacteristic mistake and safety Keith Tandy intercepted a pass at the goal line to leave the Seahawks empty-handed. Wilson threw across his body, hoping to hit Doug Baldwin on a slant in the end zone, but Tandy reached up and tipped the ball to himself for a drive-killing pick. With a little under eight minutes left on the game clock, the Buccaneers still had a shot at finishing the upset.

With the game on the line, the Seahawks defense showed why it’s considered by many to be one of the best in the league. It quickly forced a three-and-out to give the football back to the offense. As seconds melted away on the game clock, Wilson erased his poor interception from memory and redeemed himself by hitting Baldwin for a 10-yard scoring strike to tie the game at 24. Seattle would get the ball back with 25 seconds remaining, but opted to let the clock run out and take the game into overtime.

The Buccaneers won the coin toss and chose to receive, but were unable to get a first down on their overtime possession. After stuffing two straight runs, Bobby Wagner and Cliff Avril broke through the line and sacked Glennon at the 16-yard line to force a punt. Michael Koenen drove the punt to Seattle’s 24-yard line and Tate made a few moves for an eight-yard return.

From that point, Lynch took the game into his own hands. After sitting out parts of the first half with a stomach issue, he grinded out 44 yards on six carries during the Seahawks' game-winning drive and finished the game with 125 yards on the ground. After driving all the way to the Bucs' 6-yard line, Wilson stepped back to take a knee and center the football for a field-goal attempt, and Hauschka nailed the 27-yarder to allow Seattle to escape with a gut-wrenching 27-24 win.

The Seahawks have shown a flair for the dramatic in several games this year, but this one had to be the toughest one to watch. After turning over the football three times — and giving up more than 200 yards rushing for the second straight game — the Seahawks once again found a way to win. Baldwin summed it up perfectly, saying that he’s never played on a team that handled adversity as well as this team. Wilson has instilled a belief in his team that they are never out of a game, and they’ve proven that on multiple occasions this year.

Even though Seattle found a way to survive at home, the team is struggling to play well consistently. At some point, this team needs to show it can play four quarters. Seattle hasn’t had a game where it managed to play well for 60 minutes. Despite being 8-1, and boasting the best record in the NFC, Seattle has shown plenty of flaws during the first half of the season. Suddenly, critics are calling the Seahawks overrated.

So what does this game mean for the Seahawks as they prepare for the stretch run?

Great teams know how to win games even when they aren’t playing well, and the Seahawks have excelled in that area. But are the Seahawks a “great” team? The 8-1 record says they are among the NFL's best. Based on the eye test, they’ve looked average at best in recent weeks. Coach Pete Carroll continues to talk about the team not playing near its capability, but his words have started to sound like a broken record. If this team has so much talent, why can’t it put it together on the field and beat weaker teams handily?

Seattle should be grateful to be sitting in first place atop the NFC. Unless execution on both sides of the ball shows significant improvement in the coming weeks, it’s hard to envision the team being a legit Super Bowl contender. Bringing back key injured players like Percy Harvin will help, but this team should be better than it has shown the past few games, even without a few starters in the lineup. The run defense has to perform at a much higher level, and the offense has to stop being so generous in the turnover department.