By Chris Cluff
The Seahawks made it tougher than they had to, but the defense took advantage of a gimpy Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch sparked a 224-yard rushing effort as Seattle rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to beat Washington 24-14 in an NFC wild-card playoff game Sunday. The Hawks’ first road playoff win in 30 years sets them up for a chance at another one next Sunday, when they will play the Falcons in Atlanta at 10 a.m. PT.
The game should have been a blowout, but the Hawks left a few touchdowns on the field and did not take the lead until about seven minutes left in the game. It was hardly Seattle’s best game, but the Seahawks showed yet again that they can overcome adversity.
- They fell into a 14-0 hole after the defense let Griffin and the Redskins drive for touchdowns on their first two drives. The Redskins outgained the Hawks 129-9 in the first quarter, but the Hawks dominated the final three quarters, 371 yards to 84.
- Kicker Steven Hauschka injured his plant foot in the first half, but he still kicked three short field goals.
- They lost defensive end Chris Clemons to a suspected torn left ACL in the third quarter. But Bruce Irvin picked up the slack, coming up with a big sack, a couple of other hits and a pass knockdown.
- The Hawks were 1 for 6 in the red zone, with their first turnover of the season when Lynch fumbled at the 1. But Lynch ran strong all game (132 yards on 20 carries) and gave the Seahawks the lead with a patented 27-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown run to put Seattle ahead.
- Wilson was sacked five times. But he did not throw an interception, and he ran for 67 yards on eight carries.
- In what was billed as a duel between star-spangled rookie QBs with dynamic arms and legs, Griffin’s legs just didn’t work well enough (21 yards on five runs). Wilson’s did.
“You saw the difference between a healthy Russell Wilson and Robert not being healthy,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher told reporters. The Hawks locked up the game when Griffin’s knee gave way and he lost the ball as he crumpled to the ground at his 5-yard line. Clinton McDonald eventually covered the ball, and the Hawks ended up getting a field goal to go up 24-14.
The Hawks really struggled to score in this game, shooting themselves in the foot several times. Lynch’s fumble was the big error, costing them a sure touchdown early in the third quarter. It was Seattle’s first turnover in the red zone this season. But Lynch also came up with one of the huge plays of the game when he scooped up a fumble by Wilson in the second quarter and scampered 20 yards upfield. That play led to Seattle’s first touchdown, a 4-yard pass from Wilson to Michael Robinson. Lynch ran hard all day, never more so than on his 27-yard, go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Wilson continued his recent trend of running ahead to get a block, this time on former Seahawk Josh Wilson right at the goal line.
Wilson was not at his best in this game — mainly because he could not get touchdowns. He missed two on one drive alone in the third quarter. On first down at the 42, he failed to see that Sidney Rice had gotten behind DeAngelo Hall for what would have been an easy 58-yard touchdown pass; Wilson instead ran up the middle for a fairly easy 28 yards — his longest run of the season. Two plays later, Wilson overthrew Baldwin in the end zone, and the Hawks ended up punting.
Seattle’s X factor on offense, as expected, was tight end Zach Miller. He made several huge plays. The first was a shoestring catch on third down; he broke a tackle as well to lunge for the first down. That was a big momentum play because it averted another three-and-out and kept the Hawks alive as they drove for their first field goal. Miller also came up big on the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, getting free for a 22-yard gain on third-and-10. And then he finished that scoring drive by catching the two-point conversion. He led the Hawks with four catches for 48 yards and was a big reason they won. Grade: B-
The defense gave up 129 yards and two TD passes to Griffin on the first two drives. But then the Hawks shut down the Skins — thanks certainly in part to the fact that Griffin was hobbled and was not throwing the ball well. Once Pete Carroll noticed how limited Griffin was, he told his players to not be concerned about the threat of a run.
“If you noticed it earlier when we were rushing the passer, everyone was worried about him getting out,” Carroll told reporters. “After we saw what he was doing and how he was moving, I tried to encourage the guys to not be worried about breaking containment and running like crazy. It was more like a normal quarterback back there.”
The Redskins used just four option runs all game, and Griffin could not step into his throws. That’s why Earl Thomas picked off a deep pass in the second quarter, setting up Seattle’s drive for a field goal at the end of the half.
“You definitely could tell he wasn’t 100 percent, especially when he was trying to read the read option,” Thomas told reporters. “He was still picking up 10 yards, 9 yards, 8 yards. But we were able to take advantage.”
The Hawks suffered a big blow when leading sack man Clemons was injured with 5:49 left in the third quarter. He was lost to what reportedly is a torn left ACL, seemingly caused by the horrible turf at FedEx Field. His loss will be a big problem going forward.
In other notable individual performances, cornerback Brandon Browner had an up-and-down day in his return from a four-game suspension. He was certainly rusty in the first half as he gave up a big pass play and also was called for illegal contact. But he also showed the physical play Seattle’s corners have become known for as he throttled Washington’s receivers on just about every running play.
Alan Branch had a big second half. He had one of Seattle’s two sacks in the game and finished tied for third on the team with five tackles, with a tackle for loss and a hit on Griffin.
Irvin came up with a big sack on Griffin, for a loss of 12 yards, in the fourth quarter. On the next play, Griffin crumpled to the ground while trying to collect a bad snap, and the Hawks recovered.
The Hawks also held the NFL’s No. 2 rusher, rookie Alfred Morris, to 80 yards. He gained 60 of that in the first half on 11 runs, and he ran just five more times in the second half. Grade: A-
The Hauschka injury — to the ankle on his plant foot — was the big news here, but he sucked it up and converted all three field-goal attempts. It’s just a good thing the game did not come down to a long field goal to win it, because he likely could not have pulled it off.
Jon Ryan did not have a good day punting. He averaged just 34.7 yards on three kicks, placing one inside the 20.
Leon Washington could never get free on any of his four kick/punt returns. Grade: C-
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who reportedly will interview for Chicago’s coaching vacancy this week, had an inconsistent day calling offensive plays. He just got too cute in the second half, calling too many pass plays when the Hawks were dominating on the ground. The worst repeat play call was the zone read play-action rollout to the right in which Wilson almost never had a good target. They ran that play at least three times and got maybe two yards out of it.
Bevell also emptied the backfield too much at times, eliminating the threat of a run — which seems silly when you are killing the other team with the running game. As good a game as Lynch was having, Bevell should have run it even more at times.
Gus Bradley’s defense was horrible on the first two drives, but the Hawks stiffened up and took advantage of the hobbled Griffin in the last three quarters. Grade: B-
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.