SEATTLE -- If and when the Seattle Seahawks turn themselves around, they may look back at Sunday's 27-20 upset of San Diego as a defining moment -- and not just because they beat a perennial playoff team but because it happened at home.
Once upon a time, Qwest Field was a nightmare for opponents. But the home-field advantage that made Seattle so formidable disappeared along with the Seahawks the past two years, with the club winning just six of 16 home dates.
|Matt Hasselbeck and Pete Carroll sing the importance of dominating home games. (Getty Images)|
Well, the Seahawks have. They destroyed San Francisco in the season opener, then held on to overcome San Diego against all odds. The Bolts produced a season-high 518 yards -- including 379 in the second half; quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 455 yards; their defense allowed only one offensive touchdown and produced a safety of its own and their offense had two red zone possessions in the last three minutes.
Yet, they lost.
Yeah, I know, it's typical San Diego, with the Chargers off to their customary tortoise-like start. In Norv Turner's past three seasons, San Diego never has been better than 2-3 in its first five games, and it seems headed there again. But the Bolts had their chances to put Seattle away -- again and again and again -- and could not, and that tells me more about the winners than it does the losers. And it tells me Seattle will be a factor in the NFC West race.
"We need to get better," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "I know we can, and I know we will."
I'll second that. OK, so their defense hemorrhaged a slew of yardage. Big deal. It made big plays, too. In case you missed it, San Diego suffered five turnovers, two inside the Seattle 10 and none bigger than the game-clinching Earl Thomas interception to end the Chargers' last-minute drive.
The Chargers also had six possessions inside the Seahawks' 20 that produced nothing more than two touchdowns and a field goal. That means three times they shot blanks, and credit Seattle for making critical, game-saving stops.
Credit them for a couple of other things, too. They played the second half without star cornerback Marcus Trufant, sidelined by an ankle injury, and were without linebacker Aaron Curry, who bowed out with a sore calf. Yet their defense survived. And the offense that sputtered in the second half could have -- no, should have -- put 24 points, not 10, on San Diego in the first two quarters. But it didn't, and it didn't because of a Deion Branch fumble at the goal line and a questionable play call at the San Diego 1 as time ran out.
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So the Seahawks made it close. They won. And they beat a playoff-worthy opponent. That's all that matters.
"It was important to us to show we can play against a team that has been very, very strong year in and year out for some time," said Carroll. "It took so many different aspects of cooperation to get this thing done. I can't imagine a stadium in this country crazier than that in the last couple of sequences."
Ah, yes, the stadium. Qwest Field was always been a minefield for visiting teams, a hostile environment where the crowd is so much of an element it has its own "12th man" flag flying at one end of the stadium. Once, the New York Giants committed 11 false-start penalties here, and while that is extraordinary, stupid errors are not -- with opponents committing a league-high 96 false-start penalties here since 2005.
So it should come as no surprise that stadium noise factored in the outcome, with San Diego screwing up its last two series. On the first, the Chargers drove to the Seattle 14 before taking consecutive false-start penalties. Then they drew a flag for delay of game before running out of downs.
No problem. When the Chargers regained possession with just under two minutes left everyone expected they would take care of unfinished business. Except they didn't, and they didn't because they botched things again -- called for another delay-of-game infraction after moving to the Seattle 12. They failed, as they failed in Kansas City two weeks before, because they ran out of plays as they were running out of time.
"This was a very good day of cooperation," Carroll said.
|San Diego Chargers|
|Philip Rivers put up big numbers, but the Chargers turned the ball over five times to give away an otherwise winnable road game. The defense did a good job keeping Seattle's offense in check, but those efforts were negated by poor kick coverage.|
|It wasn't pretty for the Seahawks, but it was still a win over the AFC West's top team. Seattle blew a number of chances to put the game away, but held on in large part because of a pair of kick-return scores from Leon Washington.|
|By John Boyle|
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Of course, nobody cooperated more to Seattle's victory than Leon Washington, who produced two second-half kickoff returns for touchdowns and should have had a third. I mean it. Washington went the same direction all three times -- essentially, up the gut -- to split San Diego's coverage (and I use that term loosely) and keep Seattle from collapsing.
His first score pushed the Seahawks' advantage to 17-0. His second was the deciding score, breaking a 20-20 deadlock. The third was a 33-yard return where Washington slipped as he cut to daylight.
"I wasn't going to get tied up by the kicker," said Washington. "At least I got tackled by the turf. That's better than getting tackled by the kicker."
Touchdowns on kickoff returns are not unusual for Washington. But he never had two in one game and was not supposed to have two in a season after suffering a horrific leg injury last season. So tell that to San Diego. No, better still, tell it to the New York Jets. They're the guys who gave up on him and dealt him away.
"Once the Seahawks traded for me that was a tremendous opportunity for me to know a team wanted me," said Washington. "I just want to thank coach Carroll and the GM [John Schneider] for bringing me in and giving me the opportunity. The best is yet to come."
I have a feeling that may true for this team, too. After five straight playoff appearances, Seattle has been a non-factor, winning nine games the past two seasons and running through three head coaches in three years. But the thrill is not gone. It is back, with Seattle knocking off one opponent that was supposed to be a division heavyweight and another that is and has been a conference giant.
With the Seahawks traveling to St. Louis next weekend, it's not a stretch to believe the club could be 3-1 when it reaches the Oct. 10 bye.
"It's absolutely essential we dominate at home," said Hasselbeck. "For us to accomplish our goal, for us to win our division we need to dominate at home again. Our fans are huge for us, and our home is huge for us.
"For years we dominated at home, and people hated to come up here. Because we weren't a very good team for two years we sort of lost that, and it's going to be real important to get that back."
Just a hunch, but they're there. Sunday's victory convinced me ... and it should've convinced the two teams that were here.