Sparked by two long kickoff returns for touchdowns from Leon Washington, the Seahawks surprised the San Diego Chargers – and themselves – with a 27-20 win at Qwest Field on Sunday afternoon.
And who could blame him? The Seahawks’ first-year coach had just experienced a season’s worth of the unexpected – and even unexplainable – at Qwest Field on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks jumped to a 17-0 lead and then hung on for a 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers. And, at 2-1, they share first place in the NFC West with the defending division champion Arizona Cardinals.
What transpired over almost 3½ hours was a dizzying display of big plays by the Seahawks’ special teams and defense, and just enough from the offense.
“We needed everything to get this done,” Carroll offered in an almost sigh.
And by everything, he meant everything.
Leon Washington not only returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, they went for 101 and 99 yards – and the second one in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner after the Chargers had rallied to tie the score at 20 with less than seven minutes to play.
“It was a tremendous feeling for us,” said Washington, who now has six kickoff returns for scores in his career and is the only Seahawk to ever have two – period, let alone two in one game.
Asked if he realized four different Chargers got a hand on him during that second return, Washington said, “Nah. I’m just running with all my heart, giving it everything I’ve got.”
The defense stopped the Chargers twice in the final three minutes, after quarterback Philip Rivers had passed them to the Seahawks’ 14- and 12-yard lines.
“It just shows what a marvelous player Philip is.” Carroll said. “He’s a great player, and he showed that about 30 times today.”
But the first drive ended when nickel back Roy Lewis tipped away Rivers’ fourth-down pass that was intended for wide receiver Patrick Crayton in the end zone. Second verse? Same as the first, with a slight variation on the theme, as Lewis batted away Rivers’ third-down pass that was intended for Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates in the end zone and rookie free safety Earl Thomas intercepted Rivers’ fourth-down pass with six seconds to play.
“That’s the kind of excellence that we’ve set here,” Lewis said of making those two last stands with cornerback Marcus Trufant, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and linebacker Aaron Curry on the sidelines with injuries.
“Coach Carroll has been reinforcing it over and over again since he got here: Compete. Compete. Compete. Whether we’re up by 50 or down by 50, all we know how to do is compete. So it doesn’t matter who gets in the game, we’re going to continue to compete.”
As far as Thomas was concerned, it was all about tightening up when things seemed on the verse of falling apart.
“The whole year, we’ve just been talking about keeping it tight,” said Thomas, who joined Kenny Easley (in 1981) as the only rookies in club history to have two interceptions in a game. “Our defense did a great job of keeping it tight and just sticking together.”
The secondary was assisted by a pass rush that got to Rivers for four sacks, including two by defensive end Chris Clemons.
“We knew the whole game that he’d be flinging the ball as long as he had it in his hands,” Clemons said of Rivers, who completed 29 of 53 passes for 455 yards and two touchdowns.
“But we also knew as long as we got to him we would affect him and force him to make a few bad throws. A few of those throws at the end, he did kind of throw long foul balls. So it was just a matter of getting to him.”
Here’s how Rivers summed up a game that at times teetered on the inexplicable: “There are a lot of plays in that game, but to make it as simple as you can: Five turnovers, then that the last fourth-down play, and two special-teams touchdowns. That’s a recipe for a loss.”
The Seahawks offense, meanwhile, was efficient at times, and took a backseat to the special teams and defense all afternoon. Matt Hasselbeck completed 19 of 32 passes for 220 yards, including a 9-yard TD pass to tight end John Carlson. The Seahawks lost another TD when Chargers safety Paul Oliver punched the ball from the grasp of wide receiver Deion Branch just as he was about the cross the goal line. Rather than the Seahawks getting six more points, the Chargers got the ball at their 20-yard line after the ball squirted out of the end zone. Hasselbeck also was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
“We need to get better,” Hasselbeck said. “I know we can, and I know we will. We left our defense out there too long.”
The 12th MAN crowd, well, what can be said for the game-altering din they created? The Chargers were flagged for three false-start penalties – two on back-to-back plays after their next-to-last series had reached the Seahawks’ 14; and three delay-of-game penalties – including one on each of their final two possessions.
“I can’t imagine a stadium in this country crazier than those last couple of sequences,” Carroll said, giving credit to the crowd of 67,106 where it definitely was due. “It happened too, with the penalties and their jumping around at the line of scrimmage.
“Cooperating with the fans was incredibly cool.”
Ah, the wonders of Qwest, where the unexpected happens on a regular basis. In two home games, the Seahawks have knocked off two favored opponents – the 49ers by 25 points in their opener and the Chargers on Sunday. In between, they dropped a 14-point decision to the Broncos in Denver.
“San Diego’s a really good football team, a terrific program,” Carroll said. “They won 13 games last year. We loved the chance that we had to match up with them here at Qwest. And it is important to us to show that we could play against a team that has been a very, very strong team year-in and year-out for some time.
“It took so many different aspects of cooperation to get this thing done.”
Now, the Seahawks get a second chance to carry an impressive performance at home onto the road and come away with a victory. It will happen next Sunday in St. Louis against the Rams.
“This win in great for us,” Lewis said. “Now we have to make what we did today standup by going on the road and getting it done.”