It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing game but after surrendering fourth quarter leads in each of their four losses this season, the Seattle Seahawks turned the table Sunday on the Dallas Cowboys, marching down the field in the closing moments to kick the go-ahead field goal and hanging on to win 13-12.
As it has throughout much of Pete Carroll's tenure, the defense led the way, allowing only 220 total yards to Dallas and limiting the Cowboys' offense to just four Dan Bailey field goals. Sticky coverage by the Legion of Boom erased Dallas' passing game, forcing veteran quarterback Matt Cassel to check down to his backs and tight ends throughout much of the game. As expected, Richard Sherman was locked up on Dez Bryant on every snap in which the explosive wideout played outside. Bryant, in his first game back after foot surgery, was targeted six times. Sherman limited Bryant to just two passes for a total of 12 yards and also drew a rare offensive pass interference call on the All-Pro wideout.
Pass rushers Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett kept Cassel off balance, holding the veteran quarterback to an average of just 7.46 yards on his 19 completions. Cassell threw for just 97 yards overall. Dallas gained just four first downs via the pass.
Seattle's dominant play on the defensive side of the ball almost wasn't enough. Seattle's offense, however, came through when needed.
Russell Wilson was an efficient 19 of 30 for 210 yards and a touchdown. He ran for another 32 yards - 30 of which came on four scrambles on Seattle's momentum-sapping 17-play fourth quarter go-ahead drive, which was capped with a Steven Hauschka field goal.
Wilson missed some passes in this game, including one particularly inaccurate deep ball up the right sideline to Chris Matthews, but showed encouraging rapport with Jimmy Graham, who led the Seahawks with seven receptions for 75 yards. It was Seattle's "other" tight end, Luke Willson, however, who caught the game's only touchdown, fighting through contact to just sneak the ball over the end zone line (according to the officials) in the second quarter.
In all, Seattle completed nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown to its tight ends while limiting Dallas' All-Pro Jason Witten to just two grabs for 16 yards.
That wasn't the only surprise in this contest.
For the first time all season, the Seahawks did not surrender a sack in this game. It took clever play design from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who incorporated a designed shovel pass, quick screens and more max protection involving the tight ends and backs staying in to block but optimism should be high for the development of Tom Cable's young offensive line.
Further, Seattle won despite losing the turnover battle. Further, the Seattle's much-criticized offensive line provided terrific pass protection against Greg Hardy and Dallas' fearsome pass rush. While kept away from Wilson for most of the game, Hardy did make a significant impact, sliding past a cut block from second-string left tackle Alvin Bailey to tip a pass from Wilson to himself, giving the Cowboys the ball at the Seatlle 16-yard line in the fourth quarter with Seattle nursing a 10-9 lead. The Seahawks defense stiffened again, forcing yet another Bailey field goal but giving Dallas a 12-10 lead.
Wilson's timely scrambles and hookups down the field with Lockett, Graham and Doug Baldwin put Hauschka in easy range for the go-ahead score.
Throughout much of the game it was the opposing running backs who carried each offense.
Per usual, Marshawn Lynch was Seattle's best player on offense for much of the game, driving his legs through contact to pick up a hard-earned 71 yards on 21 carries to lead all rushers. Dallas was led by Darren McFadden (who gained 64 yards on 20 carries) and received 43 more yards from an alert Cassel, who scrambled four times for big gains. Former Seahawk Christine Michael chipped in 20 yards on five carries.
While Lynch played well, he and fullback Will Tukuafu combined for a gaffe late in Seattle's scoring drive which could have cost the Seahawks the game.
With Seattle facing a 1st and goal from the Dallas seven-yard line and 2:12 remaining, Lynch took the handoff from and headed left behind Tukuafu, Willson and left tackle Bailey (who started in place of the injured Russell Okung).
Tukuafu was unable to slow down Dallas' Demarcus Lawrence, who forced Lynch outside. Tukuafu stumbled on the play, ultimately running into Willson. Lawrence was able to knock Lynch out of bounds for a loss of two and keeping the clock from running down.
After Hauschka's field goal gave the Seahawks the narrow 13-12 lead with 1:06 remaining, Seattle gave up 15 yards on a late hit penalty on Bennett, placing the ball at Dallas' 35-yard line with :59 seconds remaining.
It appeared that Seattle might be handed the win a play later when an incomplete forward pass from Cassel was inexplicably initially ruled a fumble by the officials. Seattle's defense kept Cassel from advancing the ball any further on the next three snaps - in large part due to Irvin's sack on 3rd down - giving the Seattle possession with just one second remaining.
Though last week's domination of the rival San Francisco 49ers was a more complete effort, Pete Carroll and the Seahawks should feel good about a win in which Seattle was dealt several tough blows, including a potentially serious head injury to wide receiver and special teams star Ricardo Lockette.
While covering on special teams, Lockette appeared to absorb a hit to the chin from Dallas' safety Jeff Heath, who was called for targeting on the play. The 29-year old Lockette lay motionless on the field for several moments but was seen talking and raised his hand as he was carted off. The Seahawks later characterized the injury as a concussion and said that Lockette had feeling in all of his extremities.
Matthews and Willson also went down with injuries in this game.
At 4-4, the Seahawks have successfully fought their way out of their early season hole and are very much in the thick of the NFC playoff chase. Seattle will be off next week with a bye with the division leading Arizona Cardinals (6-2) scheduled for a showdown on Sunday Night Football at CenturyLink November 15.