Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell preached all week long that the Seattle Seahawks would stick to its run game roots and ride the hot hand at running back.
Someone forgot to tell Russell Wilson, who stole the spotlight from an encouraging effort from Christine Michael, tossing three more touchdowns Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and guiding the Seahawks to a 30-13 win.
It was the fifth consecutive game in which Wilson threw for at least three touchdowns and no interceptions, a feat never before accomplished by an NFL quarterback. Over those five games - all Seahawks wins - Wilson has thrown 19 touchdowns without a pick.
Combined with losses this week by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NY Giants, the 9-5 Seahawks officially qualified for the playoffs, maintaining their head-to-head tie-breaker over the Minnesota Vikings for the fifth seed in the NFC.
Early on, Johnny Manziel was matching Wilson pass for pass, including guiding the Browns to a touchdown on the game's opening drive to silence the 12s.
Whereas Manziel's receivers dropped some critical passes in this game, Wilson's excelled. Doug Baldwin hauled in two more scores - his 12th and 13th of the season - to tie Daryl Turner for the most receiving touchdowns in one season in franchise history. The chemistry between Wilson and Baldwin over the past month is unlike anything the league has seen in quite some time. As noted by ESPN's stats department, the only other two receivers to have matched Baldwin's fourth consecutive game with multiple touchdowns are legends Cris Carter and Calvin Johnson.
As he did a week ago in the win over Baltimore, Jermaine Kearse led the team in receptions (seven for 110 yards) with Tyler Lockett chipping in five grabs for 55 yards and a score of his own. Pass-catching specialist Fred Jackson made a beautiful one-handed grab to convert a third down, sparking the 96-yard scoring drive that Lockett culminated, giving Seattle a 27-13 lead.
While Wilson and Seattle's passing attack proved yet again to be the big story, there were several impressive subplots in the Seahawks win.
Michael led the Seahawks with 16 carries for 84 yards with Bryce Brown contributing 43 yards on nine attempts and former fullback Derrick Coleman chipping in 10 yards on five attempts. Combined with Wilson's 46 yards on a few well-executed read options, the trio helped Seattle rush for 182 yards in the game, overall. That's nearly 40 more than the Seahawks have averaged per game this season (144.8), which entering the game ranked second behind only the Buffalo Bills' 148.8.
Encouraging signs also came on the defensive side of the ball where Jeremy Lane started for DeShawn Shead opposite Richard Sherman and help up nicely in coverage, including against speedster Travis Benjamin. With Lane playing outside, Marcus Burley saw more action in the nickel and he, too, responded with solid open-field tackles and a fourth quarter interception.
Carroll was excited about Lane, Burley and McCray following the game, noting how well each performed in extensive duty and recognizing the fact that Burley recorded both a sack and an interception. The development of Lane and Burley, in particular, have been key during Seattle's winning streak as they've helped lock down the underneath crossing routes that had plagued the Seahawks earlier in the year.
While Seattle responded as one might hope from a two-time defending NFC champion, the lowly Browns fell apart.
After directing the Browns to a touchdown on their first drive of the game, the inconsistent accuracy from Manziel (19/32 for 161 yards) reappeared. Too often Manziel failed to step into his throws, whipping the ball and leaving his receivers reaching back to make tough grabs rather than hitting them in stride as Wilson did on the day.
The Seahawks were given an early Christmas gift by Browns cornerback Tramon Williams on what should have been the final play of the first half. The former Packers standout beaten by Kearse on the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship game a year ago, found himself again on the wrong side of the former UW star, getting called for a facemask penalty to set up a Steven Hauschka field goal, extending Seattle's lead to 20-10 going into the half.
While there were plenty of positives to take from Sunday's win, left tackle Russell Okung was sidelined in the second half with a calf injury that after the game Carroll conceded might take some time to heal. Okung was replaced by Alvin Bailey, who fared well, but the loss of Seattle's best lineman for any length of time would be significant, especially with the St. Louis Rams and their imposing defensive line next on the schedule.null