RENTON — The NFL’s most prolific three-game scoring binge in 62 years actually began four games ago with a bit of desperation and a whole lot of urgency.
The Seahawks trailed Chicago by four points with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Seattle’s season unmistakably resting in the hands of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
“We went for it and cut Russell loose, totally,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The significance of that moment couldn’t be clearer in retrospect as Wilson led Seattle on a touchdown drive. And then — after Chicago inexplicably tied the game with a last-second field goal — Wilson did it again in overtime.
“He did it a little bit faster the second time,” Carroll said.
That was the moment things changed for Seattle, and not just because the Seahawks went from a team that would have been 6-6 with a loss in Chicago to now standing at 10-5 with a playoff berth secured.
After that game, Seattle transformed from a team looking to win a scuffle played in the teens and the 20s to outscoring its past three opponents 150-30. The Seahawks spent the first half of their season playing nail-biters, and now they’re suddenly kicking the opponent’s teeth in at a rate unseen since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970.
The Seahawks led the league in scoring in 2005, their offense setting a franchise record with 452 points. They never scored more than 111 points in any three-game span that year.
In 1998, the Minnesota Vikings broke the NFL record for points in a season with 556. They never scored more than 136 in any three-game stretch. The Patriots broke the Vikings’ scoring record in 2007 with 589 points. New England’s highest three-game output was 149.
And yet this season’s Seahawks — a team that scored 140 points in its first eight games combined — has gone out and put up the largest three-game total in the NFL since 1950.
It isn’t all the Seahawks’ offense. Seattle has forced 13 turnovers the past three games, its defense has returned two interceptions for touchdowns and the special teams have scored twice as well.
But the offense is undeniably improved by just about every measure, whether it’s the lack of turnovers, number of punts or frequency of touchdown drives.
So what happened? The answer lies in those final two drives in Chicago when Seattle’s season very well may have hung in the balance and Wilson came through with a performance that showed his growth since September.
“He had been through so many games and so many difficult situations that he just took the game over and finished it,” Carroll said.
It wasn’t Wilson who changed after that so much as Seattle’s game plan.
“We let him loose,” Carroll said. “What that really amounts to is not worrying about anything that we call.”
What that means takes a little explaining, though, because it’s not like Seattle opened up the offense and started throwing 30 times a game.
In fact, the Seahawks have actually attempted fewer passes the past three games than they averaged earlier in the season because of the lopsided nature of the games.
Wilson’s yards per attempt — a metric that helps gauge how aggressively a team looks downfield — is up nearly 2 yards over the past three games, a significant bump. What has really exploded is Wilson’s rushing numbers, the game plan becoming focused upon accentuating Wilson’s talents.
It’s not just running beyond the line of scrimmage, but moving in the pocket. He’s got license to scramble, evading defenders with maneuvers that are at times almost comical.
Earlier in the season, Seattle was trying to grind out victories while grooming a rookie quarterback. Now, the Seahawks are trusting that same rookie to see how far he will take them.
“We have a front-line, first-rate quarterback going out there in these games and you’re seeing it,” Carroll said. “He’s balling. We trust him in his decision-making because he’s proven worthy of that.”