SEATTLE — There was no uncertainty about this fourth-quarter comeback.
No question about the officiating nor any doubts about the validity of the victory.
Russell Wilson’s 46-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Sidney Rice with 1:18 left in Sunday’s game completed Seattle’s largest fourth-quarter comeback in nine years and put an exclamation point on the game that may be a defining moment of this season: Seattle 24, New England 23!
“It’s a big statement for a young team,” coach Pete Carroll said.
One delivered without the controversy that accompanied Golden Tate’s game-winning play against Green Bay as Seattle grabbed hold of this victory with both hands and held on to the finish.
There may be questions about the way New England handled its final possession of the first half, costing itself an opportunity at a field goal. There is no doubt the loss amounted to a fourth-quarter collapse of New England’s defense, which allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to a Seattle offense that had reached the end zone just nine times in its first 23 quarters of play.
But there was no doubt about the significance of this victory for Seattle, which came back from a fourth-quarter deficit of 13 points for the first time since coming back to beat St. Louis in September 2003.
The Seahawks showed the resolve to hang on despite giving up a ton of yards, and the resiliency to weather through a second and third quarter in which the offense was almost nonexistent.
“We go into the game knowing that it’s going to be a fight for four quarters,” center Max Unger said.
And when it came time to decide the game, Seattle showed its staying power as Wilson threw for two touchdowns in the final eight minutes while the Seahawks defense kept New England from gaining a first down on either of its final two possessions.
“We’re built for a heavyweight fight,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I don’t think they’re built for a heavyweight fight.”
New England scored 23 points, the most Seattle has allowed in any game this season. The Patriots also gained 475 yards, the most the Seahawks have allowed in any game since November 2010. The Patriots scored from long range with a 46-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker in the first quarter, and they demonstrated their short game with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez in the second.
And after kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicked his third field goal, hitting from 35 yards with 9:21 left in the game, New England led 23-10 after scoring 16 consecutive points.
At that point, Seattle had gained 35 yards in the second half, and the Seahawks’ most productive play was a wide receiver pass from Rice to Tate that drew a pass-interference penalty.
Over the final eight minutes of this game, it was Seattle that demonstrated a fourth-quarter resolve that Carroll has been preaching since he arrived and has now clearly taken root.
“That’s what coach Carroll preaches: finish,” Sherman said. “Finish, finish, finish. You don’t win the game in the first quarter. You don’t win the game in the second quarter. You dang sure don’t win it in the third quarter. It’s the fourth that matters.”
And this fourth quarter turned out to be particularly memorable, from Earl Thomas intercepting a pass in the end zone to squelch a Patriots scoring chance early in the period to Wilson throwing a 10-yard fade to Braylon Edwards, who had gone 651 days since his last touchdown catch.
And it was only fitting that the game-winning touchdown came on the second-longest pass Wilson completed, this longshot of a comeback completed with one long pass.