LANDOVER, Md. — The biggest comeback victory in Seahawks playoff history began with indifference about the predicament. Down and dazed, the Seahawks’ defense walked off the field late in the first quarter pretending it didn’t hurt. They looked like a boxer who grins after absorbing a vicious uppercut.
“We took their best shot!” several players screamed.
The Seahawks wouldn’t dare succumb to doubt. They’re Team Bravado — young, fearless, unknowing. They looked at a 14-0 score, their largest deficit of the season, and reacted in the only way they know.
With a shrug. With disdain for the danger. With the full expectation that they were still in control.
They were right to be confident.
The Seahawks turned the early disaster into a streak-busting 24-14 comeback victory in an NFC wild-card playoff game before 84,325 at FedExField on Sunday.
“Were you shocked?” fullback Michael Robinson asked in jest afterward.
Considering the way it started, yeah.
“There’s no shock about being down 14 points in the first quarter,” Robinson said. “We had time.”
To win their first road NFL playoff game in 30 years, the Seahawks had to do what they’re not really designed to do. They had to rally.
The Seahawks don’t play from behind much. Before the game, their largest deficit this season had been 13 points, which they overcame in a 24-23 victory over New England in October. Only one other time had the Seahawks fallen behind by double digits: a 10-point deficit in a 20-16 loss to Arizona in the season opener.
As a team built around an aggressive defense and run-first offense, the Seahawks tend to play low-scoring, close games. They don’t want to fall behind because that requires too much passing for coach Pete Carroll’s tastes.
This time, though, they had to go against their preferences.
They had to trust their terrific rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, to lead them back. They had to refrain from panic and keep running back Marshawn Lynch at the forefront of the game plan. They had to believe that their defense, the team’s dominant strength, would figure out something.
Oh, the comeback required a few other things, too, particularly Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III aggravating a right knee injury and the epic failure of his coach, Mike Shanahan, who kept RGIII in the game until a gruesome twist of the knee forced him to leave in the final quarter. But Griffin’s injury doesn’t explain what the Seahawks did offensively after the slow start.
How dramatic was this comeback? After Griffin threw his second touchdown pass of the first quarter, to tight end Logan Paulsen, Washington led 14-0 and had amassed 129 yards of offense. The Seahawks had minus-2.
It felt like they had fallen behind during the national anthem. The fast-paced Washington offense had hit them swiftly and relentlessly, scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions and taking a commanding lead before the Seahawks could catch their breath enough to say, “Uh oh.”
But from that point on, the Seahawks outgained Washington 382-74. There goes the notion that the Seahawks aren’t built to come from behind.
“That’s dumb stuff now,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “We’ve got a good quarterback now. We’ve got good receivers. We can sling it down the field if we have to. We can still run when we’re behind, too. That stuff is over with.”
Seattle scored 13 points in the second quarter, including a touchdown pass from Wilson to fullback Michael Robinson, to get back in the game. And in the second half, the domination continued.
Lynch, who rushed for 132 yards, scored on a 27-yard touchdown run to give the Seahawks’ their first lead, at 21-14, with 7:08 remaining, making amends for fumbling at the two-yard line in the third quarter. And kicker Steven Hauschka, who made three field goals despite injuring an ankle on the shabby FedExField turf, made a 22-yarder with 5:32 left to put Seattle ahead, 24-14.
“I’m very disappointed today,” said Shanahan, who will endure immense criticism for playing Griffin so long. “We probably had our best first quarter. After that first quarter, we just didn’t seem to get things done. It was very tough.”
It was tough because the Seahawks played with more discipline on defense after their shaky start. Eliminating the threat of Griffin running the ball helped the defense considerably, and as the game went on, Washington had little success running or throwing against the Seahawks.
And it was tough because Wilson, who passed for 187 yards and ran for 67, executed wonderfully over the final three quarters. The Seahawks, who now play at No. 1 NFC seed Atlanta on Sunday at 10 a.m. PST, also rushed for 224 yards, a team playoff record. For a young squad that hasn’t had a lot of road success, it was a landmark game for this new era.
“It is a marvelous statement,” said Carroll, whose team finished the regular season 11-5. “It ain’t about how you start, but it’s about how you finish, and we’ve been saying that forever. We were getting our butt kicked, there was no doubt about it.”
You can stop covering your eyes now. Team Bravado has shown it can take a punch. And it can land an even better one.