ATLANTA — It was an innocuous mistake near the end of a blowout victory, but Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond wanted to make up for it. He had to make up for it.
The Seahawks weren’t settling for good enough on this day. Not again, not after consecutive blah performances and the teeth-gnashing it inspired. All week, they challenged themselves to be better, to be the real Seahawks. Even though the game was in hand, Thurmond wouldn’t relent.
Atlanta wide receiver Harry Douglas beat Thurmond and sped up the field. Undaunted, Thurmond chased him down, stripped the football and recovered the fumble. As the Seahawks celebrated around him, Thurmond looked angry despite padding his stats with a tackle and forced fumble.
No mercy? More like no mulligan.
“It was bad technique on my part,” Thurmond said afterward, shaking his head. “I could’ve played the route concept better than I did. I’d rather take the technique than the forced fumble.”
The Seahawks were so dialed-in Sunday that they couldn’t even celebrate a turnover without nitpicking. The result was their finest end-to-end performance of the season, a 33-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
This game wasn’t about avenging January’s heartbreaking playoff loss to Atlanta. The Falcons, with their injuries and their 2-7 record, aren’t the same team. This was about the Seahawks maximizing their own potential. And finally, after more than a month of concerning play, the Seahawks looked worthy of their gaudy 9-1 record.
They took apart Atlanta in every facet of the game, outgaining the Falcons 490-226, punishing them with Marshawn Lynch’s 145 rushing yards and streaking downfield for explosive plays.
A maligned offensive line missing three starters looked stout. A defense that had allowed back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances shut down the Falcons’ poor running game and made Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan look ordinary. The Seahawks took an early lead and kept grinding their spikes into the Falcons until the final whistle.
“It’s the best game we’ve played,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s really the game we’ve been looking for. We’ve been frustrated by it. We have not been pleased with the way the games have gone because we haven’t played the way we’d like, the way we’re capable of. I thought today we did.”
Carroll said the Seahawks “had some really good things happen this week behind closed doors.” The coaches challenged the players to perform up to their level. The conversations ranged from spirited to emotional.
The Seahawks decided to make a statement that they’re better than the team that squeaked past bottom feeders St. Louis and Tampa Bay in its previous two games. They also talked about fully embracing the opportunity in front of them.
They have one of the most talented teams in the NFL. They have a great chance to maintain the best record in the NFC, which would mean home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. They don’t want to waste it with complacency.
“Definitely, we have an opportunity to go all the way,” safety Earl Thomas said. “I don’t like to look ahead, but we know that. We know we’re a very complete team. We have to enjoy the whole journey.”
But it’s not just about mindset. The Seahawks were being held back by a real problem on the offensive line, particularly in pass protection. But the O-line is starting to play better despite playing without starters Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini and Max Unger on Sunday. Quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked just once the past two weeks, and that sack was on him for holding on to the ball too long. The run game, which had been solid, is now overpowering. The Seahawks ran for 211 yards in this game after gaining 198 last week.
As a result, the passing game looks better. Wilson was as fluid as ever, completing 19 of 26 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. You saw the Seahawks stretch the field horizontally and vertically. You saw Golden Tate make a marvelous one-handed touchdown catch just before halftime. And you saw Jermaine Kearse show off his special ability to make plays in the air on a flea-flicker touchdown play.
“I thought we were really locked-in today,” Wilson said.
They were the real Seahawks.
It wasn’t just about Atlanta being battered. The Falcons were without five starters Sunday. The Seahawks were without six, and two more (Brandon Browner, Tony McDaniel) left the game early with injuries. Still, they looked dominant.
“Now we know what we’re capable of,” Tate said. “Now the challenge is going to be to consistently do this. I think it’s time for us to heat up.”
No doubt, this meandering season has its sizzle back.