SEATTLE — The game was a gong show, except when it was a mismatch, so consider it proper that a fourth-quarter celebration ended with a player falling on his butt.
After Earl Thomas, the 5-foot-10 bundle of speed, crashed into Tennessee wide receiver Damian Williams to snuff out a pass play, he raced around CenturyLink Field to celebrate. Then he spotted his fellow Seahawks safety, Kam Chancellor, and prepared for a leaping chest bump.
They shared a gleeful collision in midair. Thomas landed on his feet; the 6-foot-3 Chancellor fell on his fanny. On a Sunday afternoon that included a kicker getting pulverized, the most disastrous field-goal attempt ever and enough fumbles and follies to fill a Comedy Central marathon, Chancellor and the Seahawks laughed last.
“He’s too big to be falling like that,” Thomas said, chuckling after a 20-13 victory over Tennessee.
“Earl was delivering big hits all game,” Chancellor replied, “and I was one of them. He got up under my chin. Leverage wins.”
A weird game, the most peculiar and least-satisfying win in years, concluded with a familiar result. The Seahawks are 5-1 this season, even though they haven’t played great football for three consecutive weeks.
Just when you thought you could explain away the uneven performances of the previous two weeks as life on the road, the Seahawks returned home Sunday and looked sloppier on offense and special teams than they have all season. It made for a wild game that they would’ve dominated if the football weren’t bouncing all over the field.
“We made it rough on ourselves,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We could have had a better day of it, but some stuff got away from us. The ball was greased today.”
The wackiness overshadowed a trademark performance from a Seahawks defense that allowed only 223 yards and just six of the Titans’ 13 points. But while the “D” owned Tennessee backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and while the misadventures will prove to be an aberration for a normally sound team, this goofy game underscored how much work is required for the Seahawks to become a fully functioning, dominant team.
They’re not even close, and it isn’t just because kicker Steven Hauschka was trucked trying to make a tackle. The injury resulted in punter Jon Ryan sliding into Hauschka’s role and backup safety Chris Maragos serving as the holder during a spectacular debacle to end the first half.
Maragos mishandled the snap on a field-goal attempt, then lost his mind and tried to make a play, and the result was a 77-yard touchdown on a fumble return by Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty. The Seahawks should’ve been ahead 10-3. Instead, they trailed 10-7 at the half.
They’re not even close, and it isn’t just because Sidney Rice fumbled while trying to extend his arms for an extra yard after a catch. It isn’t just because Russell Wilson had to return to his baseball roots to scoop the football to save the Seahawks from another lost fumble.
It’s because the Seahawks have a glaring weakness in pass protection, a problem made worse by tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and tight end Zach Miller being injured. It’s because the Seahawks offense remains shaky in the red zone and on third down. It’s because they still commit stupid penalties at the worst possible moments. It’s because the Seahawks have the potential to have a balanced offense, but they’re too often relegated to hoping Wilson can run around and make a play.
The second-year quarterback is quite good at it. Despite facing too much pressure once again, he danced around and managed to complete 23 of 31 passes for 257 yards. He rushed for 61 yards, too. But the Seahawks could only score touchdowns on two of five trips to the red zone.
“The red zone is still kicking our ass,” said All-Pro center Max Unger, who returned to action after missing two games with an arm injury. “We need to get in the end zone.”
But here’s the vexing part about the Seahawks: Though there is plenty to dislike about what they are right now, they’re still talented enough to overcome themselves. They manage to be admirable despite their flaws. They still are tied with New Orleans for the best record in the NFC. And they still have impact players scheduled to return (Okung, Giacomini, Percy Harvin) to mask some of their weaknesses.
They are frustratingly imperfect, except when they’re delightfully imperfect.
“We’re not satisfied,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We may be 5-1, but at the same time, we haven’t even come close to our potential, especially offensively. We have a lot of growth. We’ll get there.”
In the meantime, the Seahawks have shown they can win under different circumstances. They can win ugly. And as you learned Sunday, they can win crazy.
They need a complete performance soon, however. This Awkward Chest-bump Phase will only seem cute for so long.