After back-to-back losses to the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams in mid-October sent the Seattle Seahawks reeling back to .500, Earl Thomas vowed that the Hawks would regroup and get back to playing the type of football that has defined them.
On Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, led by a ball-hawking defense that put together its first turnover-heavy performance of the season, the Seahawks did just that.
Despite the absence of several key players on defense, ET III and the Seahawks (5-3) forced three first-half turnovers, then held off a second half rally to defeat the Oakland Raiders, 30-24. No. 29 had three key solo tackles, laid a picture-perfect block on Richard Sherman’s interception return and nearly grabbed a pick of his own in Seattle’s second-straight victory.
“We’re so keyed in right now; we’re so locked in,” Earl said after the game. “We understand how offenses are trying to attack us. We’re getting back to that smart, intelligent football team that understands situations.”
Though the Hawks were missing Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell in the secondary and Bobby Wagner in the linebacking corps, they didn’t make life easy on the winless Raiders (0-8) and their rookie quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr completed 24 of his 41 pass attempts for 194 yards and threw two interceptions. The Seattle defense also halted the Raiders’ running game, only allotting the visitors 37 yards on the ground.
“[The key to today was] just playing sound football,” said defensive end Cliff Avril. “Reading our keys and making the plays that you’re supposed to make and not trying to do too much.”
The performance of the Seattle defense was a big boost for their offense, which also found it tough at times to break through against the Raiders defense. Playing behind a makeshift offensive line, Wilson had a tough go of it. He completed 17-of-35 passes, but didn’t have much opportunity to throw the ball down field and finished with just 179 yards passing.
Marshawn Lynch did manage to find his groove again after a string of quiet performances. The bruising Seahawks running back carried 21 times for just 67 yards, but scored twice and was also the top recipient of Wilson’s passes, with five catches totaling 76 yards. But afterward, Wilson deflected credit to the defense.
“The defense played spectacular today,” he said. “They made a lot of plays and forced some turnovers.”
The defensive intensity was amped up from the opening kickoff and after the Raiders received the Seattle defense took the field and looked anything but shorthanded. Sherman forced a fumble from Mychal Rivera on 3rd-and-8, but the ball rolled out of bounds at the Seattle 37-yard line before it could be recovered. Although the Raiders went on to earn a field goal off of the drive, Sherman’s hit signaled a sign of things to come for the Legion of Boom.
Seattle’s first possession saw Wilson and Lynch take the offense almost 70 yards down the field before capping off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run from Lynch to put the home team up 7-3.
A series of three-and-outs from both sides followed and after a Jon Ryan punt, the Raiders got the ball back at their own 11-yard line. On the ensuing drive, Oakland earned a first down off of a short pass to Brice Butler and Carr felt he’d found a hole in the Hawks defense with Wagner out. But he was mistaken.
When Carr decided to try another short throw, this time intended for James Jones, Bruce Irvin stepped in front of the pass, tipped the ball, grabbed the interception and ran it 35-yards for a touchdown that brought the first quarter to a close with the Hawks in front 14-3.
“Probably the best play of my career, man,” Irvin said about the play. “The one I had last year [against St. Louis] was pretty good, too. But I didn’t do anything with it.”
That's another thing that makes Earl Thomas my favorite Seahawks player. The first guy to hype up / congratulate a teammate after a big play
— Jacson A. Bevens (@JacsonBevens) November 2, 2014
Carr and the Raiders received the ball to open the second quarter and were quickly faced with the potential for another three-and-out on 3rd-and-5 from their own 25-yard line. On the third down play, Earl rushed Carr as part of a blitz that forced the rookie quarterback to throw another risky pass. Sherman intercepted the ball at the Oakland 40-yard line and Earl recovered in time to make a spectacular block on Rivera that extended Sherman’s run to the 22-yard line.
“I finally got an opportunity,” Sherman said. “I spun my head around and was able to spot the ball, grab it and try to make a big play to spark the offense.”
— Mark Grantor (@markgrantor) November 2, 2014
Earl Thomas III just leveled a guy at midfield. Like a BOSS. Then stood over him.
— Percy Allen (@percyallen) November 2, 2014
— matt #gohawks (@Warhawk116) November 2, 2014
— Devon Lind (@devonlind28) November 2, 2014
Though Sherman’s return allowed the resultant drive to start at the Oakland 18, the Hawks offense quickly went three-and-out and Steven Hauschka kicked a 34-yard field goal to put the home team ahead 17-3.
The Raiders fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Hauschka recovered it to give the Seahawks another offensive possession, but even with excellent field position, Wilson and the offense couldn’t get anything going and again went three-and-out. Hauschka came on to attempt a 46-yard field goal that would have put Seattle in front 20-3, but the kick went left of the uprights, keeping it a two score game.
The Seattle defense sandwiched two more Raiders three-and-outs around another fruitless drive by the offense, and got the ball back to Wilson and Co. for one last scoring opportunity with 3:50 left in the half.
This time, the Seahawks offense overcame some adversity, in the form of two holding penalties and marched down the field. At the end of an 11-play, 78-yard drive, Wilson handed off to Lynch who powered in from five yards out to give the Hawks a commanding 24-3 halftime lead.
Oakland picked up some momentum to start the third quarter after a quick three-and-out by the Seattle defense as Denico Autry blocked Ryan’s punt and Butler fell on the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 24-14.
The teams then traded punts until Ryan’s fifth of the day was returned 27 yards by T.J. Carrie to the Seattle 30-yard line, where Carr and the Raiders offense took over with great field position and just over five minutes remaining in the third.
A 20-yard reception from Darren McFadden brought the ball to the Seahawks’ 7-yard line, and 3rd-and-goal from the 5, Jones looked to have found a path to the endzone, but Earl came up with a huge tackle to stop him just short and force a 4th-and-goal from the 1.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) November 2, 2014
Wow, what a tackle by Earl Thomas there.
— Nick Hjeltness (@nickhjeltness) November 2, 2014
That's my boy @Earl_Thomas with the stop!!!
— Shep (@dshephard04) November 2, 2014
That was incredible closing speed by Earl Thomas. #Seahawks
— Danny 710ESPNSeattle (@DDMon710) November 2, 2014
However, the Raiders converted on the critical fourth down as Carr found Rivera in the end zone for a touchdown to bring Oakland within seven points of the lead.
Seattle’s ensuing drive lasted into the fourth quarter and ended when Hauschka connected for a 30-yard field goal to make it a 10-point game. After the Hawks defense forced another three and out and Wilson engineered a short drive, the Seahawks kicker added another field goal from 40 yards away that made the lead a more comfortable 30-17 with 9:24 left on the clock.
The Seattle defense kept it that way as they stymied the Oakland attack until the final minutes when the Raiders broke through and scored a short touchdown to make it 30-24 with 1:52 to play. On the following onside kick, Seattle’s special teams, which had been shaky all afternoon, came up huge and recovered the ball to secure the win.
“At the end of the day, you just gotta get your job done, execute and get the win, no matter how we get it,” ET III said. “We gotta keep imposing our will on teams and keep stepping on them; we can’t give them life.”
The Seahawks will be in search of their third consecutive win when they take on their third NFC East opponent of the season as the New York Giants visit CenturyLink Field next Sunday.
The two teams last met last season at MetLife Stadium, in a game the Seahawks dominated from start to finish for a 23-0 win. Earl had four tackles and caught one of Eli Manning’s five interceptions. Of course, that win proved to be only the first commanding performance against a Manning at MetLife of the season, as Seattle later downed Peyton Manning 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Seahawks had a much tougher time at MetLife in 2011, but still emerged victorious 36-25. ET III notched four tackles and was one of three Seahawks to pick off Manning. The last time the teams met in Seattle was in 2010, Earl’s first season with the team. Without many of the players that would eventually contribute to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, the Giants won 41-7.
New York will have a shortened week after a Monday Night Football appearance against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Giants sit near the bottom of the league in total offense, having averaged close to 200 yards per game. Running back Rashad Jennings was having a solid 2014 campaign and is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, but has missed the last three games due to a knee injury and his status for this weekend is questionable at best.
Kickoff from CenturyLink Field is set for 1:25 p.m. PST and FOX will have the broadcast.