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Originally published October 6, 2012 at 8:29 PM | Page modified October 7, 2012 at 12:46 PM

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Seahawks have big test at Carolina

The Seahawks are one controversial call from being 1-3, and the question of whether Seattle is actually good has yet to be answered, which is one reason Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers is so important.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Seahawks @ Carolina, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Seahawks are not bad.

That can be stated definitively after four games. Marshawn Lynch leads the league in rushing, Seattle has allowed the second-fewest points in the league and the team is 39 yards away from being 4-0.

Of course, Seattle is also one controversial call from being 1-3, and the question of whether Seattle is actually good has yet to be answered, which is one reason Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers is so important.

"I think we're close to being really good," coach Pete Carroll said. "We'll see if we can make a turn here."

In the first quarter of this season, Seattle flashed its ability to be outright dominant. Green Bay was able to cross midfield only once in the first half in Week 3, and Seattle's defense has allowed two touchdowns over the past 12 quarters. The Seahawks' running game has given the offense some resiliency, allowing the team to rally from both the halftime deficits it has faced this year, tying the game in the fourth quarter.

But Seattle also showed a tendency to be derailed by the kind of pitfalls that sentence a team to mediocrity in this league.

Good teams don't usually go two consecutive games without converting a third-down play with a pass as Seattle has. Good teams don't depend as heavily upon their special teams to help their offense in terms of field position. Of Seattle's 13 scoring drives this season, five started with a special-teams play that gave the Seahawks the ball in the opponent's half of the field.

And good teams find a way to finish off game-winning drives. Three times this season, Seattle has had the ball in the final two minutes, needing a touchdown to overcome a deficit. The only one of those opportunities that Seattle converted was courtesy of the controversial decision to award Golden Tate a touchdown, a ruling that replacement official Wayne Elliott said was probably an error in an interview that aired this week on Showtime.

The other two opportunities came up short. Seattle turned the ball over on downs at the Arizona 4 in Week 1, and last week the Seahawks had the ball at the Rams 35 when rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was intercepted after tight end Anthony McCoy fell down on the play.

"We have worked extraordinarily long and hard on our two-minute stuff," Carroll said, "and it has given us a chance to be in all the games, and have a chance to finish with the wins. Now, we just need to cap it off."

It's reasonable to believe Seattle is going to improve over the course of the season. That's the benefit of being one of the youngest teams in the league and starting a rookie at quarterback. Everyone figures to get better, but with one-quarter of the season already gone, Seattle better hurry that offensive improvement.

"We've got plenty of time to get right," receiver Sidney Rice said. "But it's got to be here pretty soon."

He's right. Seattle can't wait much longer. Not in a division where the other three teams currently hold a winning record.

The Seahawks are also in the midst of the most difficult stretch of their schedule. Sunday's game in Charlotte will be the second of four road games the Seahawks will play in the span of 19 days. Next week's home game against New England is the first of three consecutive games against opponents who made the playoffs a year ago.

That only adds to the urgency of playing at Carolina. This is still a team fortunate to be .500 and whose season could go either way.

"We're this close to being on point," Carroll said. "Everybody would like to see dominant wins and big scores ... but everybody in this league knows they'll take it in any way you can get it."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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