On the first play of the first quarter Sunday, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the hands of San Francisco cornerback Eric Reid.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wilson threw a short pass that Jimmy Graham caught in the end zone.
The contrast between the initial plays of the first and fourth quarters was Seattle’s 24-13 victory over the 49ers in a nutshell.
Lethargic, sloppy and out-of-sync Hawks during the 30 minutes before halftime. Crisp, disciplined and energized Hawks during the 30 minutes after halftime.
Why this team’s motor takes so long to warm up remains a mystery. What we do know is it won’t have the luxury of starting slow next week against the Eagles, who at 10-1 own the league’s best record.
Beating San Francisco, a football-construction project without a modicum of big-play capability, was a given.
Beating Philadelphia, a powerhouse with play-makers galore, poses the most difficult challenge of a Seahawks season that has resembled a steeplechase course since the opener at Green Bay.
Functioning as a complete unit for four quarters will be required against the Eagles. Functioning as a complete unit only for the final two quarters will produce consequences that seem unthinkable: A third consecutive defeat at CenturyLink Field.
What’s both frustrating and intriguing is that when they click, when the light goes on, the Seahawks can stand toe-to-toe with anybody. Against the 49ers, the light went on for the defensive line, which competed with a fury not evident during the Monday night defeat last week to the Falcons.
The light went on, too, for a passing offense that found Wilson trotting into the locker room at halftime with a mere eight completions for 80 yards. Unable to balance that early interception with a touchdown, Wilson’s first-half quarterback rating — 32.8 — recalled the days of wine and roses and Charlie Whitehurst.
Now comes a far tougher grind for a battered team that already looks as if it’s gone through one: the next three foes—Eagles, Jaguars and Rams—have a combined record of 25-8.
Wilson second-half numbers: 12-of-15 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a quarterback rating of 86.4.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but I thought the light even went on for the running attack, which on Sunday featured Eddie Lacy in a leading role and J.D. McKissic as a supplement.
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The Hawks rushing stats were not gaudy. They picked up 80 yards on the ground, about 25 yards fewer than they were averaging through 10 games.
But something was different Sunday. Instead of a running game based exclusively on Wilson’s ability to turn broken plays into first downs, the Hawks looked more like NFL pros with a clue than schoolyard kids at recess.
Lacy ran 17 times for 46 yards, and caught three dump-off passes for 10 yards. McKissic ran four times for 22 yards, and caught four passes out of the backfield for 24 yards.
Nothing worthy of cartwheels, but something suggesting a return to normalcy. As fun as it is to watch Wilson scamper downfield and elude tacklers with juke moves reminiscent of Barry Sanders, a rushing offense built around a quarterback is not sustainable.
Lacy’s effort pleased Carroll. The Hawks most heralded off-season acquisition had rushed for 131 yards in 51 attempts before Sunday: A bust, in other words.
“I thought he ran really hard, ran tough. I like it,” Carroll said. “That’s the first time we’ve had a chance to feel Eddie throughout a game. You can see he’s got a presence about him being such a load, giving us a dimension we can play off of and go for it. He showed that today.
“And you saw the contrast with J.D., who’s such a lightning rod out there. He’s so quick and explosive, it’s a nice mix. It felt like we got something going there.”
Hey, whatever works. Carroll said last week that Thomas Rawls would return to the backfield mix. Rawls participated on one snap, as a blocking back.
Rawls, Carroll predicted, “will play his buns off.”
Backups weren’t needed to play their buns off in order for the Hawks to take care of business Sunday. But against the Eagles?
All buns are on deck.