The NFL is a league of incredible parity. It’s not just that teams like the Kansas City Chiefs can turn around from worst-to-first with the help of a new head coach and quarterback; it’s that within the range of a single season, there’s such a thin line separating last place teams from those at the top.
Sunday’s matchup between the NFC’s best team, the 7-1 Seattle Seahawks, and worst team, the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, looked for long stretches like it was practically a seminar on the “any given Sunday” truism. In the end, however, Seattle’s 21-point rally -- the biggest comeback in franchise history -- proved to be a lesson on what separates contenders from those just stringing out the season: Games are won based on how you finish, not start.
“Just a tremendous statement that our guys made today,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of his team’s 27-24 win. “They competed so hard today and under the circumstances we were [facing]...it just doesn’t happen.”
Yesterday it did.
Helped by a breakout game from Tampa Bay running back Mike James and a Seahawks defense that looked sloppy and confused, Bucs QB Mike Glennon lead his team on back-to-back 90 and 84-yard touchdown drives in the second quarter to jump out to a 14-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Jermaine Kearse fumbled the ball away to Tampa, who turned the mistake into 7-points on a jump-pass from James to tight end Tom Crabtree that will probably stand as the craziest touchdown scored this season.
With Seattle down 21-0 and the sold-out crowd at CenturyLink Stadium stunned into silence, the Seahawks offense finally asserted itself. Wilson orchestrated a three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took just :36 seconds off the clock and gave the Seahawks some confidence heading into halftime. And after surrendering a field goal on the opening possession of the second half, the Seahawks defense tightened up and allowed the Bucs just 76 yards over its final five drives.
“It was a fantastic job by players at halftime, making the adjustments and zeroing in and winning the football game,” Carroll said.
That started with quarterback Russell Wilson. Passing for one score and running for another, Wilson was 15 of 18 in the second half. One of his incompletions was an ill-advised interception thrown in the end zone that ended a potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. But Wilson responded by leading the Seahawks on a 10-play drive on their next possession that was capped by a 10-yard touchdown reception by Doug Baldwin, forcing overtime.
Seattle’s defense opened the extra quarter by sacking Glennon on third down to force a three-and-out. Then Marshawn Lynch -- who had a season-high 125 yards -- finished off the game, accounting for 44 yards on the Seahawks final drive that culminated in Steven Hauschka’s 27-yard game-winning field goal.
“He was in beast mode today," Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said of Lynch. "He was upset and he was running mad."
The Buccaneers were the one’s left mad after the game after watching their 21-point lead evaporate and Wilson display the poise and confidence that’s lead him to a 12-0 record at home since the start of his rookie year.
“I tried to stay all over him, all day. I tried," Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said of Wilson. "The dude is 5-6. It's not fair, man. But whatever. He's sneaking here and there. He's just making plays."