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Sunday, October 17, 2010
Carroll, Seahawks get signature victory

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll's Seahawks held the Bears to zero third down conversions in a big win Sunday.
CHICAGO -- Pete Carroll's vision for the Seattle Seahawks made an appearance on the field Sunday.

The head coach very much liked what he saw.

This 23-20 victory over the previously 4-1 Chicago Bears at Soldier Field felt like a statement game, the sort of performance a new coach needs to fully establish his program.

"This was a big deal for us," Carroll said. "We're going to build on it."

The Seahawks beat a winning team on the road in a 10 a.m. PT kickoff for the first time since knocking off 7-5 Minnesota in 2004. They did it the way their head coach envisioned -- with specialized players on offense, with a defense that was stout against the run and while holding the opposition to 0-for-12 on third down. (OK, Carroll probably never envisioned that last part.)

Carroll beamed from the postgame interview podium adjacent to the Seattle locker room. He must have felt as though he were back at USC.

"This is very reminiscent of the formula I have become accustomed to -- the big back [Marshawn Lynch] hitting it hard and the flashy guy [Justin Forsett] and the big receiver [Mike Williams] and the quarterback [Matt Hasselbeck] getting the ball to every guy," Carroll said. "That is what we have come in here to do. It has just taken us awhile."

And it is, Carroll kept reminding himself, only one game.

But this one game was the most significant one yet for Carroll and the Seahawks, and the head coach knew it.

The Seahawks didn't need multiple kickoff returns for a touchdown, as the case was against San Diego in Week 3. They didn't feast on the youngest starting offense in the league, as the Qwest Field crowd had helped them do during the opener against San Francisco.

This time, the Seahawks actually gave up a special-teams touchdown and still managed to close out the game with three Hasselbeck kneel-down plays. They dominated.

"This is not something we have done," Hasselbeck said. "We haven't gone on the road, played the early game and had emotion and had the passion and energy, those kinds of things. We just haven't done it."

They have now.

What does it mean? Let's hit on some of the key revelations:

1. Marshawn Lynch changes this offense.

Lynch, acquired from Buffalo during Seattle's bye week, finished the game with a 2.6-yard average and a long run of 12 yards. He was also arguably the MVP on offense for Seattle.

Lynch broke tackles to turn potential big losses into runs for no gain. He ran hard and provided the offense with a physical presence that had been lacking. He scored on a 1-yard run.

"Marshawn Lynch, you could feel him playing," Carroll said.

Lynch started the game and carried 17 times, all on first or second down and with all but one play featuring two backs or two-plus tight ends (the rushing touchdown came with three tight ends on the field).

The role Lynch played allowed Forsett to flourish operating mostly from three-receiver packages. Once Seattle established Lynch as the power back, Forsett gashed the Bears while running from passing looks. Forsett scored on a third-and-goal play from the Chicago 9-yard line, the type of play Seattle has struggled to convert in that manner since its best years under Mike Holmgren.

The Lynch-Forsett changeup kept the Bears off balance.

"It's been rough on me the past two years," Lynch said, "but to come over here in my first game out and get a win and get into the end zone and have a great performance from those guys up front, that is something I feel I can build on."

Seattle's offensive line, finally near full strength with rookie Russell Okung playing a full game at left tackle, seemed to respond to the possibilities Lynch brought to the offense. It helped Seattle enjoy a 111-61 yardage advantage on the ground.

2. Hasselbeck isn't playing his way out of the lineup.

Matt Hasselbeck
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck avoided a interception Sunday for the first time in eight games.
This marked the quarterback's first game without an interception since Week 13 last season, a span of eight games.

Coming off a bye, Hasselbeck finally felt comfortable enough with the offense -- Carroll's vision of it and the available personnel -- to push the tempo. Hasselbeck hasn't been the aggressor much this season. He's forced some passes, resulting in interceptions. He's held the ball other times, as if afraid to make another mistake.

Hasselbeck played freely for the first time under Carroll.

"Frankly, Marshawn Lynch makes a difference to us and our mentality," Carroll said. "He helps the quarterback understand what we are trying to get done. You can feel it, because you know there is a chance for the running game to be there. ... This can only help Matt as he continues to grow."

Hasselbeck remains without a contract for next season, but more than at any time previously this season, he looked like Carroll's quarterback, not just the current quarterback under Carroll.

"It still can be a lot better," Hasselbeck said, "but it was a good start."

3. A winning record is possible.

The math is simple. A team must win on the road to finish 9-7 or better.

The Seahawks were 0-2 away from home before Sunday and their 20-3 defeat at St. Louis made an 0-8 road record seem plausible.

Seattle's next road game falls Oct. 31 at Oakland. The Seahawks have to like their chances on the road much better after this performance.

4. Manufacturing a pass rush can be good enough.

Carroll, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and staff watched the New York Giants sack Bears quarterback Jay Cutler almost at will two weeks ago. They knew their own personnel would not necessarily enjoy one-on-one mismatches, so they had to get creative.

Safeties Jordan Babineaux and Lawyer Milloy sacked Cutler. So did cornerback Roy Lewis.

The strong run defense helped force Chicago into third-and-7 or longer eight times. Seattle had four sacks on third down.

Lewis appeared incredulous when I informed him of the third-down shutout.

"Hey, Babs, you hear this?" Lewis said to Babineaux upon learning the news.

Lewis let out a scream.

"I didn't know that," Lewis said. "Somebody never should have told me that."

Lewis then relayed the news to linebacker Aaron Curry on the other side of the room.

They had every reason to celebrate. Seattle's two previous road opponents this season converted 21 of 36 times on third down.

5. The Deion Branch trade never came up afterward.

Seattle shipped Branch to New England for a 2011 fourth-round choice, then challenged fellow receiver Mike Williams to pick up his play. Williams responded with 10 receptions for 123 yards. His size gave the Bears problems.

Williams' signing during the offseason generated more laughs and shrugs than knowing nods. Even the Seahawks had no idea what they were getting. They made no promises to Williams.

When does a first-round draft bust shed his "bust" status? Williams is getting to that point.

Hasselbeck targeted Williams four times on third down. Williams gained first downs every time, catching passes for 16, 12, 8 and 7 yards. No wonder Carroll seemed so buoyant afterward.

"This is a big deal and we are thrilled to have gotten it done," he said.