Opinion: Despite ugly outcome, Seahawks show they might be top NFL contenders

PHILADELPHIA – Sometimes you can wind up smelling first place in the darnedest ways.

Look at the Seattle Seahawks. They won again on Sunday, without a signature performance from Russell Wilson and without a single snap from Jadeveon Clowney. They squandered opportunities early that might have set the table for a blowout, flirting with potential disaster in a one-possession game.

They won ugly. But they won again.

The 17-9 victory against the injury-stung Eagles didn’t exactly scream “first place,” but that’s exactly what was in reach for the Seahawks (9-2) as they left soggy Lincoln Financial Field with their fourth consecutive win. And if the 49ers stumble against the Packers on Sunday night …

Look who would be in a tie for the top record in the NFC.

Never mind that they came out on top in a game where the teams combined for seven turnovers – somebody had to take the ball away, too, which the Seattle defense did five times – and until Rashaad Penny went 58 yards with a run to pay dirt it was anybody’s game.

It was pretty enough.

This bottom-line result is what figured to make the cross-country flight home so enjoyable.

But there was one snag. The Seahawks wouldn’t get a chance to watch the Sunday night game to see whether they climbed into first place in the divi (owning a tiebreaker edge over the 49ers) because there is no Wi-Fi on the planes the team uses for their chartered flights.

Or, as Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright expressed, “No freaking Wi-Fi.”

Still, Wright knew it would be a good flight, nonetheless, and something this team has become used to. The triumph on Sunday was their sixth road win, matching the franchise’s single-season record.

As for the first place, possibility, Wright has it in the right context.

“It’s a long season,” Wright told USA TODAY Sports. “We’re cool.”

In other words, first place now isn’t the same as it would be after Week 17.

The Seahawks, though, demonstrated more layers to such possibilities on Sunday. It says something when a team can scratch out tough victories while not clicking on all cylinders. The Seahawks are good enough for that.

Usually, these outcomes for Seattle hinge on Wilson pulling out some magic – he entered the game as the NFL’s top-rated passer, yet the highlights of his most difficult throws are even better than that – or otherwise setting the tone.

Yet this time, Wilson had one of his least-efficient games of the season, pestered by an Eagles defense that is improving as healthy veteran bodies return. There was a 33-yard touchdown pass that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll aptly described as “exquisite” – Wilson caught a throwback pass from running back Chris Carson and launched a dime into a stiff wind that Malik Turner hauled in with over-the-shoulder finish – but the typical rhythm was missing. There were two missed connections with rookie DK Metcalf – one of which was clearly on the receiver – that killed drives. He was credited with fumble on a muffed handoff exchange with Carson. He was sacked six times. And he overthrew a wide-open Jacob Hollister for what looked to be a short, easy TD lob.

“You know, sometimes you miss a layup,” Wilson said. “That was like that. I can’t even explain it. But what I know is that 99 out of 100 we are going to hit those.”

The Seahawks defense made up for all of that. Without Clowney, Ziggy Ansah had his best game of the season (1 ½ sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits, 1 forced fumble) to help keep Carson Wentz under siege while taking advantage of an injury-thinned offensive line. Active was the word of the day for the unit, and it was as evident on the back end as it was up front.

“Russell has been phenomenal,” said Wright, who had a team-high 12 tackles. “He’s bailed us out of a lot of games. This day, the defense really stepped up. So we’ve got to keep complementing each other.”

That’s where the growth can come with this team. Carroll not only gushed about the pass rush without Clowney, but he raved about Penny, the first-round pick from 2018 who comes off the bench behind Carson but had the best game of his career. Penny tallied 129 of the Seahawks’ 174 rushing yards.

The Seahawks are a work in progress with significant upside. They’ve already proven that they can win the close ones, with seven of their victories this season coming by seven point or less. Yet they added a layer in surviving on a day when Wilson didn’t have to be magical. That’s the mark of a resourceful team: being able to find a way to win despite the circumstances.

That might not only get you first place, but it makes you extremely dangerous in January.

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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