Down two scores late in the first quarter with 35 players competing in their first NFL playoff game, the Seattle Seahawks could have panicked.
Instead, they exhaled.
The Seahawks buckled down defensively against Washington’s explosive offense, led by hobbled rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
And Seattle’s offense got on track, scoring 24 straight points to lead the Seahawks to a 24-14 NFC wild-card victory over Washington at FedEx Field Sunday evening.
The victory marked Seattle’s first playoff road win in nearly 30 years. The Seahawks’ last win away from Seattle took place on Dec. 31, 1983, a 27-20 victory at Miami in the AFC divisional playoffs.
The Seahawks had since lost eight straight before Sunday’s win over the Redskins.
Seattle now travels to Atlanta (13-3) for an NFC divisional playoff contest at 10 a.m. (PST) on Sunday.
“You can’t win this game in the first quarter,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “And we understand that. You’ve just got to keep fighting and plugging away. It’s all about what that score says at the end of the fourth quarter.”
Washington’s up-tempo offense gave Seattle fits to open the game. The Redskins churned out 129 yards in the opening quarter to take a 14-0 lead.
Griffin completed a 4-yard pass to running back Evan Royster to cap a nine-play, 80-yard opening drive.
And, after a Seattle three-and-out, the Redskins marched right down the field again. This time, Griffin found tight end Logan Paulsen for another 4-yard score.
“The speed of the game was way ahead of us,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We had practiced and tried to get everything right in looking for the tempo. Anything could happen, and it surely did.”
But the Seahawks caught a break. Griffin came into the game nursing a sprained right knee, wearing a bulky brace to provide stability. In the first quarter, Griffin appeared to re-injure his knee on a scramble near the goal line, falling out of bounds while throwing an incomplete pass intended for Pierre Garon.
His injury apparently was made worse two plays later when Seattle defensive end Bruce Irvin spun him to the ground on a late hit after Griffin’s second touchdown pass.
Then the early game adrenalin started to fade for Washington. Seattle’s defense held the Redskins to 74 total yards and no points for the final three quarters.
Griffin’s gimpy knee gave out with 6:19 remaining, when his knee buckled while he tried to pick up a bad snap. Seattle defensive tackle Clinton McDonald recovered the fumble on Washington’s 5-yard line.
Washington’s training staff attended to Griffin. He walked off on his own, but did not return to the game. Griffin finished with meager passing numbers: 10 of 19 for 84 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
“I think that’s a credit to us for attacking him,” Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner said. “That was us. I take my hat off to our D-line for getting after him. He hasn’t been playing at 100 percent because of the knee for the last three of four weeks. So we wanted to attack him as much as possible.”
While Washington’s offense sputtered, the Seahawks finally got into a rhythm offensively.
Seattle cut Washington’s lead to 14-3 on on Steven Hauschka’s 32-yard field goal in the second quarter.
After forcing Washington to punt for the first time, Russell Wilson drove the Seahawks 73 yards on eight plays, completing a 4-yard pass in the flat to Robinson for a touchdown, cutting the Redskins’ lead to 14-10.
In total, Wilson completed 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards, and rushed for another 67 yards.
Seattle got the ball back when Earl Thomas intercepted a deep pass by Griffin intended for Garon. The interception was Thomas’ fourth of the season.
After a 63-yard drive, Hauschka closed out the first-half scoring with a 29-yard field goal.
The Seahawks got the ball to open the second half and were in position to take the lead, but Marshawn Lynch fumbled while diving into the pile at Washington’s 2, and Redskins defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins recovered the fumble.
Lynch pounded the turf with his fist after losing the ball.
The fumble was Lynch’s sixth of the season, three of which he lost.
“He’s too tough to let something like that bother him,” Carroll said.
Lynch made up for the crucial error in the fourth quarter, putting the Seahawks up for good on a trademark, 27-yard rumble down the right sideline, bulling his way into the end zone when Wilson threw a lead block.
Lynch finished with 132 yards on 20 carries, reaching the 100-yard mark for the 11th time this season.
The Seahawks went for a two-point conversion, and Wilson dumped the ball to tight end Zach Miller in the middle of the field for the points.
Hauschka, who suffered a calf injury in the first half and was limited to kicking field goals and extra points – but not kickoffs – completed the scoring with a 22-yard field goal.
With the win behind him, Seattle now turns its focus towards the NFC South champion Falcons.
“It says we’re resilient – battle tested,” Robinson said, when asked what the come-from-behind victory means for his team. “I know coming in at halftime, we knew we took their best punch. And it’s all about just going out and doing what we do, but do it better and do it longer. And that was the motto this week.”Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 Eric.williams@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams