This was a chance for the Seahawks to weigh their reality against their aspirations.
Lose this one against New England and they’re just another of the NFC pretenders.
But win it and they’d be there, back at the top, and everything — absolutely everything — is possible.
By rediscovering their offense and solidifying their defense with a game-saving goal-line stand, the Seahawks beat the Patriots, 31-24, on Sunday night.
Especially since quarterback Tom Brady has been back from his suspension, the Patriots have occupied another realm.
The Seahawks’ Richard Sherman was asked about the quality of this win, seeing as how the Patriots are once again viewed as the league’s gold standard.
“I think we would say we’re the gold standard,” Sherman corrected.
He’s right. The Hawks are now 6-2-1, but with the win over New England (7-2), they should be favored every game the rest of the way.
The Patriots had been so sharp, and the Seahawks had been so inconsistent, New England was considered 7.5-point favorite. One of the computer-generated analysis sites listed the Patriots as having a better than an 80 percent chance to win.
And that was fair, because it’s clear the Seahawks haven’t played at this level all season.
“We’ve had some tough games this year and we’ve battled every one of them,” Sherman said. “We respected the heck out of them, but they’ve got to respect us, too.”
Yes, this win validates the Seahawks’ potential as surely as if stamped by a notary.
It won’t make anybody forget Super Bowl 49, but it seriously changes the tone of the rest of this season.
Although every Seahawk last week claimed this game had nothing to do with the last-minute loss to the Patriots in that Super Bowl, Sherman brought it up afterward.
This time, it was the Seahawks who stopped the Patriots in the final moments on the 1-yard line.
“Ironic … I’d call it ironic,” Sherman said. “It comes down to the 1-yard line and a pass for us to win the game.”
There were so many key moments in this one, even Patriots coach Bill Belichick said it would take a long time to sort through them.
I’ll give you one. It came in the second quarter, when Seattle safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas took on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
While Brady is the finesse and elegance of the Patriots’ offense, Gronkowski is an almost undefendable bully. But on this play, Chancellor made a leaping deflection of the pass while Thomas came up and nailed Gronk in the ribs so hard he had trouble getting off the field.
The pass was incomplete and was statistically insignificant. But the message was sent: The Legion of Boom lives.
From start to finish, this felt like a championship game, with battles within the game at any number of levels.
Belichick vs. Seattle’s Pete Carroll. Somehow, Carroll got the Hawks ready to play the Patriots on the road after a Monday night game while Belichick had a full bye week to devise his plans.
And then there were Brady and Russell Wilson, unflappable quarterbacks from different generations.
Wilson finished with three TD passes and no interceptions, while Brady threw his first interception of the season and no touchdowns after ringing up 12 in the previous four games.
Surprises? The Seahawks may have found another running back to carry them, at least until injured Thomas Rawls returns — and maybe even after that.
Rookie C.J. Prosise, who had been sidelined most of the season with a hand injury, led the Hawks with seven catches for 87 yards, and also in rushing with 66 yards on 17 carries.
The Seahawks have gone eight games without playing anywhere near this well, without displaying any consistent identity. But now they have established a level of expectations.
“This felt great,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “This is the way we play ball. We’re going to keep this going through the rest of the season.”
Surely, there will be no acceptable excuses the rest of the way. Play like this, and the Seahawks can run the table and head into the playoffs at 13-2-1.
Brady predicted last week that this was going to be a great football game. He was dead-on.
And despite the odds, the Seahawks won a thriller.
The meaning is clear. They’re back. There’s nobody they can’t beat.
And while it doesn’t make up for Super Bowl 49, it shows they might get back there for the next one.