It was hard to imagine the Seahawks’ retro helmets could be an even bigger hit than they’d already been through the first 58 minutes of Sunday’s game, gleaming throughout in the sunlight of about as beautiful of a fall Seattle day as possible.
But when it counted most, they delivered the biggest hit of all, Jamal Adams lowering his helmet as he rushed in on Cleveland quarterback P.J. Walker to deflect a third-down pass that was intercepted by teammate Julian Love at the Cleveland 43-yard line with 1:57 left.
And given unexpected hope, a Seattle offense that had done nothing but wilt for most of the previous three quarters suddenly sprang to life, Geno Smith completing four quick passes to move the team 57 yards, the final 9 coming on a catch and run by rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba to give the Seahawks the winning touchdown in a 24-20 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
And when time finally ran out, not only had Seattle improved to 5-2 with its fifth win in its last six games but it had moved into first place in the NFC West ahead of the slumping 49ers, who lost their third in a row, against the Bengals, to fall to 5-3.
“Halfway through, we’re in pretty good shape,” Carroll said. “That’s good.”
It looked great for a while Sunday as the Seahawks — for the first time wearing uniforms reminiscent of the team’s 1976-2001 era — jumped out to leads of 14-0 and 17-7 in the first quarter as Smith threw for 136 yards.
But then the offense stalled — five punts and two interceptions over its next seven possessions — while the defense bent just enough to give up the lead.
When Cleveland, clinging to a 20-17 lead, got a first down on a Riq Woolen illegal-use-of-hands penalty on a third-down play with 3:30 left, the uniforms seemed like the only thing that would be worth remembering about this day.
But the defense forced another third down — this one a third-and-three — at the Cleveland 41. As the clock wound down to 2:04, the Browns called time.
Many of the Seahawks figured the Browns, who rushed for 155 yards — the most against Seattle this year — would stick to the run.
“Their identity is kind of ground-and-pound football,” Love said.
But maybe in part because the clock was going to stop anyway at the two-minute warning, the Browns decided to try to catch the Seahawks off guard with a quick slant pass from Walker to Amari Cooper.
The Seahawks decided to be aggressive as well, sending Adams on a blitz over the left side.
“Had to make something happen,” Adams said.
Adams said when the right guard pulled, “I jumped as high as I could.”
At the last minute, he also tried to throw his arms in the air. As he did, he ducked his helmet. Walker threw, and the ball found the crown of Adams’ silver helmet, then flew far in the air.
Adams said he didn’t try to intentionally hit the ball with his helmet.
“Just tried to put my hands up,” he said. “Just went right off my helmet.” Adams called it later a “Messi” play, a reference to famed soccer player Lionel Messi. Love preferred another soccer great.
“He was like prime [Cristiano] Ronaldo right there,” Love said. “That play is all a credit to ‘Mal. The way he plays, the passion, the energy, the physicality. If he’s not pressuring the way he is, that play never happens, and who knows what happens at the end of the game.”
Love said he didn’t see the ball when it was first deflected but was able to eventually track it down and make his first interception as a Seahawk.
“Oh my gosh, that was in the air for forever,” Love said. “I was wondering, initially, how that got up there. That usually is not the rebound off a hand.”
Walker took the blame, saying he should have thrown the ball elsewhere.
“We thought it was a good call, and we just had options and they just made a great play as a defense,” he said. “ … They blitzed the nickel. The inside, we were throwing double slants to the field. Just trying to put the ball on Coop, let him fall for the first down. Got tipped in the air. That’s just out of our control for that one.”
Asked if he was surprised to see the Browns pass, Love said: “A little bit, especially that pass concept. … I think it was slant, then flat, then slant flat to the boundary as well. Unusual, and it definitely was a changeup.”
Still, there was the matter of a Seattle offense that had gotten just five first downs in the preceding 45 minutes needing to move the ball at least enough to attempt a tying field goal.
As the offense took the field, receiver Tyler Lockett, who caught a Smith TD pass in the first quarter, delivered a little pep talk.
“The biggest thing was telling everybody to breathe,” he said. “Telling everybody to relax because I think we had about three three-and-outs in a row. Sometimes you can find yourself pressing, trying to be able to get out of the element mentally because it’s just like, ‘Bro, what’s going on? Like, we got to figure this out.’ So, it’s just making sure we reel everybody back.”
Lockett caught the first pass of the drive for 7 yards to the 50, and the Seahawks were off. Smith then hit DK Metcalf for 9, then tossed one to tight end Noah Fant, who rumbled down the Cleveland sideline 27 yards to the 9.
After an incompletion, the Seahawks called a run-pass option play — meaning, Smith can hand it off or throw it. Smith saw the Browns blitzing from the edge and threw quickly to Smith-Njigba in the flat where there were only two Cleveland defenders. Metcalf stayed in front of Cleveland cornerback Martin Emerson, and Smith-Njigba maneuvered to the sideline and into the end zone.
“They blitzed the slots,” Smith said. “Jaxon has an adjustment on his route, which he did a great job seeing that. Was able to get the ball out to him in space.”
Carroll reserved as much of the praise for the play to Metcalf as Smith-Njigba.
“The touchdown play to win the game was a fantastic block by DK,” Carroll said. “Clean. The guy [official] was looking right at him. That’s the call [penalty] they make sometimes. I thought he did it perfectly.”
All that was left was four futile plays by the Browns.
“At the end of the day, we’re 5-2 with 10 games left,” said safety Quandre Diggs. “We’re enjoying the moment. It was good, though, because at the end of the day after we lost the Rams game [in the season opener] the whole world was bothered by it. So for us to come out and rebound, play like we have and continue to get better, it’s dope.”
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