FOXBOROUGH — Opponents often view the Seattle Seahawks as a barometer. They look at how fast the Seahawks play. They look at how tough the Seahawks play. They try to match it. Games against the Seahawks just seem faster, tougher — more wicked.
Seattle was at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night. It is not a place for one-sided eyeballing. The New England Patriots had already toppled Seattle in their last meeting, Super Bowl 49. New England is royalty at home, with a 112-21 record overall in Gillette Stadium before kickoff (an .842 winning percentage). The Patriots, too, are faster, tougher, and more wicked -- especially in their home stadium.
There were seven lead changes. There were a combined 805 total yards gained.
In the end -– just like in their Super Bowl affair 21 months ago -– it hinged on 1 yard. Last time, the Seattle offense didn’t get that yard. This time, the New England offense didn’t get it.
No, said Seattle coach Pete Carroll, this Seattle 31-24 victory had nothing to do with that Super Bowl loss, despite the symmetry, despite the Seahawks’ enduring despair. No, said Seattle receiver Jermaine Kearse, no way, no how. Repeatedly, the Seahawks kept denying it. That was then. This is now. That was their mantra.
But Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin stepped forward: "You know, it’s kind of ironic to have the ball on the 1-yard line and an opportunity to win it. Fortunately enough, the ball rolled our way this time.’’
And Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner forced clarity: "It’s not really the same thing -- it could never be because they walked away the last time with something we really wanted. The value of the game is so different. What it means the most for us is we have a lot of young guys who haven’t been in this type of situation against a team like this. This is huge confidence for them. It should be for all of us. It’s something we can use to build on.’’
And if it provides a sliver of mental healing, well, that’s OK, too.
Because there is no way the Seahawks can ever forget that Super Bowl, being 1 yard away from victory in the final seconds, 1 yard away from consecutive Super Bowl championships that ended with a Russell Wilson pass that became a Malcolm Butler interception. Over the last 21 months for Seattle, it has been a part of their fabric. It will endure. But now, it has a fresh twist. Nothing equal, just something soothing. A victory in the Patriots’ castle by a similar, cruel order.
New England drove in the final seconds to the Seattle 1-yard line. But a fourth-down pass sailed high and out of the end zone from quarterback Tom Brady that was meant for tight end Rob Gronkowski who was covered by safety Kam Chancellor.
"A great player throwing to a great player and a great guy covering,’’ Carroll said. "So, it was a great matchup.’’
Seattle says their final play in practice last Friday was a pass to the end zone to their tight end with Chancellor in coverage where he broke up the play. The defense celebrated. The defense won on the play in practice. The defense won on the play in the actual game.
There is nothing soft about either of these teams. This game makes both teams harder.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick kept talking about how "highly competitive’’ it was and about how much the Seahawks "compete’’ and how the Brady-Gronkowski-Chancellor tango "was a really competitive play.’’
Belichick added: "Every play is competitive. There are no plays off. They’re tough.’’
Seattle is 6-2-1. New England is 7-2.
Belichick calls the Seahawks tough, but Carroll speaks of the "dog’’ in his team. Carroll does not always go there. He did after this game because he believes his team is ready to scrap at a special level. Winning at New England in this manner fosters that.
"I think our guys are really ready to push to see how far we can take this season,’’ Carroll said. "We have been through so many games in the last month that we have been on the field for 80 plays, 90 plays, that our guys, it’s no big deal anymore. They are dogs and they don’t mind anymore, it doesn’t matter. It’s making them stronger. This game will make them stronger.’’
They can become a serious NFC threat and beyond if rookie running back C.J. Prosise continues to blossom. He has been nursing a hand and other injuries all season. He surfaced tonight to rush 17 times for 66 yards. He was targeted seven times and caught all seven passes for 87 yards, including a 38-yard grab down the sideline where he was roughly tackled but held on.
Carroll has been waiting for Prosise. He has been searching for an answer in the running game to balance the Seahawks.
This rookie says he is that answer.
"I got the opportunity I’ve been waiting for and my mind was right,’’ Prosise said. "I got the matchups tonight I was looking for and I’m all about winning matchups. Let’s not make it more than what it is. I love the game. I can do a lot of things in it. And I’m always going to bring the wood. This was just my start here and for this team.’’
Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was surprised.
"C.J. came in and it was so unexpected to see him ball up like that,’’ Thomas said. "I think this is what it is all about, it is growth.’’
Carroll was not surprised.
"Yeah, isn’t he something?’’ Carroll said of Prosise, who is from Notre Dame. "We’ve just been pumped up about him the whole time. We fell in love with him during the draft process and then we just haven’t had him, he just hasn’t been able to practice. But he is a dog, too. He was tough tonight.’’
There’s that word again. The "dog’’ surfacing in the Seahawks.
Wilson (348 passing yards, three touchdowns, a 124.6 passer rating) is getting healthier. The defense (Brady threw no touchdowns, was intercepted once, and produced a 90.1 passer rating) helped lead Seattle to a 2-0 turnover edge. Prosise ignited.
Baldwin, who caught all three Seattle touchdown passes, described the team’s locker room afterward as ‘’a phenomenal, emotional feeling.’’
"Right now,’’ said Thomas, "we’re feeling like anything is possible.’’