By Danny O'Neil
Three things we learned and three things we're still trying to figure out after the Seahawks improved to 8-1 with a 27-24 overtime victory over the winless Buccaneers at CenturyLink Field.
Three things we learned:
1. The Seahawks' run defense is in a midseason slump. Again.
A week ago it was almost inexplicable that the Rams – who entered Week 8 ranked No. 29 in the league in rushing – gained 200 yards on the ground.
Well, the Buccaneers came to town and rushed for 205 yards. It's the first time in 11 years that Seattle has allowed 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games, and it's reminiscent of last season when the Seahawks' run defense went from being the team's strength through the first six games to a vulnerability beginning in the second half of a Week 7 loss at San Francisco.
So, coach, any similarities between this two-week slide in run defense and what we saw last year?
"I can't remember what our excuses were for that happening last year," coach Pete Carroll said. "We got to get right. This isn't the way we want to go."
2. There's no doubt about Seattle's offensive identity this week.
It was evident when the game started, Marshawn Lynch touching the ball on each of the first four plays with three rushes and a screen pass. It was just as evident at the end, too, when Lynch rushed on six of the eight plays that put Seattle in position for the game-winning field goal in overtime.
Lynch rushed for 44 yards in overtime, and finished with a season-high 125 yards. It would have been even more had Lynch not been forced to sit out Seattle's second offensive series of the game because of sickness.
3. The Seahawks are getting better at cutting it close.
Seattle is 3-0 in overtime games with Russell Wilson at quarterback, just one sign of the Seahawks' improvement in close games.
In 2011, the Seahawks were 2-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer. They were 5-5 in those games that were decided by a touchdown last season. Sunday's victory improved Seattle to 5-1 in such games this year.
"I definitely believe we have got a lot better in terms of those close-game situations," Wilson said. "You have to rise up to the occasion. You can't be timid in those big-time situations."
No chance of that Sunday as the Seahawks were aggressive on offense, gaining 415 yards and punting only twice all game.
Three things we're still trying to figure out:
1. Why won't Seattle give it to Marshawn Lynch at the goal line?
First, it was third-string tight end Kellen Davis who caught a touchdown pass instead of Seattle handing it to Lynch after he had a touchdown run overturned on replay review in Arizona. Last week in St. Louis, receiver Golden Tate was on the receiving end of a 2-yard touchdown after two straight option keepers from St. Louis' 1-yard line.
This time, it was an opponent – defensive back Keith Tandy of Tampa Bay – who caught a pass Wilson threw toward the end zone on first-and-goal in the fourth quarter.
Enough is enough: Seattle has one of the league's most rugged running backs. Give it to him near the goal line. Please.
2. How did Russell Wilson avoid being sacked by Tampa Bay?
It's both the most misleading statistic from Sunday's game, and the most amazing. Despite being under siege once again – and taking a number of licks just after releasing the ball – Wilson avoided being sacked, and he also did not fumble in the game.
Wilson was intercepted twice, both coming when the Seahawks had the ball in scoring position, and the fact that didn't trigger Carroll's turnover allergy spoke to how well Wilson played.
"He's playing great football," Carroll said.
And he hasn't been any better than he was in the second half and overtime.
3. Are opponents getting up for the Seahawks or is Seattle playing down to the competition?
Those possibilities seem equally viable as none of the Seahawks' past four opponents currently hold a winning record yet three of those four games have been decided by five points or fewer.
No one should be all that shocked that Seattle's games have been so competitive. This is the NFL, after all, a league where the Jets lost by 40 points to the Bengals last week and then came back and beat the Saints this week and where the one-win Vikings gave Dallas all it can handle on Sunday.
At the same time, it's hard to understand how Seattle fell behind by 21 points at home against a Tampa Bay team that has now lost 13 of its past 14 games.