SEATTLE — It was, said Bobby Wagner, an ugly win by the Seahawks — a frank assessment for which wide receiver Tyler Lockett had a slightly franker amendment.
“It was a very ugly win,’’ Lockett said, and then smiled.
“But if we can win playing like that, then imagine what we can do while playing at our best.”
The game was a Rorschach test, of sorts, this 21-20 Seattle triumph over Cincinnati at Century Link Field that hung in the balance all afternoon, and was not locked up until the final seconds.
Should your primary takeaway be the win, or the ugly?
There was plenty of the latter; more than you’d expect against a team purported to be a bottom-dweller in the league.
Perhaps the Bengals are on an upswing under first-year coach Zac Taylor, whose first game plan as the head man was clever, surprising and, for a bit, knocked the Seahawks on their heels.
“We were battling with ourselves today,’’ said quarterback Russell Wilson.
And it wasn’t always clear how that battle was going to turn out. A shocking upset by the Bengals loomed all afternoon, all the way until Rasheem Green forced an Andy Dalton fumble that was recovered by Tre Flowers with nine seconds left in the game.
“It wasn’t the game I hoped it would be,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll admitted.
The protection for Wilson was often porous; he was sacked four times and had to use every bit of his guile to avoid more. The running game that is the Seahawks’ foundation sputtered much of the night, totaling just 75 yards. Carroll noted afterward that they were “not in command of the sticks” which is coach speak for the fact that the Seahawks found themselves in too many third-and-longs. All of that burned at offensive line stalwart Duane Brown.
“We’re not happy about the overall performance,’’ he said. “We’re definitely happy about a win. A win is always good, and it’s always better to build off a win. But the standard we set for ourselves, the standard I set up front, we didn’t meet that today.”
On defense, the Seahawks completely stifled Cincinnati’s run attack. But the flip side was that Dalton, using a quick-striking screen game to maximum effect, carved them up for 418 yards and two touchdowns.
At one point, it looked like Dalton had a shot at Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 record of 456 passing yards by a Seahawks opponent. Most galling was a flea-flicker to former Husky star John Ross for a 33-yard touchdown, and a 55-yard touchdown to Ross with just seven seconds left in the first half. On that one, as the ball floated toward Ross, Seattle safety Tedric Thompson seemed in position to intercept. Somehow, it eluded his grasp and found Ross’s, the sort of ill-timed chunk play that can crush dreams.
“I’ll take T2 nine times out of 10 on that,’’ countered Wagner. “He’ll make that play next time.”
Not surprisingly, that was the Seahawks’ consensus: That it was a beautiful thing to have so many teachable moments in a victory. No doubt the fact that so many key players barely played in exhibition games was a factor in some of the breakdowns, but Brown said flatly, “The preseason is not an excuse. We have to be able to come out and play to a certain level.”
That level will have to be elevated next week in a tough environment on the road against Roethlisberger and the Steelers, and the following week against Drew Brees and the Saints, and beyond.
And there certainly is hope for that; the defensive line in Jadeveon Clowney’s debut showed signs of dominance. With “a lot of eyes on Clowney,’’ as Wagner put it, Quinton Jefferson on the other side was the beneficiary with the game of his career.
“I love it. It’s going to be fun,’’ beamed Jefferson. “We’re going to play well off each other. He’s going to get his, too. And we still have Ziggy (Ansah) who hasn’t suited up yet.”
Clowney, meanwhile, was disruptive even in a game he said was more or less a refresher course after a preseason holdout.
“This is knocking the rust off,’’ he said. “I haven’t played in eight or nine months. To get my hands on someone else besides my teammates and have live football plays is great. I expect myself to be a lot better next week.”
That sentiment applied en masse. So the answer in the Seahawks locker room was definitive: The victory trumped the ugliness. Wilson, who was his usual coolly efficient self (a 134.6 QB rating) said the Seahawks are a team that has acquired total belief in its resiliency.
“Guys like me, K.J. (Wright), Bobby — we’ve been in the game a long time,’’ he said. “If things don’t go the way we want, there’s no time to panic, no time to worry. To me as a quarterback, that’s the amnesia you have to have.”
The Seahawks’ goal, thus, is to black out the ugliness as they work at fixing the breakdowns.
“The big plays they were having, that’s on us,’’ said veteran safety Bradley McDougald. “It’s not like they out-schemed us. We are the type of men on defense, we see something we messed up on, we correct it the next day.”
The Seahawks will also dwell on the electric potential of players like rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, who flashed his potential with four catches for 89 yards — a “freak” in the words of running back Chris Carson, “who is going to make freakish plays like that all the time.”
“It just shows how good we can be,’’ Carson added. “We didn’t start fast; we didn’t finish strong, either, on the offensive side. But we still came out with a win.”
Ugly as it was, for the Seahawks that was a beautiful thing.