During a Week 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks' offense got off to a horrendous start with three punts and a safety on its first four possessions.
Running back Marshawn Lynch, who is normally not the person to rally the team in-game, had seen enough.
"We had gone a couple three-and-outs. We weren’t doing anything offensively. We were turning the ball over," wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "And Marshawn pulled us all together on the sidelines. It was the first time he’d done this in public, and he told us that we looked real unfamiliar, that he doesn’t recognize this offense. He doesn’t recognize the players. And so that really bothered me."
Baldwin knew Lynch was right, and in the days after the loss, he went back and watched the Seahawks' NFC Championship Game from three years ago. Before the next week's game against the San Francisco 49ers, it was his turn to address the team.
"I said we do look very unfamiliar," Baldwin explained. "And it’s no different. We’ve got the same guys in the room. We’ve got guys like Jimmy Graham who’s supposed to come in and make us better. Why are we looking so unfamiliar? There’s some other things I said that I can’t repeat, but it was mostly just us getting back to playing Seahawks football and having fun so we could look familiar again."
It's been only a two-game stretch, but there are signs that the Seahawks' offense is finding itself as the team attempts to make a run to the postseason. Russell Wilson is 45-for-59 for 605 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions the past two weeks. Thomas Rawls has piled up 290 yards and averaged 5.69 YPC. The offensive line is playing better than it has all season.
And then there's Baldwin. His 339 yards in the past three weeks are more than any other receiver in the NFL. He's on pace for career highs in catches and yards and has already set a new personal best with six touchdowns.
Asked what Baldwin is doing better than he ever has before, coach Pete Carroll said, "He’s just so confident that he knows he can get open, he knows he can make his plays. I think he’s been connected with Russell for so long that he knows where the ball’s going to come to him and the concepts that we throw."
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baldwin had six catches for 145 yards and three scores. The 80-yard touchdown that essentially sealed the win is a good example of what Carroll is talking about. Baldwin identified man coverage right away, ran a crossing route, broke a tackle and delivered a stiff-arm on his way to the end zone.
"I just kept shaking my head yes, like ‘Russ, give me a chance,' " Baldwin said. "And he did. Threw the ball a little early. It caught me. But he gave me a chance, and I was able to make something happen with it."
Added Carroll, "He didn’t see it until the ball was at least halfway there. But expecting that, he knew he was open. He knew he should be the read. It was just phenomenal anticipation of that last moment he made a catch. I thought it was a great catch. I think that’s part of the connection that they have."
Playing wide receiver in the Seahawks' system is not often glorious. It's been a run-first offense, and much of the passing game has been predicated on scramble plays where Wilson improvises, along with the receivers.
But Wilson appears to be making progress as a pocket passer. And that's good news for Baldwin, who has gotten open consistently this year, even if the ball hasn't always come his way.
Debate about the Seahawks' identity will carry on in the coming weeks. The defense has not performed as well as it has in previous years. Graham is out for the year, and the team does not have a definitive date on when Lynch might return. On Sunday, the Seahawks showed they could win a shootout, and the passing attack looked better than it has all season.
"I think this is the first time in four or five years that when the opposing offense has scored more than 24 points, we’ve won," Baldwin said. "I know that’s not a stat that sticks out on a weekly basis, but that’s something that I’ve paid attention to, and us as an offense has paid attention to. We wanted to do better in those situations. We didn’t want to just lean on our defense all the time, so to me it means a lot. And I know to some of the guys in the locker room that it means a lot."