Already down 14-0 in the waning moments of the first quarter, the Seahawks faced a 3rd-and-12 from their own 18.
The usually spot-on Wilson did not deliver a good pass.
The ball was thrown at Miller’s feet, and with the 6'5", 255-pound tight end’s momentum taking him away from the ball, the first-down marker still six yards away and defenders quickly closing in, the chances of picking up a first down looked pretty slim.
But just when it seemed as if it would be another three-and-out for the Seahawks, Miller reached down and caught the ball just inches above his shoe, despite his momentum pulling him in the opposite direction. Then, keeping his balance, Miller went full steam ahead for the first-down line, spinning off Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson’s would-be tackle and lunging for just enough to reach the 30-yard-line and give Seattle a—to say the least—much-needed first down.
Without Miller’s extraordinary effort, the Seahawks would’ve once again been punting away to a red-hot Redskins offense looking to extend the lead to 21-zip. Washington had been moving the ball at will against the Seahawks’ defense, totaling 129 yards on their first two drives en route to a quick 14-0 advantage.
Considering the fact that the Seattle defense would’ve been off the field for only a few plays, there wouldn’t have been much reason to expect the result of the next Redskins possession to be much different from their first two.
Instead, Miller’s third-down conversion kept alive what was ultimately a 12-play, 66-yard drive in which Seattle got their offense going and put their first points on the board, a 32-yard field goal by kicker Steven Hauschka.
Perhaps more importantly, though, was the fact that Miller’s first down allowed the Seahawks to chew up more than five minutes off the clock, providing their defense with some much-needed time to settle down, catch their breath and adjust to what the Redskins were doing offensively.
Whatever adjustments Seattle made, they certainly worked.
The Seahawks’ defense pitched a shutout for the remaining three quarters, during which they gave up just a mere 74 yards and never once allowed the Redskins to cross midfield.
There’s no doubt that Miller’s conversion was an enormous play in the game and a major turning point, but it was also a game-defining play for the Seahawks that really epitomized their night. Like Wilson’s highly unusual off-target pass at Miller’s feet that play, the Seahawks did not have their best performance.
The defense was manhandled in the first quarter, putting the team in its largest hole of the season. Out of their six trips to the red zone, the Seattle offense found the end zone just once. The Seahawks fumbled on a read option—they’ve had loads of success with that play and I’m not sure they’ve fumbled off of it all season. Wilson, normally very smart with the ball in the red zone, threw what would have been a sure interception from the Washington nine-yard-line had it not been for a tremendous job of breaking up the pass by Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin. And Wilson, typically pinpoint accurate, later overthrew a wide-open Baldwin for what would’ve been a sure touchdown.
The Seahawks were not playing their best football, but like Miller after the low pass—the six gutsy yards he picked up after the catch to make the first down were a result of downright determination—Seattle battled through it with tremendous perseverance.
The Seahawks were knocked down right off the bat with a hard blow to the face. But, down 14-0 on the road in a playoff game, this young team got right back up. Instead of being fazed, they chiseled into Washington’s lead by scoring on each of their next three possessions and turned things around on the other side of the ball to play dominant defense.
Later on, just as Seattle was about to take the lead after coming back to make it a one-point game, they faced the stinging pain of turning the ball over at the Redskins one-yard-line. But once again they refused give in to the adversity, continuing to play stifling defense and eventually putting together what ended up being the game-winning touchdown drive.
Great teams are resilient and able to still be successful even when they aren’t playing at their best. This was certainly evident with the Seahawks on Sunday night at FedEx Field.
And most definitely so on the Wilson-to-Miller third-down conversion.