RENTON, Wash. — There was an understanding why the Seattle Seahawks were being questioned after two lackluster performances.
The response was a resounding argument why they are 9-1 and the best team in the NFC.
Seattle’s 33-10 rout of Atlanta on Sunday was exactly what Pete Carroll was looking for from his team.
The Seahawks featured a dynamic offense led by Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch and an improved defensive effort after two straight weeks of struggling to stop the run.
The Seahawks won their fifth game of the season on the road — matching the franchise record for most road wins in one season — and did it without five expected starters that all could be back this week against Minnesota.
“We’ve got more games we have to win and we have a lot of work to finish it out,” Carroll said. “We have a chance to do something special in this division, we need to take advantage of every opportunity and win every game going down the stretch.”
Offensively, the Seahawks found their most effective mix of run and pass this season thanks to improved play from the offensive line. Lynch finished with 145 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Wilson threw for 287 yards and two scores.
Most importantly, Wilson was sacked only once — his own fault for holding the ball too long — and was hit just three times after getting beat up the previous two weeks against St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
On the defensive side, Seattle had given up at least 200 yards rushing to St. Louis and Tampa Bay, the first time the Seahawks allowed that to happen in consecutive weeks since 2002.
There was a recommitment to stopping the run and it was evident from the start. Steven Jackson finished with 11 yards on nine carries and Atlanta ran the ball only 16 times for 64 yards.
Having won five straight, the Seahawks may be fully stocked for the first time this season heading into the final stretch.
Offensive linemen Max Unger, Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, defensive end Red Bryant and wide receiver Percy Harvin all could be back this week.
Unger and Bryant still need to be cleared after they suffered concussions against Tampa Bay, while Okung and Giacomini started practicing last week with an eye on returning against the Vikings.
A luxury of being 9-1 — the Seahawks are in no position in having to rush any of the five back this week if there is the slightest hesitation they are not ready to go.
With the bye week following Sunday’s game, Seattle could easily give all five another two weeks of rest before a looming Monday night showdown at home against New Orleans on Dec. 2 that could be a determining factor in who gets home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
“It’s two weeks that we could buy. We have that in mind,” Carroll said. “We haven’t rushed in any of these decisions and we’re not going to start rushing them now.
“We’re going to take the information and evaluate each guy and figure out what it means, knowing that we’re OK. We’re OK where we are, so we’re not pressed into making a decision hastily.”
Harvin’s debut will be the biggest question. He returned to practice on Oct. 21 and has been mostly limited to individual workouts since after developing soreness to the point the team had an MRI to make sure he was healing correctly.
Carroll said it will be important for Harvin to make it through every practice this week to prove he’s ready to get back on the field.
Facing his former team surely might help the motivation for Harvin.
“He just has to practice every day and show that what he’s done in the rehab has paid off and that he can sustain through each day,” Carroll said. “It’s really the next day that we always look at. ... We’ll just see how it goes. To us it’s not a pressure decision.”
The only troubling news to come out of the blowout over Atlanta was a groin injury suffered by cornerback Brandon Browner.
Carroll said it was a “substantial” injury and the team won’t know how long Browner will be out until later in the week.
Browner’s injury would be a blow to Seattle’s defense, but comes at a position where the Seahawks are among their deepest. Walter Thurmond will likely step in for Browner, while Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane — both of whom have significant playing time in their first two seasons — will each see more action.
“We’re in good shape at the position,” Carroll said. “If we’re going to miss Brandon, it’s going to be significant because he’s a terrific player for us, but we do have really capable guys to step in.”