October 20, 2014

Rams 28, Seahawks 26

I thought we were done with this. I really did. I thought we were done with sleepwalking through the first halves of 10 am road games. I thought we were over inexplicable lapses in discipline. I thought our leader getting thoroughly out-coached was receding in the rearview mirror. I thought that Seattle getting brazenly robbed by the officials was a thing of the past. Holy shit, was I wrong.

If we hadn't won the Super Bowl eight months ago, yesterday would go down as one of the most painful, embarrassing defeats in Seahawks history. Back-to-back losses to Dallas and St. Louis have born the horrible marks of 2004: Defensive breakdowns, heartbreaking late collapses, and the officiating crew blatantly putting their thumbs on the scale in favor of our foes. No, we didn't lose SOLELY because of the referees, but to ignore their impact upon the outcome would be spectacularly myopic. Ticky-tack calls against us, coupled with multiple no-calls against St. Louis, would be bad enough, but the failure to even REVIEW a clear fumble recovery by Seattle in the dying moments of the game was a travesty of Leavyian proportions.

Of course, it never should have gotten to that point. Seattle statistically dominated the game, but ended up in a desperate position in the final seconds because of the worst special teams performance I've witnessed in 30+ years of Twelving. The Hawks gave up a big kickoff return that set up St. Louis' first TD, and were BADLY fooled twice: Once on an elaborate punt return ruse for another Rams score, and late in the game on a fake punt that all but sealed the win for STL. In both cases, Seattle broke down in ways that should embarrass a high school team, let alone the defending Super Bowl Champions. The only good news here? At least theoretically, these problems are correctable. Hell, last week special teams kept us competitive despite being outplayed by Dallas.

The bigger worries are on defense. Barely eight months after the most dominant defensive performance of all time, the Legion of Boom's explosive yield has plunged from "Thermonuclear" to "Cap gun." The sacks and takeaways that tilted the field in our favor last season have all but vanished. The dominant pass rush that terrorized Peyton Manning in XLVIII couldn't spook Austin Fucking Davis yesterday, and ultimately our depleted linebacker corps and secondary couldn't make a play to give our offense the opportunity to steal a win (Oh, wait! They did. But the special teams allowed a fake-punt conversion and the officials fucked us out of a clear fumble recovery). As key players like Bobby Wagner and Jeremy Lane return from injury the defense should improve, but if there's an easy solution to our pass rushing woes, it's not immediately obvious to me.

We're 3-3 and in 3rd place, laughably below preseason expectations. So why am I feeling relatively optimistic today? Here's a few reasons:

-Russell Carrington Wilson. Our franchise QB damn near won this game single-handedly, only to be betrayed by breakdowns by other units (shades of Detroit, Miami and Atlanta in 2012, huh?). Yesterday Wilson was the first QB to EVER pass for 300 yards and run for 100 in an NFL game. His 52-yard run on 3rd-and-long to set up a 4th-quarter TD will be forever known as the "Fuck it!" run. This team would benefit from the WolfBadger making similarly bold decisions from now on. For all of the other short-term issues we are having right now, we are set at quarterback, and VERY few teams can say that.

-Angry Doug Baldwin. Is anyone going to directly benefit from tossing Percy Harvin overboard more than Doug Baldwin? 89 snagged 7 catches for 123 yards and a TD, and his (non-teammate-punching) passion is something this this team desperately needs right now. Sidebar: I'm still stunned by the Harvin trade. Stunned at how badly PCJS miscalculated. Stunned at how much drama was going on behind the scenes last season. Stunned by how much of a selfish, volatile prick Harvin turned out to be. I respect PCJS for admitting their mistake and moving on, but this whole affair is a ugly stain on their reputations.

-They fought. They didn't surrender when they fell behind 21-3, and they kept scratching and clawing until they final play. They are still talented, and they still care about each other and about winning. Not every fan base is fortunate to have a team like that. In addition, they KNOW they can succeed at the highest level. A MONTH AGO they beat the now-looking-unstoppable-again Broncos. This is not an enfeebled team, just a dazed, staggering contender.

-The schedule. A road trip to Charlotte will be difficult, but in 2012 and 2013 the Hawks got it done away from home against the Panthers. After that come two home games (against the non-exactly impressive Raiders and Giants) and a trip to Kansas City. That's all prologue to a critical 5-day stretch where we face Arizona at home and travel to Santa Clara on Thanksgiving Night. FIVE of Seattle's last six games are in the NFC West. If the Hawks are still in striking distance going into that home game against the Cardinals, they should be healthier and adjusted to Life After Percy. They will also still have a great chance to win the division... But it has to start with a win in Charlotte on Sunday.

Yesterday echoed 2004, but this season's results don't have to be the same. RW3 has gone into Charlotte twice and escaped victorious. Why can't he complete the trilogy this Sunday?

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October 13, 2014

Cowboys 30, Seahawks 23

3rd and 20.

Stop Dallas from converting a 3rd and 20, and you win. You win despite inexplicably giving Marshawn Lynch only 10 paltry carries. You win despite Russell Wilson having perhaps his worst performance yet at Seahawks Stadium. You win despite missing Byron Maxwell and Bobby Wagner on defense for large chunks of the game. You win despite the Legion of Boom appearing startlingly mortal.

The pass rush doesn't quite get to Tony Romo. He throws a perfect pass. Terrance Williams does the best Steve Largent impression I've seen in quite a while, BARELY dragging his toes in bounds. The drive stays alive, and Dallas goes on to score the go-ahead TD.

That's what roils and stings my insides about yesterday's game. We were INCHES away from stealing a win over an NFC contender who largely outplayed us. Yes, there were some questionable calls and non-calls by Bill Leavy and his crew, but Dallas deserved to beat us. Like San Diego a month ago, an opponent delivered their best performance of the season, and even then we had the ball with a chance to win or tie at the end of the game.

My biggest concerns coming out of this one? First, who will play corner opposite Richard Sherman while Byron Maxwell is out with a calf sprain? The secondary, which was the best unit in the NFL last season, now seems dangerously thin (on top of not playing at the same level as last season, even before the injuries started to mount). Second, Bobby Wagner evidently has turf toe, which felled Russell Okung for much of 2013 (Oh, by the way: Okung is playing with a torn labrum). If he's out for an extended period, the defense becomes dangerously vulnerable. The travails of the LOB remind me of that episode of Parks and Recreation where the flu is going around and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) freaks out.. “My body is like a microchip, and flu is like a grain of sand. It could literally shut down my whole system.” Over the next few weeks, we'll see if Seattle's defense can keep processing terabytes of data after being dropped into a sandbox (figuratively).

Falling to 3-2 changes the focus from winning home field advantage to merely winning the NFC West and avoiding the prospect of needing three road playoff wins to reach XLIX. Seattle's deeply odd schedule gives the Hawks a chance to win the West with a late surge (five of our last six games are against divisional foes), and it makes this Sunday's game at St. Louis crucial to keeping pace with the Niners and Cardinals. Realistically, Seattle needs to be 7-3 going into the final month-and-a-half to be in position to take the division. If the Hawks can steal two 10 am road games versus the Rams and Panthers in the coming fortnight, they'll be in great shape going into a brace of home games against the Giants and Raiders.

The next two games will tell us a lot about the Seahawks. I believe that they are fundamentally different from their franchise ancestors, who made a habit of dropping winnable road games with early kickoffs. I believe they will bounce back and start a winning streak, even though they've been caught flat-footed and gotten dictated to by the enemy in two of their last four games. It's worth pointing out that the Chargers and Cowboys might be two of the top 5 teams in the NFL this season, but we're not supposed to cede ground to ANYBODY in this league. To get where we want to be, we might have to beat both of those teams in January/February, and to prevail we'll have to deliver performances far beyond anything we've seen yet during this campaign.

I don't doubt that these Hawks can still play Championship football, but the margin of error is vanishing. St. Louis is a divisional foe, and one that is beatable, even as the Seahawks limp into town half-asleep this Sunday. The 2005 Seahawks started a 10-game winning streak with an October win at the Edward Jones Dome. Why can't the Emerald Empire do likewise? Go get it, boys.

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October 10, 2014

Top 5: Seahawks Beat Cowboys!

To most football fans, if you utter the phrase "Seahawks v Cowboys" the first (and probably only) indelible image that will dominate their headspace is this: 

...and that makes sense, but there's way more to Seahawks v Cowboys history than Romo dropping that snap (There's way more to that game and even that PLAY than that... More about this below). Some of the most important moments in Seahawks history have come against the Dallas Cowboys (The most painful one? Probably the MNF collapse in our star-crossed 2004 campaign). As we prepare for the next dust-up against (Barf) "America's Team," here's a look back at our five biggest wins over Dallas... 

The Seahawks came into this one at 6-6 and still very much alive in the AFC playoff race (incidentally, this was our LAST AFC playoff race before moving to the NFC in 2002). The Cowboys were 4-8 and led by the eminently forgettable Quincy Carter, but their biggest weakness was against the elements. In the penultimate game the Hawks would ever play at Husky Stadium, the weather was miserable: Temps in the 40s, windy, and rainy. The Cowboys carried themselves like they just wanted to get back into the locker room and get warm & dry, and it clearly affected their performance. Ricky Watters gobbled up 138 yards on 33 touches and opened the scoring with a 1st-quarter touchdown, and a young Shaun Alexander notched one of his 14 touchdowns of the 2001 campaign. After Ike Charton's blowout-punctuating 4th-quarter pick-6, the Cowboys could finally run for the bus (More on the 2001 Seahawks here). 

A little less than a year later, the hope that bloomed in the playoff near-miss of 2001 had wilted. Seattle had a new stadium, a new conference/division and snazzy new uniforms, but on the field the mantra was "Same Old Seahawks." The team stumbled out to a 1-5 start, with newly minted starting QB Trent Dilfer unable to duplicate his magical late-2001 performance after a preseason knee injury. 

Seattle traveled to Dallas as an anonymous foil for Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys. The all-time rushing record was within Smith's grasp, and that was the ONLY storyline fans outside of the Twelve Army cared about. Sure enough, Smith snared the record that day, but the rest of the game would change the course of Seahawks history. 

Trent Dilfer's Achilles Tendon popped (YOUCH), and Matt Hasselbeck was forced to enter the game. Up to this point in his Seattle tenure, Hasselbeck had been a disappointment, but his leadership that day at Texas Stadium gave us a glimpse of the Pro Bowl QB he'd evolve into. Late in the 4th, with the Seahawks possessing the ball in a tie game, Darrell Jackson was leveled with a brutally dirty hit that drew a flag and left D-Jack concussed. Hasselbeck would show the fire that defined his career in the huddle, barking "Nobody does that to us!" He'd lead Seattle on a 13-play, 72-yard drive to the winning field goal, and the Hawks would finish the season with a 6-4 stretch in which Hass threw for over 3000 yards and set the stage for the Seahawks' mid-decade dominance of the NFC West.  

3. Seahawks 31, Cowboys 14 (November 27, 1986) 
"Thanksgiving Day v the Cowboys" conjures up horrifying memories for both younger and older Twelves. In 1980, the Seahawks went to Dallas and got a 51-7 murderplowing for their troubles. In 2008, the Hawks couldn't have possibly looked more worn down and decrepit in a 34-9 defeat at Texas Stadium. In 1986, however, Seattle delivered the best Thanksgiving performance in franchise history (until we whip Santa Clara on Turkey Day in front of all of America later this season, obviously).

The Seahawks were 7.5 point underdogs that day. They had just snapped a 4-game losing streak with a narrow win over the Eagles at home 4 days earlier, but it looked like their flickering playoff hopes would be snuffed out by the 7-5 Cowboys. Tony Dorsett opened the scoring for Dallas, and everything was going according to plan. Dave Krieg had other ideas, though. Krieg would run for a TD and fire scoring strikes to Steve Largent and Byron Franklin. Curt Warner and John L. Williams would combine for 195 all-purpose yards, and Warner sealed the victory with a 9-yard TD dash in the 4th. The Seahawks would end the '86 season on a glorious 5-game winning streak that no Twelve over the age of 35 will ever forget (which I've talked about in this space more than once).

2. Seahawks 13, Cowboys 10 (October 23, 2005)
This game gets overshadowed by the crazy win over the Giants later in the 2005 season, but I'll always remember it as the moment that year when I finally allowed myself to think: "Holy shit! The Seahawks could actually go to the Super Bowl."

I don't know if I've seen a more physically brutal regular season game than the one Seattle played versus Dallas that day. Late in the 4th Bill Parcell's charges were up 7-3, and intercepted Matt Hasselbeck deep in Seahawks' territory. They were 12 yards away from a deathblow TD (and 10 yards away from a clock-killing first down). Somehow, the Seattle defense held, blasting a scrambling Drew Bledsoe out of bounds INCHES short of converting on 3rd down. Instead of going for it, Dallas kicked a chip-shot field goal. With two minutes left, Seattle was still alive.

Matt Hasselbeck led the Seahawks on a 6-play, 81-yard drive that climaxed with a 1-yard touchdown toss to Ryan Hannam with only 46 seconds left. It seemed like overtime was nigh, barring another late Seattle defensive meltdown. The Cowboys reached only to the Seahawks 37-yard line before calling their final timeout with a mere 14 seconds remaining. Taking a knee and going to OT seemed like the smart play for Dallas, but Parcells let Bledsoe put it up one last time and the Cowboys paid dearly. His pass intended for Terry Glenn hung in the air, only to be snatched by Jordan Babineaux. Big Play Babs started earning his nickname at that instant, smartly stepping out of bounds at the Dallas 32 with only five seconds remaining. (The not yet a traitor) Josh Brown jogged out onto the field and nailed the 50-yard game winner at the final gun. Delirium followed, with Brown tossing off his helmet and the Seahawks storming the field. The Seahawks wouldn't lose another meaningful game until Super Bowl XL (Oh lovely... Guess who the lead referee is this Sunday).

1. Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20 (January 6, 2007)
I've talked a lot about this game in this space before, but I think it's important to focus on the stuff BESIDES Romo's blunder that led to this stunning Seattle victory. First of all, Romo ALMOST still killed our season anyway after fumbling the snap. He nearly ran for the go-ahead TD. Even worse, he was INCHES away from a converting a 1st down that would have allowed Dallas to burn off the clock before trying an even shorter field goal. Jordan Babineaux saved the day with his spectacular hustle and a textbook tackle.

A couple of other things to remember: Even if Dallas had converted that FG attempt, the Seahawks would have had over a minute to get into range for a game-winner off the foot of Brown, who had already won FOUR games in 2006 with last-second kicks (why do you think I bought that shitbird's jersey before he bolted for STL?). After the Seahawks got the ball back, Dallas still had timeouts remaining. If they had held Seattle to a 3-and-out, they would have gotten the ball back in good field position with time to get back into field goal range. Seattle's victory wasn't sealed until Shaun Alexander tore off a 22-yarder to eat up almost all of the time remaining.

Some other things worth remembering about that game:

-Kelly Jennings: Hero!
Few players in Seahawks history have been derided as much as Jennings, but we don't win without the play he made midway through the final quarter. After the Seahawks failed to score on 4th and goal, on the ensuing play Jennings forced a Terry Glenn fumble- that led to a safety that pulled Seattle within 20-15 and gave Hasselbeck and the offense the ball back with an opportunity to score the go-ahead TD.

-Jerramy Stevens: Hero!
Yes, Stevens is rightly remembered as a worthless fucking turd and an embarrassment to our franchise- but for one day, he was absolutely essential to Seattle's victory. Stevens led all receivers that day with five receptions, and scored both Seattle touchdowns, including the go-ahead score late in the 4th. Great job, ya bastad!

-Some Dude We Pulled Off the Street Shut Down T.O.
Future Hall-of-Famer Terrell Owens' stat line that day? Two catches for 26 yards and a fumble. Who was covering him most of that game? Pete Hunter... A rando who was working as a loan officer before his phone rang with a job offer from Seattle days before the playoffs began. After the playoff loss at Chicago the next week, Hunter went back to playing in the Arena league and then the CFL... But for one day he helped shut down T.O. with Seattle's season on the line.

Any other memories of "The Romo Game?" Anything big I missed? Let me know!

By the way.. My prediction for Sunday? Seahawks 30, Cowboys 15

October 7, 2014

Seahawks 27, DC 17

It's time to face an unpleasant truth, Twelves.

America HATES the Seahawks. They can't stand Richard Sherman's big mouth. They detest Pete Carroll's cocky stride. They abhor the Twelve Army. Russell Wilson is the lone Seahawk who gets a significant amount of love from the NFL nation, but that love is highly conditional, preceded by qualifiers like "game manager" or "surrounded by talent." They see us as assholes at best and cheaters at worst.

I resisted coming to this conclusion, because it's psychologically uncomfortable to realize that the team you love is seen as villains by a wide swath of the nation. Last night the evidence was too blatant to ignore: Even against a strikingly mediocre and unlikable team with a racist nickname, a detestable cur of an owner, an unplayable surface, and the NFL's most laughably arrogant fan base, WE were the bad guys last night. The announcers, the vast majority of viewers, and seemingly even the officials were pulling for DC to take the big, mean Seahawks down a peg or two.

The message from the Seahawks and the Twelve Army to Washington's NFL team and all the assorted haters?

Taste the fuckin' rainbow. 

Taste the sweetness of Russell Wilson, who dashed for 122 yards and a TD with his legs, and casually added 200 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns through the air. The indelible image of this win for me? A DC defender on all fours, hanging his head in utter dejection after RW3 miraculously avoided a sack, and floated a perfect pass to Marshawn Lynch jussssst over the outstretched arm of another defender for the game-clinching first down. As the burgundy-clad victim wallowed in defeat, The WolfBadger calmly jogged downfield past him. Just another miracle authored by Russell Carrington Wilson. Every week, it gets harder for the NFL establishment to admit the bald, plain truth sitting in front of them: Wilson is one of the Top 5 QBs in the game, and he'll be #1 sooner than any of them can imagine.

Taste the salty flavors of Marshawn Lynch, who battled through OBVIOUS lower back issues to notch 117 totals yards and a score on 22 touches. There's no tougher running back in the NFL, and there isn't one more instrumental to their team's success, either.

Taste the bitterness of Percy Harvin, whose superlative performance barely showed up on the stat sheet. His three touchdowns were all erased by highly dubious penalties, but he still vastly altered the game in Seattle's favor. DC was so terrified of him that they conceded at least 100 yards of field positions on short kickoffs and failed onside kick attempt. Behind the Wilson/Lynch/Harvin triumvirate, Seattle is posting 27.5 points per game, good for 5th in the NFL so far this season.

Taste the savory Poutine served up by Canadian punting superstar Jon Ryan, who once again consistently BURIED the enemy behind their 10-yard-line and converted a fake field goal attempt into a key first down in the 4th quarter (I'd write that you should also taste Pete Carroll's GIGANTIC salty chocolate balls, but that would be too obvious). Is Ryan the team MVP so far this year? No. But it's not actually insane to make a case for him.

Taste the spicy zest of a Seattle front seven that ERASED DC's ground game, holding their ballcarriers to 1.9 yards per tote. Seahawk linebackers comprehensively dominated the middle of the field, and aside from a couple of deep balls to Deshawn Jackson and another worrisome 4th quarter lapse, the Legion of Boom smothered the enemy as usual.

Was it an "ugly" win? Sure. Like Richard Sherman said after the game, this easily could have been (and should have been) something like a 45-10 Seattle win. But even with Jeff Triplette forgetting to pop in his contact lenses, even on a field comprised of dirt painted green, even against a team so desperate and frustrated they resorted to hair-pulling, even playing far from their best football, the Hawks still won by double digits on the road. That's beautiful to me.

Now they're back in first place in the NFC West. More importantly, they're in position to once again snare home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Once they actually get out of first gear? Look the fuck out... It'll be a double rainbow into a pot of Lombardi Trophies. You're next, Dallas. You're fucked, Dallas.

What do you think, sirs?

September 22, 2014

Seahawks 26, Broncos 20 (OT)

In the seven-and-a-half months since Denver's monumental failure in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos remade their roster and mortgaged their future in a desperate attempt to surpass the young and still quite HANGRY (That's hungry and angry for the uninitiated) World Champion Seahawks.

Even after that Herculean effort, the Broncos still fell short yesterday at Seahawks Stadium, and it was because their much-heralded and overhauled defense could not stop one Russell Carrington Wilson. The national media bobbleheads are agog today with blather of "Moral Victories" for the Broncos, but the brutal truth is that they hit the Emerald Empire with EVERYTHING they had and got nothing for their trouble but a mark in the loss column.

The national media narrative is, of course, that Peyton Manning gave the Legion of Boom a scare. The reality was that for three quarters, Manning looked like an exceedingly average and excruciatingly slow/limp-armed quarterback. He's not, obviously. But Seattle's defense has made him look mortal for 7 quarters going back to MetLife Stadium last Febuary, and it was only a spasm of late Seahawks mistakes (a missed field goal, a safety, and Wilson's worst throw of the season) that gave him the opportunity to salvage a bit of his reputation. In the end, Seattle's defense allowed only 18 points to Denver's fearsome, explosive offense. In the end, that might stand as the Broncos' lowest offensive output this season, and it's far from the "choke job" imagery being flung to the far corners of the internet today.

The Legion didn't just harangue, harass and hamper Manning; They also snuffed out the Broncos' ground game, allowing only 1.8 yards per rushing attempt. Despite Denver's furious late rally, Seattle's defense emphatically proved they are still the best in all of football. After surviving the Rodgers-Rivers-Peyton gauntlet, Seattle now gets a steady diet of middling-to-bad QBs like Cousins, Romo, Davis, and Eli in coming weeks. Cam Newton is the only QB anywhere near "elite" that the LOB will face until their trip to Santa Clara Thanksgiving Night (and Kaepernick's star isn't exactly blazing these days either).

Is it time to make Jon Ryan an honorary member of the Legion of Boom? His punts yesterday were certainly explosive enough to warrant induction. Ryan consistently pinned the Broncos deep in their own end and gave us all something none of us had seen before: A 79-yard kick IN THE AIR on the free kick following Denver's safety early in the 4th. With the lone exception of a missed field goal attempt, Seattle's special teams were flawless after shaky outings against the Packers and Chargers.

What is there left to say about the WolfBadger? Once again, he faced a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback and outplayed him. Once again, given an opportunity to win the game in overtime, he delivered. The conclusion of yesterday's game was eerily similar to our win at Chicago back in 2012: The defense blows a late lead, Seattle wins the overtime coin toss, and Wilson marshals the Hawks down the field by any means necessary.  Just like on that afternoon at Soldier Field nearly two years ago, RW3 got it done with his legs as much as his arm, scrambling to convert two key 3rd downs on the winning drive. Now Wilson is 7-0 head-to-head against the "Mt. Rushmore" of Rodgers-Manning-Brees-Brady, and only the most pig-headed Jaworskites among us would deny that DangerRuss is already a Top 5 "elite" QB.

Here's a question to mull: Is Marshawn Lynch the best running back in football? It's hard to argue against him after a day where he gobbled up 128 yards on 29 touches while scoring two touchdowns (including the overtime winner). The conventional wisdom that this is Lynch's last season in Seattle might get overturned by necessity. Lynch is integral to Seattle's offensive attack, and at this point it's hard to imagine Robert Turbin or Christine Michael easily replacing him. PCJS might just have to find the money to keep Beast Mode in College Blue and Wolf Grey for a few more years.

Now the Hawks roll into their (far too early) bye week 2-1 and as healthy as any NFL team could reasonably hope to be, and Twelves should be nothing but grateful and jubilant. As fun as all those ridiculous blowouts are, they're outliers in a league where most of the games are decided by one score or less. There will be moments where we'll need another Kam Chancellor pick or a 2-minute drill to win a playoff game or perhaps even a Super Bowl. It feels almost too good to be true that we finally have a team that we can BELIEVE in during those moments where tension and drama are greatest. In Earl Thomas III, we have our Ronnie Lott. In Russell Wilson, our Joe Montana. In Marshawn Lynch, our Roger Craig (Yes, part of the reason I made those comparisons was to troll Santa Clara fans).

So Denver fans can delude themselves into thinking this was anything but another crushing defeat (whenever they feel like taking a break from whinging about how unfair the OT rules are to Widdle Ol' Peyton), but us Twelves know the truth: They came at the Kings, and they missed. If these teams meet again in Glendale next February, Denver is doomed to complete an EPIC trifecta of failure. And they KNOW it.

What do you think, sirs?