December 9, 2013

49ers 19, Seahawks 17

It's the NFC Championship Game. The Seahawks trail by two in the 4th quarter, but a great punt return by Golden Tate sets them up deep in New Orleans territory. A field goal would give Seattle the lead, but a touchdown would force Drew Brees to reach Seattle's end zone in order to win the game. Would our offense put seven on the board?

It's the Super Bowl. The Seahawks are clinging to a one-point lead over Peyton Manning and the Broncos late in the 4th quarter. Would Seattle's top-ranked defense rise to the challenge and secure a World Championship?

Did the Seahawks play well in San Francisco yesterday? Of course. Did the officials give the Niners a substantial boost? Obviously. Was this a far less important game for the Seahawks than it was for the 49ers? Totally. Twelves shouldn't gnash their teeth over this loss, but situations like the ones our boys faced yesterday are going to happen again in the playoffs. Did the Seahawks pass those tests? Sadly, they didn't.

Seattle is still (rightfully) a prohibitive favorite to secure the NFC's number one seed, and then represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII. Unfortunately, our march towards hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 2nd won't be filled with low-stress 34-7 Seahawk blowouts. There will white-knuckle, nauseous moments where our boys will have make a big play against elite opposition to survive. Yesterday's game doesn't mean they WILL fail when those moments arise, but it does show us that Seattle will have to play at the peak of their abilities to become Champions. Yesterday, even though they played well, it wasn't good enough against a motivated opponent, on the road, and up against less-than-impartial officials.

That sounds EXACTLY like the environment we're likely to face in XLVIII, doesn't it?

Up until that final San Francisco possession, the Seahawks slightly outplayed San Francisco, and it looked like they'd be rewarded with a hard-won 17-16 victory. Then two plays and a fairly inexplicable strategic decision kept San Francisco's slim hopes for another NFC West crown alive. First, after holding Frank Gore to a relatively quiet 60 yards rushing, the Hawks' normally stout defense broke down and allowed him to gallop 51 yards into field goal range. I'm sure I wasn't the only Twelve who immediately had flashbacks to Gore's gashing and slashing of the much weaker Seattle defenses of 2007-2010 vintage.

Even then, if the Hawks defense held on a crucial 3rd-and-7 later in the drive, Russell Wilson would have been left with plenty of time to whip the offense down the field into Steven Hauschka's range. For the only time all day, the defense allowed The Detestable Colin Kaepernick to make a truly important play: On a designed run, The Detestable Colin Kaepernick slithered through our defenders for 8 yards and a first down that allowed them to run out almost all of the time left on the clock before Phil Dawson's go-ahead kick.

The final Seattle breakdown was strategic. After that Kaepernick run, the smart play would have been to concede a touchdown immediately. Seattle would have gotten the ball back down by 5-7 points, and with ample time to answer the SF touchdown. I heard plenty of people on twitter talking about forcing a turnover, or Red Bryant blocking the field goal, or that conceding a touchdown "just wasn't in our DNA." Bullroar. Just think about it: Which of the following probabilities is highest:

A) Forcing a fumble.
B) Blocking a 22-yard field goal attempt.
C) Driving 80 yards in two minutes for a touchdown.

If you picked A or B, you're doing it wrong. In similar situations, Mike Holmgren and Bill Belichick have "wussed out" and conceded scores, and they're aren't exactly coaching dunces. Hopefully we won't be in another situation like that this season, but if we are I hope Pete Carroll handles it differently.

Even though Russell Wilson outplayed Kaepernick, it wasn't his finest hour. He simply missed on a couple of big throws, and his pedestrian 81.6 passer rating should silence all the "Wilson for MVP" talk for the moment (admittedly, I was pushing that angle HARD after his otherworldly performance against the Saints). Golden Tate was Seattle's standout performer against the Niners- He caught 6 passes for 65 yards, and contributed a 38-yard punt return that put the Hawks in position to score a soul-crushing 4th quarter TD. Unfortunately, Seattle's offense fizzled short of the San Francisco goal line.

Thankfully, even after yesterday's frustrating loss, the news is almost all good for the denizens of the VMAC today. The Seahawks simply need to win two of their last three contests (@ NYG, v AZ, v STL) to secure home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. When those playoffs begin, Seattle is likely to have access to the services of Percy Harvin, Walter Thurmond III, and perhaps even Brandon Browner. It will still be a nearly impossible task for an enemy team to venture into Seahawks Stadium and leave victorious.

I expect this Seahawks team to finish with a franchise-best 14-2 regular season record. I expect them to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII. I expect them to be World Champions. But for that to happen, they'll need to pass the same kinds of tests they failed in that Candlestick Point toilet yesterday. They are hungry enough, talented enough, and tough enough to pull it off.

What do you think, sirs?

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