September 30, 2013

Seahawks 23, Texans 20 (OT)

Imagine that your team held a 17-point second half lead. They're dominating in every phase of the game over a quality opponent, and it looks like they are starting to live up to the preseason expectations that swirled around them like a hype cyclone. The home crowd roars mightily, causing multiple false starts. Your All-Pro running back has a great day. Your defense is dominant. You relax. You start looking forward to that HUGE road game next week against a defending conference champion.

Then your defeated foe goes on a LONG touchdown drive. You don't really sweat it, though. Your guys still have this on lockdown, right? All of the sudden, your previously potent offense can't seem to move the ball. You look up and with mounting terror you realize the game is TIED. Your team has squandered a 3-score advantage, and all you can do is hope they can score first in overtime. They don't. They lose. You feel like your insides have been scooped out. Your mind is desolate. Your stunned despair is so jagged that you cry. Over a football game.

That was me. On October 10, 2004. It was the most painful regular season loss in the history of the Seattle Seahawks. Even though the Hawks were still 3-1, they never REALLY recovered that season.

Yesterday, I got to feel what Rams fans felt nine years ago: The joy of the reprieved. But while that Rams team was only remarkable when they faced the Seahawks (3-0 against Seattle that season, 6-9 against all other opponents), today's Hawks are arguably the best team in football. Facing an extremely talented Houston squad, Seattle didn't give anything approaching their best effort. For the vast majority of the game, they looked overmatched (and sometimes borderline helpless). DOZENS of previous Seahawks teams have been in similar spots on the road and seemed to say to themselves- "Oh well. Get 'em next week, right?" The '04s did that on a semi-weekly basis, for fuck's sake (at least it felt that way).

Russell Wilson said no. Marshawn Lynch said Hell No. Richard Sherman said NO FUCKING WAY. Seattle's superstars hit the snooze button a few too many times on Sunday, but they woke up just in time to TAKE a victory away from the Houston Texans. Don't let anyone get away with saying the Texans choked. Just as surely as Sherman wrestled the ball away from Owen Daniels, the Seahawks took that win BY FORCE.

The defense went from floundering to formidable, allowing zero points in the final 42 minutes of play. Two Seattle takeaways led to 10 second half points, seven coming on Sherman's best Deion Sanders impression yet. When the story of the 2013 Seahawks is passed on from one generation of Twelves to the next, Sherm's game-tying pick 6 will be one of the most fondly recalled moments. The Reliant Stadium crowd showered their quarterback with boos (later, they'd be burning his jersey in the parking lot). Even though the Texans would still have multiple chances to win the game, their body language betrayed them: Their spirits were broken.

As great as the defense played in the 2nd half and overtime, the pivotal moment(s) in yesterday's victory were authored by the Seattle offense. Marshawn Lynch overcame an early fumble to score our only offensive touchdown and rack up 143 total yards on 20 touches. For Seattle's offense to work properly, Beastmode needs 20+ touches, and Marshawn made the most out his opportunities as usual.

Doug Baldwin only had three catches, but without even ONE of them, the Seahawks probably don't win. Two 3rd-down grabs kept our touchdown drive alive, and his catch in OT (coupled with a DUMB personal foul for a WWE takedown after the whistle) set up the winning field goal. I agree with Hawkblogger on this notion: Darren Bevell needs to find more ways to get the ball in Angry Doug Baldwin's hands.

Russell Wilson had a bad game from an objective perspective. He threw a TERRIBLE interception with his team trailing by a touchdown with only five minutes left. He barely completed half his passes for only 123 yards. His passer rating was 49.7. So why have I never been happier that the WolfBadger is our quarterback?

14 plays. 98 yards. The Legend Grows.

Wilson is making a habit out of stealing victories for the Seattle Seahawks. Yesterday he conjured yards and first downs out of plays that should have ended in complete disaster and desolation. RW3 ran for 74 yards in the 4th quarter and overtime, but it was one 4-yard scramble that will never be forgotten. On 4th down, on the 13th play of the epic drive that would draw Seattle within striking distance of victory, Wilson evaded what seemed like every Houston defender who has ever played (including some old-timey Oilers like Ken Houston and Chris Dishman) to squeeeeze past the first down marker. On the next play, Lynch walked into the end zone untouched. Russell Wilson, like the rest of this indomitable Seattle team, is learning how to win even when peak performance eludes him.

Steven Hauschka's overtime field goal capped one of the greatest regular season wins in franchise history, and probably Seattle's greatest comeback since that stunner at Mile High back in 1995. Now the Hawks are 4-0 for the first time in franchise history, and are on track for the greatest regular season any of us have ever seen.

14-2? 15-1? Fuck... Why not 16-0? After what happened yesterday, it's hard to say anything is impossible.

What do you think, sirs?

September 23, 2013

Seahawks 45, Jaguars 17

(Photo courtesy of Rod Mar)

As the Seahawks chloroformed the helpless, declawed Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday, my mind wandered a bit. My thoughts drifted back into the past, into The Forgotten Years. I thought about how many times the Seahawks used to fail in circumstances similar to Sunday's, facing a less talented team but somehow finding a way to lose via mental errors, lack of focus, and/or poor preparation.

I also thought about the darkness of those times, of blacked-out games, a half-empty Kingdome, public apathy, and the constant threat of decampment to Los Angeles. With committed, obscenely wealthy ownership, a keen general manager, an outstanding, charismatic head coach, and the greatest home field advantage in professional sports, there's no danger of the Seahawks skipping town (or becoming uncompetitive any time soon). I felt a twinge of sympathy for hard-core Jaguars fans, who are not only enduring a terrible season, but also must live in constant fear of their team fleeing to Southern California. I've been in their exact position, and it's no fun pouring your heart and soul into a team everyone else treats like it's absolutely irrelevant. I thought the Jags showed some fight yesterday, which reflects well upon Gus Bradley (But multiple Jaguars talking trash while trailing by four TDs is something Ol' Gus might want to clean up).

My thoughts also meandered into the future. It's GREAT that the team itself is absolutely, obsessively focused on nothing but the next opponent, but I'm a fan. I can look beyond the next game as much as I'd care to... So let's do that!

I can't avoid the feeling that everything is clicking into place for the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. Not only are they 3-0, but the rest of the NFC West is failing to live up to the division's ample preseason hype. The Rams and Cardinals are somewhat predictably 1-2, but San Francisco's 1-2 start is stunning. I think the Seahawks might have broken the Niners last week. They still seemed dazed in yesterday's loss to Indianapolis. Perhaps their ears were still ringing?

Now the Seahawks' goal isn't winning the NFC West (which is obviously still crucially important), but securing home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. From now on, I'll be looking at the NFC Conference Standings like it's the English Premier League. The only thing that matters is staying at the "top of the table." From now on, I'll be more focused on Chicago, New Orleans, and Atlanta than San Francisco, St. Louis and Arizona. Win that #1 seed, and the Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.

Speaking of Super Bowl XLVIII, another thought occurred to me yesterday: The potentially unusual conditions that game might be played under could work to Seattle's advantage. What if we have a Super Bowl played in a snow-globe-y MetLife Stadium against, let's say, the Denver Broncos? Would you rather have the team that sports a run-heavy offense, a mobile QB, and a Championship defense... Or the pass-happy team led by Peyton Manning (who, while clearly one of the best QBs of all time, doesn't have a great track record in the snow... or in the playoffs... and is only 1-1 in the Super Bowl)? The knee-jerk reaction will be "Snow? It snows in Denver, not Seattle! The Broncos will win!" The knee jerks will be wrong.

Many upcoming games that looked daunting in August don't put a jolt of anxiety into me anymore. After the next two (admittedly challenging) games at Houston and Indianapolis, the Seahawks have exactly THREE games left on their schedule against teams with winning records right now (v TEN, @ ATL, v NO). Seattle's most challenging remaining home game is likely against the Saints on SNF December 2nd. Another 8-0 regular season home record appears well within our reach. The conditions couldn't be more perfect for a Super Bowl run than they are right now for your Seattle Seahawks.

But yes, we did actually play a game yesterday. For me, the most impressive stretch was the final 44 seconds of the first half. Seattle was dominating, but "only" leading 17-0. Jacksonville was driving, and a score before the half probably wouldn't have changed the game's outcome, but it would have at least extended the competitive portion of the contest. Then a Chad Henne pass was batted up into the air, and Bobby Wagner made a spectacular diving interception to snuff out the Jags' best scoring chance of the half.

Many coaches would have told their QB to take a knee after the change of possession, content to jog into the locker room with a 17-point edge. Big Balls Pete aint "many coaches," though (for better or worse). The accelerator stayed mashed into the floor and Russell Wilson capped a 5-play, 34-second drive with the 3rd of his four TD passes (and 2nd to Sidney Rice). 24-0. Game over.

Wilson was incandescent. He completed 66% of his passes, fired four TD strikes, and racked up a 117.5 passer rating before popping on a baseball cap midway through the 3rd quarter. I remember thinking maybe it was too early and our lead was too small (31-7) to yank Wilson in favor of T-Jack. One perfect 35-yard TD bomb (and a ridiculously insane catch by Doug Baldwin) shut me up. Jackson played even better than Wilson in a statistical sense, putting up a rating of 158.3 and running for another score late in the game. The presence of a competent QB2 on our roster is another factor that makes me feel like this team is destined for greatness- Even if we lose Wilson for a handful of games, T-Jack can keep us on track towards home field in the NFC playoffs.

There's plenty of other laurels to hand out on offense: Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin all reminded us that John Schneider faces VERY tough choices in terms of which WRs to "pay" in the offseason. Zach Miller caught two early TDs, and rookie Luke Willson chipped in five catches for 76 yards. Marshawn Lynch gashed the Jags in limited action, and Christine Michael picked up right where Beast Mode left off. Seattle's offense is a battering ram covered in straight razors, y'all.

Don't let the 17 points allowed fool you- Seattle's defense choked the life out of Jacksonville's offense. They forced three turnovers, sacked Chad Henne four times, and held the Jags running game to 2.1 yards per attempt. Giving up a couple of TDs in garbage time shouldn't obscure how transcendent this defense has become. They have a real shot at being SPECIAL. Like 1985 Bears/2000 Ravens special.

Now the Seahawks enter the toughest stretch of their schedule: four out of five on the road, including three games against teams with winning records. If the Hawks go 3-2, they'd hit midseason at 6-2 with a great shot at the postseason. They're aiming higher than that, and I think they'll hit the bullseye. NOTHING is out of this team's reach now, my friends.

On a personal note, I'll be at the next Seahawks home game in three weeks. As I've written in this space before, it's going to be a big fucking deal to me. Wish me luck!

September 16, 2013

Seahawks 29, Niners 3

Let's say for the sake of argument that you were on a Breaking Bad binge last night, and you forgot the Seahawks were playing on Sunday Night Football. Imagine that I gave you the following information about the game:
  • We took the field missing multiple key contributors, including Brandon Browner, Chis Clemons and Bruce Irvin. 
  • Russell Wilson's QB rating was 63.9, and he was only 8-for-19 for 142 with an interception. 
  • Our leading receiver? Marshawn Lynch. 
  • The Seahawks accumulated on 290 yards of offense, and were only 5-for-16 on 3rd down conversions. 
  • Russell Okung got hurt and was unavailable for the vast majority of the game. 
  • Seattle committed 10 penalties, which cost us 84 yards of field position and sabotaged multiple promising scoring drives. 
  • The final score was 29-3. 
You'd rightfully jump to the conclusion that San Francisco won the game, leaving the Seahawks and the Twelve Army to pick through the debris to find ANYTHING positive to take from such a crushing loss to our most hated rivals (We have Jacksonville at home next week? That'd be about it). We'd be left HOPING to get revenge at the Stick in December, and wishing that through some spasm of ineptitude the Niners barfed up their decisive advantage in the NFC West race. 

Nope. It was the Seahawks who administered this humiliating thrashing. Colin Kaepernick, darling of the national press, anointed for greatness by Jaworski, had ANOTHER atrocious evening at Seahawks Stadium, leaving him without excuses to lavish self-love upon his biceps. Frank Gore, who once provided a steady stream of nightmare fuel to faithful Twelves, was rendered irrelevant. Anquan Boldin, who ran through Green Bay defenders last week as if they were dandelions sprouting from the Candlestick Park turf, had one catch for seven yards... in garbage time. Seattle forced five Niner turnovers, and the defending NFC Champs started losing their cool in a manner not seen since the darkest days of Mike Singletary's reign. The mighty Niners have now lost their last two games at Seahawks Stadium by an aggregate score of 71-16. Against the rest of the NFL, they look like Champions. Against us? They're just a collection of posturing chumps. 

Marshawn Lynch has become the eater of Forty-Niner souls. He BARELY (by 2 yards) missed out on another 100-yard rushing day against SF, but his three TDs (and spectacular trolling of the Niners after TD #2) earned him offensive MVP honors in my book. For the second week in a row, Russell Wilson settled down after a bracingly shaky start (that shower he took during the lightning stoppage will become another chapter in his growing legend). There may be a temptation to worry about the performance of Seattle's offense, but putting up 29 points against the best defense in the league (outside the State of Washington) is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Our defense has been nothing less than magnificent over the season's first fortnight, allowing only 10 points over two games while breaking the will of both opponents. Richard Sherman deserves special recognition for erasing Boldin, hauling in an interception, and even lowering the boom on a hapless SF wideout with a perfect, explosive tackle late in the game. Walter Thurmond III, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett also stood out, but it took a total team effort to snuff out one of the NFL's elite offensive attacks. This defense, especially at home in Seahawks Stadium, is positively terrifying right now. 

Sadly I wasn't at the game last night, but by all accounts it was the Twelve Army's finest hour since the 2005 NFC Championship Game. Breaking the Guinness World Record for crowd noise is an impressive feat, but pushing the Seahawks to a 10-0 home record is the accomplishment most hoarse, sore-throated Twelves are really yearning for. No NFL team's home-field advantage comes close to matching Seattle's, and if the Hawks secure the NFC's top seed it's hard to see how us Twelves would ALLOW them to fall short of a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. 

Today, it's the Niners who are left wondering how they can regain leverage in this rivalry. Unfortunately, last night's game tipped the NFC West's balance of power north towards South Alaska. 49ers fans can polish those increasingly ancient Lombardi Trophies as much as they want. They should take as much comfort as possible in past glory, because the future belongs to the Seahawks.

What do you think, sirs? 

September 13, 2013

Top 10: Seahawks Beat Niners! (UPDATED)

In the 37-year history of the Seattle Seahawks, there have been BIGGER regular season games than Sunday's showdown with the San Francisco 49ers, but you'd have a hard time finding an example of a game more highly ANTICIPATED than this one. The teams are divisional rivals (and might just be the two best teams in the NFL), they both play a similar, brutal style of football, it's on the national stage of SNF on NBC, and they genuinely, whole-heartedly HATE each other. Also, the game is being played at Seahawks Stadium, where Seattle flattened SF 42-13 on SNF last December. The Niners want payback. The Seahawks want to prove they are the best team in the NFC West (and the Twelve Army is aspiring to set a Guinness World Record for Crowd Noise). Both teams know tonight's game could decide not just the division, but home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. A game in week 2 of the NFL season doesn't get any bigger than this one.

The divisional rivalry between the Seahawks and Niners is barely a decade old, and San Francisco has only been Seattle MAIN nemesis since Jim Harbaugh's doucetastic rule began in 2011. Before then, the Niners were usually more worthy of pity and disgust than sincere hatred. Even including the last two seasons (where SF has won the division twice, reached the NFC Championship Game in 2011 and the Super Bowl in 2012), the Seahawks have out-performed the 49ers in every measurable category of team performance since joining the NFC West.

A long time ago, I admired the Niners. Bill Walsh was a genius who changed the game for the better (and was a HUGE influence on both Mike Holmgren and Pete Carroll, who were assistant coaches in San Francisco), Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were class acts who also happened to be two of the greatest players in the history of the sport, and the organization oozed cool professionalism. Back in the 1990s, I vigorously rooted for them to beat the detestable Cowboys every year, and one of my favorite non-Seahawks moments in NFL history was when Steve Young's Niners slayed Dallas in the 1994 NFC Championship. Those old Niners showed that you could win, and win big, by outsmarting your opponents, rather than just beating them into submission. In the early days of the Holmgren epoch, I LOVED the notion that the Seahawks might evolve into an echo of those old Niners teams in the 21st century.

Then realignment happened, and everything changed. There was T.O. and his fucking sharpie on MNF, our failed coach Dennis Erickson taking over in SF, the Niners becoming not just bad, but laughably inept mid-decade, and then Mike Singletary: The Anti-Walsh. Instead of cerebral, intelligent football? Undisciplined, thuggish caveman ball, coupled with an unearned swagger that lathered up a frothy hatred for the Niners from Seattle to Phoenix to St. Louis.

Harbaugh's coaching skills have allowed the talented Niners to fulfill their vast potential, but the current iteration of the San Francisco 49ers still dishonors the franchise's long, storied history. Harbaugh has managed to be even more despicable than Singletary, Colin Kaepernick comes off like a can of Axe Body Spray that's been brought to life as a human via some ancient curse, and the Niners are backed by one of the most annoying fan bases in the NFL- A horde of dipshits who love to rub decades-old glory in other people's faces.

The Seahawks are 14-14 all-time against the 49ers, including a 12-10 record since Seattle joined the NFC West in 2002. Here's our Top 10 wins over San Francisco:

10.  October 7, 1979: Seahawks 35 @ 49ers 24
The weirdest thing about this one? Rookie QB Joe Montana didn't play for the Niners, but future Hall-of-Famer and infamous stabber O.J. Simpson did. Dr. Dan Doornink scored twice and the Seahawks started an 8-3 streak to end 1979 with a 9-7 record.

9.  September 26, 2004: Seahawks 34, 49ers 0
Ahh, the good old days of just straight-up beating the shit out of awful Niners teams. The Seahawks forced four SF turnovers, Shaun Alexander scored thrice, and San Francisco was shut out for the first time since 1977.

8. December 21, 1997: Seahawks 38, Niners 9
The Niners came in with the NFC's #1 seed locked up, and treated this like a glorified preseason game. Despite that, this was still a rousing win. Warren Moon wrapped up his spectacular 1997 Pro Bowl season with four TD passes, including two to Joey Galloway. 1997 was my first season as a Seahawks season ticket holder, so that game has an added bit of personal significance...

7.  November 20, 2005: Seahawks 27 @ Niners 25
This was one of the shakiest performances of Seattle's 2005 NFC Championship season, but it showed the Hawks' ability to pull out a victory even when they weren't playing their best football. The Seahawks had a 27-12 lead going into the 4th, but they allowed Ken Dorsey (Wait... What?) to rally the 49ers to within a 2-point conversion in the final seconds. But this was 2005, NOT 2003 or 2004- This lead wouldn't get blown. Under pressure Dorsey's pass fell harmlessly to the turf and Seattle's sprint to XL continued unabated.

6. October 12, 2003: @ Seahawks 20, Niners 19
This was a big early-season ESPN Sunday Night test for the 2003 Seahawks. Even though the Hawks came in 3-1 and SF was 2-3, the Niners were defending division champs and just a year earlier T.O. had humiliated Seattle on MNF with his Sharpie stunt. The boys in blue ran out to a 17-0 lead, which evaporated into a 19-17 4th-quarter deficit. The Twelve Army watched anxiously as Josh Brown booted Seattle to a 20-19 lead with five minutes left, which was immediately followed by a Frisco march down the field.

Thankfully Chad Brown forced a Garrison Hearst fumble in the final minutes, and the Seahawks' march towards the 2003 playoffs continued.

5. September 30, 2007: Seahawks 23 @ Niners 3
Remember a few years ago, when the national football press seemed to insist every fall that the glorious revival of the 49ers was jusssssst around the corner? Early in the 2007 season, a trip to Candlestick was supposed to be the changing of the guard. Then this happened:


Yup, I have no problem reveling in the memory of Rocky Bernard smashing Alex Smith's shoulder into meat-flavored goop. I'd love to see Brandon Mebane or Red Bryant do likewise to Colin Kapernick.

4. December 6, 2009: Seahawks 20, Niners 17
The Niners arrived at Seahawks Stadium needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive against the (frankly pathetic) MoraHawks. Though 2009 was an unmitigated clusterfuck, this was a spectacularly satisfying win... As I wrote in this space back then:

Let me say this clearly: Fuck the Niners. Fuck 'em. For all the bluster and chest-beating and media slobbering over them, these Niners haven't accomplished DICK yet. Nothing. Zilch. 2009 will be ANOTHER season that will end with them in their usual place: sitting at home, watching the playoffs. Once again, with feeling: FUCK the Niners.

All week all we heard about was how Coach Bug Eyes and the big, mean 49ers were going to come into Seattle, pistol whip our players, pillage Pioneer Square and generally lay waste to all things Seahawks. Mr. Commercial Star Mike Singletary would motivate his talented minions to subjugate our poor, defenseless Seahawks on their way to reclaiming what the media sees as the SF birthright: the NFC West title.

The Seahawks decided not to play the victim in this perfectly composed narrative. Of course, it helped that Singletary passed up 3 sure points by arrogantly going for it on 4th and goal early in the game. It also helped that the over-rated Frank Gore killed a Niners scoring drive in the 4th by coughing up the ball, and that Michael Crabtree was scared shitless by a charging Lawyer Milloy on what could have been SF's winning TD in the waning minutes.

3. September 12, 2010: Seahawks 31, Niners 6
One year later, the Seahawks would notch an even more satisfying victory over SF in Pete Carroll's first game as Seattle's Head Coach. As I wrote back then:

It was rapturously awesome to see the Seahawks not just beat the 49ers, but physically punish and abuse them. Alex Smith was never going to be the next Montana or Young, but today we saw him just as lost and helpless as he was in 2007. The only difference between today and that game at the Stick three years ago was that Smith's shoulder survived.

When was the last time the Hawks delivered such a cathartic win? Such a statement that not only would Seattle win the day, but that the future belonged to us too? Simultaneously, our hated rivals tumbled back into Limbo, into the dreary knowledge that the glorious Niner restoration STILL isn't happening. In the words of R.E.M., The Future Never Happened.

There's already a lot of Seahawks fans trying to downplay this win. Fuck that. I predicted that the Seahawks would win the NFC West, and now I GUARANTEE they will... You, my friends, will have a home playoff game to watch in January. I will be at Qwest screaming until my soul spills out, and Mike Singletary and his Niners will be at home, watching on television.

And indeed, my prophecies of 2010 came to pass...

2. December 27, 2003: Seahawks 24 @ Niners 17
The Seahawks went to Candlestick Park for a Saturday afternoon game just after Xmas, needing a win and some help the following day to qualify for the postseason for only the 2nd time since 1988. Seattle entered the game at 9-6, but sported a pathetic 1-6 road record coming into the game. Niners coach Dennis Erickson was hoping for a win to finish the season 8-8 (which was a habit he picked up back in Seattle during the 1990s), and to exact vengeance upon his old employers and the coach who replaced him in Seattle.

The Hawks quickly fell behind 14-0, and lamentations of "same old Seahawks" rang out across the land like church bells. Another winning but playoff-free season loomed.. It was '78, '79, '86, and '90 allll over again... but the Seahawks clawed and gouged back into the game, and then something amazing happened late in the 3rd:

Matt Hasselbeck threw a PERFECT pass to Koren Robinson in the back of the end zone... and K-rob (for once) HELD ONTO IT and got both feet in bounds. 21-17 Seahawks. Josh Brown extended the lead to 7, and Shaun Alexander ate up most of the 4th quarter on the ground. The D stopped a last-gasp Niners drive, and Seattle triumphed in a game very few expected them to win.

1. December 23, 2012: Seahawks 42, Niners 13
This game was our announcement to the football world: The Seahawks have arrived, and they are going to lay waste to the NFL. After the Hawks had already run out to a 14-0 lead, Kam Chancellor DESTROYED Vernon Davis with a clean (but unfairly flagged) hit. The Niners were in range for an easy field goal that would cut Seattle's lead to 11, but Red Bryant and Richard Sherman had other plans. Big Red blocked the kick, and Sherm scooped and scored. Seahawks Stadium was delirious and deafening, and the rout was ON.

Russell Wilson threw four TD passes (two to Doug Baldwin), and Marshawn Lynch gashed the Niners vaunted defense for 130 yards and two TDs. Seattle defense ERASED Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore, and 67,000 (or so) Twelves went home happy and hopeful.

The promise of that glorious December evening will be fulfilled, starting this Sunday night.

What do you think, sirs?

September 8, 2013

Seahawks 12, Panthers 7

What a strange week for the Seattle Seahawks and their fans. The Hawks became a "sexy" Super Bowl pick amongst the national media, and Russell Wilson's handsome visage was splashed across the covers of The USA Today, ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and (I assume) British Vogue and Art Doll Quarterly. But then, as if the national bobbleheads had come to their senses after an ether binge, it became trendy to pick the Panthers as an "upset special" over the favored Seattleites. Hey! Seattle has trouble in season openers! Hey! They suck at winning on the east coast, particularly with kickoff at 10 a.m. pacific time! Hey! They're the Seahawks! History tells us we won't have to pay attention to them much longer. They'll inevitably disappoint. Pick Carolina!

To be fair, that history is there. Even in the greatest season in franchise history (2005), the Hawks dropped the opener: A 10 a.m. dust-up in sweltering late-summer Southern heat at Jacksonville. If you were a Seahawks skeptic, you had plenty of evidence to cite for projections of Seattle doom. For a goodly spell of today's game, the skeptics were probably feeling quite smug. The Seahawks looked sluggish, they committed a stunning number of penalties, and they couldn't seem to gain a clear advantage over the Panthers. It felt like the kind of game Seahawks teams of years past would have allowed to slip away.

Those teams didn't have Russell Wilson, though. The WolfBadger looked skittish early on, and most of his passes were sailing high. His lack of awareness in the pocket led to a drive-killing fumble late in the 2nd quarter, and he seemed indecisive when faced with a furious Carolina pass rush. Wilson settled down in the 2nd half and relied on some spectacular athletic feats from Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin to find his rhythm. His laser-beam game-winning touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse was a thing of beauty (as was the catch in traffic by the former Washington Husky), and Wilson finished an inconsistent day with a pretty (and victorious) statline: 25-32 for 320 yards and a touchdown. Before too long, that'll be considered a fairly average performance for Wilson.

The Seahawks offense didn't dominate the game on the ground, but they snuffed out any lingering hope for Carolina with a 12-play, 5-and-a-half minute drive that ended the game in the victory formation. By the end it was clear that Seattle broke the will of the enemy, and they surrendered. Carolina won't be the last of Seattle's opponents to meet that fate this season.

Seattle's defense only recorded one sack of Cam Newton, but they held "Superman" to a meager 125 yards passing. With multiple starters on the sidelines, the Seahawks defense still held Charlotte's boys to 7 points, made a handful of key stops on 3rd down, and helped secure the victory with a takeaway on Carolina's final offensive possession. Earl Thomas III's veteran savvy may have very well saved the day for Seattle. The Hawks also dominated on special teams, forcing a second Carolina turnover and winning the field position battle thanks to Jon Ryan's stratospheric punts.

The Seahawks are 1-0, and that's all that REALLY matters about today's game. Much more difficult tests lay ahead for Seattle (starting next Sunday Night with possibly the most anticipated regular season game in franchise history), but the fact that the Hawks won on the road while playing nowhere close to the peak of their capabilities should make the Blue, Bright Green, and Wolf Grey bandwagon just a bit more crowded this week. Make room, everyone!

What do you think, sirs?