May 15, 2014

Juking Towards Lombardi: November 13, 2011

Just 30 months ago, the Pete Carroll Experiment in Seattle was spiraling towards spectacular, career-ending failure. After a disheartening 23-13 loss in Dallas, the Seahawks fell to 10-16 under Coach Carroll, including a troubling 6-12 stretch that began in October 2010. That monumental Wild Card upset of the Saints was starting to look like a fluke, and Seattle's front office had made enough questionable decisions (*cough* Charlie Whitehurst *cough*) to make even the most loyal Twelves wonder if Carroll had actually learned anything from his truncated stints in New York and New England. 

The 2-6 Seahawks were set to host the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens, and Las Vegas had installed Seattle as a seven-point home underdog. I predicted a 16-15 Seahawks win, but as I wrote then, even I had to dig deep into my bag of mental tricks to find any reason to hope: 

I've been a Seahawks fan for 28 years, and a very intense one at that. That fandom has become such an integral part of my personality that I don't know who I'd be without it. I wear some article of Seahawks clothing almost every day- That aint normal for a 36-year-old. I haven't missed a game since 1983, and I maintain a blog about a team that has a long history of mediocrity so overwhelming that they are more of an afterthought to the NFL nation than any team that is simply BAD. These are not the actions of a normal, well-adjusted human being. They are driven by obsession, compulsion and fanaticism. 

Over the years, I've come to see myself as an extension of the Seahawks organization (thus my frequent references to being an ambassador or missionary for the Twelve Army out here in Ohio) and I've come to see the Seahawks as an extension of myself. This means that any insult, any derogatory thing I hear or see about the team, is taken as a direct personal affront. 

What does this all mean? It means that if I admit the Seahawks suck (even when they do), I'm also kind of saying that I suck. It means that if I start treating the Seahawks like they are hopeless, I'm admitting that I'm hopeless as well. So in a week like this one, I don't start off thinking "The Seahawks are probably going to lose- but perhaps there is evidence that they have a chance." I start by thinking "How can I convince myself that the Seahawks will win next week?" 

We all know what happened that day at Seahawks Stadium- Seattle won 22-17 in one of the biggest upsets of the 2011 NFL season. The Seahawks started a 33-12 stretch that day that included two playoff appearances, four playoff wins, and a World Championship. If there is a game we can point to as the pivot from mediocrity to immortality for the Seattle Seahawks, this is it. So what happened that day that should have told us our team was on a Championship trajectory? 

-The Legion of Boom Babies 
Seattle's starting secondary that day should be very familiar by now: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and the (now decamped to New England) Brandon Browner. Despite having Pro Bowl RB Ray Rice in the backfield, Baltimore backs only had 12 carries all day. Perhaps the Ravens coaches thought that Joe Flacco would shred an inexperienced Seattle secondary? The future Super Bowl MVP would throw the ball an eye-popping FIFTY-TWO times, but only accumulate a scant 248 yards through the air. The Legion of Boom was repeatedly tested, and they held Flacco to a paltry 67.4 passer rating. 

-The Haus Always Wins
Steven Hauschka is now a cornerstone of Seattle's dominant special teams, but back in mid-2011 he was a new acquisition that had already been cut by two other teams (Denver and... Baltimore). Against the Ravens he gave Seattle a taste of the 94.3% accuracy he'd deliver to the 2013 SuperHawks, nailing all five of his field goal attempts, while his Baltimore counterpart (Billy Cundiff) was busy misfiring twice. 

-Yellow Rain! 
One thing hasn't changed much over Pete Carroll's reign: Seattle remains on of the NFL's most penalized teams. Against Baltimore, the Hawks were flagged 13 times for 100 yards and still managed to emerge victorious (which would become commonplace over the next two-and-a-half seasons). 

-Doug Baldwin: Playmaker
Seattle's breakout rookie WR only had one catch against the Ravens, but it was an important one. Angry Doug hauled in a 50-yard bomb from Tarvaris Jackson on a 3rd-and 9 to keep a 2nd-quarter scoring drive alive. Soon enough we'd all realize he was Seattle's most reliable 3rd-down receiving threat since the days of Steve Largent. 

-Beast Was Bout That Action 
It seems like Marshawn Lynch has been a Seahawks institution forever, but on that Sunday against Baltimore he had been a Hawk for barely over a year. Through 2011 up to that point, Lynch had been largely contained. He scampered for 135 yards against Dallas the previous week, but it seemed doubtful that he'd repeat that sort of performance against the mighty Baltimore defense. Lynch rose to the challenge with 167 yards on 37 touches, and a single spectacular move that clinched the win for Seattle. 

-A Six-Minute Game of Keep Away
With just under six minutes left in the game, Baltimore scored to pull within five points of Seattle. It was Tarvaris Jackson and the inexperienced Seattle offense versus Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and the NFL's #3 defense in 2011. All the Ravens defense had to do was get a stop and give Flacco, Rice and Boldin one more possession. Only the most deluded Seahawks fan could have liked our chances as the offense took the field, and after a pair of penalties Seattle faced 1st and 20 from their own 10-yard-line. Hopeless. 

Two Golden Tate receptions bracketed a 5-yard tote by Lynch and moved the chains. Later in the drive, Seattle faced a 3rd-and-5. Jackson tossed it to Lynch in the flat, and this happened: 

How about another angle of that? 

Has ANYONE ELSE ever made Ray Lewis look that ridiculous on a gridiron? Lynch's epic juke moved the chains, and four more carries by Beast Mode allowed Seattle burn the remaining seconds off the clock. In all, Lynch devoured 40 yards on 8 touches in the Seahawks' game-clinching drive. 

The Hawks would finish the 2011 campaign with 5 wins in their final eight contests, and each of those three losses weren't decided until the final possession. In the ensuing offseason, PCJS found their franchise quarterback, but their guys started learning to win while Russell Wilson was still slinging the ball around Camp Randall Stadium. 

Niners fans can point to an epic comeback from a 35-7 deficit to New Orleans in 1980 as the spark for their '80s dynasty. For the '90s Cowboys, you could argue it was a 1990 upset win over the Rams in Anaheim. For the '00s Patriots, it was the "tuck rule" game... For us? It was November 13, 2011. When we look back on the history of the Emerald Empire, this game will be the origin myth. 

What do you think, sirs?

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