When you were watching 'The Empire Strikes Back," when did it hit you that it might be better than "Star Wars?" At what moment did you realize that "Toy Story 3" was even better than its two stellar predecessors? Or that James Cameron's "Aliens" surpassed Ridley Scott's original? Great sequels deliver a particular variety of joy because they are so rare and unexpected. "22 Jump Street" (another rare sequel that bested the original) exposes why most sequels are terrible by laying bare the tropes they fall victim to: "Do the exact same thing as last time. Everyone's happy." Bloated budgets and expectations lead to inexplicable/inevitable excess (like the James Bond villain-worthy new 22 Jump Street headquarters), but rarely to originality. Everything looks more expensive but overly familiar and stale. For every The Godfather Part II, there's a score of Ghostbusters 2s.
In the last decade, we've seen a similar phenomenon in the NFL. The last defending Super Bowl Champion to win a playoff game was the 2005 New England Patriots. Every Champion since then has succumbed to the "Super Bowl Curse" (Barf). It makes sense. In the salary cap era, many teams will make short-term decisions in an attempt to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, only to wake up the next morning needing to make MASSIVE cuts to get under the cap before the next season (Hello, 2012 Baltimore Ravens). Even teams who win the Super Bowl without mortgaging the future are faced with the reality that role players will suddenly be able to command higher salaries on the open market. The XLVIII Champion Seahawks saw many players depart due to this brutal calculus (We miss you, Golden Tate!), and media bobbleheads like Peter King declared that, despite having the youngest Super Bowl-winning roster of all time, the Seahawks wouldn't repeat. Why? Because teams simply DON'T repeat anymore. Tamp down your expectations, because we know most sequels suck.
Over the first half of the season, the Seahawks were conforming to these low expectations. The Percy Harvin Experiment went Chernobyl on PCJS. The defense was suddenly vulnerable. There was "turmoil" in the locker room. Russell Wilson wasn't "black enough." Marshawn Lynch wanted out and/or the Hawks were intent on cutting him after the season. They went on a mini run after a 3-3 start, but those wins came against sub-par competition. After a brutal loss at Arrowhead, Seattle fell to 6-4, a full three games behind the division-leading Cardinals. The 2014 Seahawks? They looked more "Batman and Robin" than "The Dark Knight."
Then a familiar sequel trope: Beloved characters from the first film pop up deep into the second movie. Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor recovered from early-season injuries, and the defense was jolted back to life. Stifling the Cardinals and Niners was impressive, but yesterday Seattle faced the explosive Philadelphia offense, which was in the league's Top 5 of total offense and scoring offense. Would they be able to slow down Chip Kelly's fast break offense in the hostile confines of Lincoln Financial Field?
They didn't just stop the Eagles' offense. They nuked the entire site from orbit. It was the only way to be sure.
That offense that came in averaging 286 yards passing per game? The Legion of Boom held them to 82 net yards. The Walter Thurmond III and Brandon Browner roles were recast with Tharold Simon and Marcus Burley, and the transition was as seamless as Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle or from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal. The 139 yards the Eagles scratched out were the lowest total for the Philadelphia franchise since 2005. Yes, the green birds scored two touchdowns, but those weren't thanks to sustained drives against Seattle's defense. Both scores were set up by Seahawks special teams errors (one of the few remaining areas of real concern for Seattle). The WolfGrey Warriors are now the NFL's leaders in total defense, and are 2nd in scoring defense. They are back to playing at 2013's historic level of sustained dominance, and that has to leave every other Super Bowl contender trembling in fear and awe.
The offense has mutated into an unpredictable beast. After starting out the season enamored with Jet Screens to Percy Harvin, they've been forced to embrace an attack powered by Marshawn Lynch's barely controlled fury and Russell Wilson's prodigious gift for improvisation. Yes, the lack of a truly explosive threat in the passing game rightly leaves our brows furrowed, but as long as Wilson and Lynch are upright and healthy they're as dangerous a pair as Sarah Conner and the T-800 in Terminator 2. Beast Mode accumulated 113 yards and a TD on 28 touches, and the WolfBadger accounted for all three Seattle TDs (2 passing, one rushing), posted a 99.3 passer rating, and galloped for 48 yards rushing. Doug Baldwin also had a breakout game, catching 5 passes for 97 yards and a score (and drawing a 44-yard pass interference penalty that set up a score). Despite all of the turmoil on the offensive side of the ball this season, they are putting up almost 25 points per game, good enough for 10th in the league thus far.
Now the Hawks close out the season with three divsional games. If they win all three, they'll win the NFC West and secure at least a first-round bye. If they win 2, they'll almost certainly make the playoffs. Next week is the dead-on-their-feet Santa Clara 49ers (whom I expect we'll shove into an open grave and bury alive), and then it's a trip to Glendale for the NFC West title.
Of course, that will just be Seattle's first visit to Arizona this season. They'll return on Februrary 1 for Super Bowl XLIX. Oh, you say they might not be able to escape the frozen Hellscape of Lambeau Field? I say the Empire probably thought they'd capture Luke, Leia and Han at the Battle of Hoth. How'd that work out for Lord Vader in the end?
If you want to see a sequel that surpasses the original, imagine the Hawks beating Aaron Rodgers in snowbound Green Bay, followed by a triumph over Tom Brady and the Patriots in the desert. That's some Bourne Ultimatum/X2-level shit right there.
What Do You Think, Sirs?