October 29, 2015

Schrödinger's Seahawks

Are the Seattle Seahawks one of the best teams in football, saddled with a losing record mainly due to tough competition and horrible luck? They're currently 6th in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, and all of their losses have come either in overtime, to a currently undefeated team, or both. Only four of their remaining nine games are against teams that currently sport winning records. It would be reasonable to argue they might be on the verge of a winning streak that would vault them towards a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

Or are they an inferior team that is only a couple of plays (and an injured Jay Cutler) away from being 1-6? The offensive line just allowed five sacks to a Santa Clara defense that hadn't recorded a sack in their two previous contests. Russell Wilson is running around like John Anderton trying to find that elusive Minority Report, and his decision-making has slipped a notch accordingly. The defense has lurched from dominance to feeble feigned resistance and back again. The only consistent thing about this team has been its placekicker. It would be reasonable to argue that they're well on their way to the first 10-loss campaign of the Pete Carroll era.

Just as Schrödinger's Cat was simultaneously dead and alive, these Seahawks are at once a legitimate Super Bowl contender AND just another team amidst a scrum of below-average, scuffling NFC squads. In a real sense, one of those quantum states will collapse on Sunday when we open the box that is JerryWorld and see what's inside: A living, breathing threat to conquer Santa Clara in February, or the lifeless husk of the team we used to know? 

You can probably guess which side I'm falling on- This team is getting healthier, and they are fortunate to catch Dallas while Tony Romo is still sidelined by injury. AT&T Stadium will be festooned in 12th Man Flags, and before the end, a national TV audience will hear "SEA! HAWKS!" chants loud and clear.  Marshawn Lynch will chomp up ground and clock, and the Legion of Boom will be the fog that turns Matt Cassell inside out. It's also safe to assume that in the event that Dez Bryant plays on Sunday, he won't be 100%. Sherm will shadow him, shut him down. 

My prediction? Seattle 19, Dallas 12. The Hawks roll into the bye at 4-4, and ready for a sprint towards Levi's Stadium over the 2nd half of the season. How about we take a peek at our five most memorable wins over the Minions of the Botox'd Ghoul? 

5. Seahawks 29, Cowboys 3 (12/16/01)
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 fucking 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 last year's dust-up in Santa Clara ended with RW3 and Sherm eating turkey on the Niners' logo).

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 Hawks storming the field. The Seahawks wouldn't lose another meaningful game until Super Bowl XL.

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 Owens with Seattle's season on the line.

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

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