November 24, 2015

Seahawks 29, Santa Clara 13

I've talked a lot in this space lately about how this season has felt like 2004- That forlorn, torturous campaign that ended with a Bobby Engram drop in the end zone and a excruciating playoff loss to the hated St. Louis Rams. We've certainly seen the same sort of spate of blown 4th quarter leads and nauseatingly familiar inconsistent play, but maybe we don't have to reach that far back in history to find a template for comparison. 

Four years ago this week, the Seahawks were in a similar position. They were 6-5, and they had already lost to the division leaders (San Francisco that year), so the NFC West title already seemed out of reach. In all five of their losses, they blew a lead. In three losses, they squandered a 4th-quarter lead. They were talented. They were tough. But something wasn't clicking. 

We know what happened next. The Seahawks posted an upset win at Chicago (in a game NO ONE gave them a chance to win), and then went on a spree of wanton demolition not seen since the cops went on strike in Old Detroit during the 3rd act of Robocop. They won their last 4 regular season games by an aggregate score of 170-43 (including a 42-13 thrashing of the 49ers). They upset DC on the road in the Wild Card game, and were thirty seconds away from a 3rd contest against the Niners (but this time for a trip to the Super Bowl). The team that got to the precipice on the NFC Championship Game bore little resemblance to the team that lost to 4-12 Detroit and 7-9 Miami. 

These Seahawks? They're 5-5. They haven't beaten a team with a winning record yet. They haven't beaten a team with an elite quarterback yet. They've blown BIG 4th quarter leads multiple times. The offensive line has been more putrid than an Arby's grease trap. Their identity-defining, mercilessly punishing All-Pro running back might not play again this season (or ever again for the Seahawks). They're no longer invincible at home, having already lost in Seattle twice. Their All-Pro safety held out for two games and he hasn't been quite the same since. Their franchise quarterback has underperformed on a "Wild Thing Vaughn in most of Major League II" level. They haven't played a complete, impressive 60-minute game yet this season. They are clearly suffering from a post-Super Bowl loss hangover, right? They are done. They are cooked more thoroughly than most Thanksgiving turkeys, right? 

That's the fashionable conventional wisdom, but it might also be deeply wrong. They're still talented enough to build huge leads on teams like Cincinnati and Charlotte, and to erase a huge deficit against Arizona. They have the second best overall defense in the NFL (and also the second best one against the pass, despite some maddening late-game collapses). They have the best rushing offense in the league, even with Marshawn Lynch missing three and a half games so far this season. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are still the best pair of edge pass rushers around, and Jeremy Lane is set to return in order to bolster the Legion of Boom.

Russell Wilson, despite a growing heap of mostly misplaced criticism, just had his best game of the season. That maligned offensive line has vastly improved in recent weeks, keeping Wilson cleaner in the pocket and creating wider running lanes for Seattle ballcarriers. Doug Baldwin is perhaps having the best season of his career. The biggest sources for optimism on offense come in the form of two rookies: WR/KR Tyler Lockett and RB Thomas Rawls. Lockett made an instant impact as a kick returner, but he's becoming a dangerous weapon as a receiver as well. Flash had 2 TDs Sunday, and the last Seahawks rookie wideout to score twice in one game was Joey Galloway all the way back in 1995. 

Lockett, hopefully coupled soon with a healthy Paul Richardson, makes defenses vulnerable to the deep ball on play-action. That only works if Seattle is effectively running the ball. With Thomas Rawls darting into holes and exploding through defenders, that doesn't appear to be a problem for the Seahawks.

The undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan is playing Willie Beamen to Marshawn Lynch's Cap Rooney right now. Sunday he touched the ball a whopping 33 times, and stacked up 245 yards while conquering the Santa Clara end zone twice. Not only does he already have three 100-yard rushing performances- He has averaged a ridiculous 6 yards per carry! Could it be a fluke? Could it just be that he's relatively fresh and healthy compared to the defenses he's flaying alive? Maybe. But the kid is starting to look like another stunning UDFA find by John Schneider, and Life After Shawn is looking slightly less bleak and terrifying all of the sudden.

Next up is Pittsburgh. Fans might want "revenge" for Super Bowl XL, but the players couldn't give less of a fuck about that. They just want to prove they can still beat a playoff-worthy team. In a similar spot 4 years ago, those '12 Hawks stunned the football world with an unexpected triumph in Chicago. With a win over the Steelers, Seattle would serve notice that they're still a legit NFC contender. It's not hyperbole to state that a win this Sunday would change the entire tenor of this season.

Seattle should (and will) beat Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis. If they want to make the playoffs, they'll need to win 2 out 3 from Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Arizona. I don't know about y'all. but I'd prefer to have a playoff spot locked down before that rematch with the Cardinals, if possible. On a totally selfish tip, I'm going to be at the games against Cleveland and St. Louis that bracket Christmas, and I'd like those games to be meaningful. Don't let me down, boys.

You might be thinking "So what? So what if they sneak in as a wild card?" Well, six Wild Card teams have won the Super Bowl, one as recently as 2010. And you don't want another shot at the Packers? At the Panthers? I do, and you KNOW the Hawks do, too.

Oh... Fuck Pittsburgh. Obviously.

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Matthew Lorenz said...

So glad you're back! I've been starved for your writing.
This is more of just a general Thank You rather than a direct response to this article.
I've been following your Blog for years.
DKSB is the ONLY sports blog I repeatedly recommend to people! True story!!

I tried writing comments a few times, but the open ID feature didn't work out somehow (most likely USER ERROR!!).
I finally got a G-Mail acct, so here I am!

Anyway, love your 'voice', it really resonates with me. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

OK, so full disclosure: this hopeful glass full ideology of being a 12 is me. Having come from a cynical but realist based NY sports minded fan (New York Mets, New York Rangers..every year, make me want to give up sports for knitting, and along w/ my family being Jets fans...fatalism is a part of our identity lol), I too find myself look at the scenarios each week. It's certainly not ideal, but it is what it is. My only concern from this year is that DangeRuss might be regressing to the mean...or at least, the opposition is figuring him out. I think he'll be a little more cerebral than the average QB. But he'll be fine in the long run. I hope. Anyway, I can say that as Hawks fans we've been through a lot. And scenarios like this is nothin. I mean, look at Largent's game against Miami in 83 ;). Also - "Fuck Pittsburgh." Damn, you are a woman after my own heart!