January 13, 2016

Top 5: Seahawks Beat Panthers!

In my three-plus decades of Twelving, I've never been more confident that the Seahawks would win a road playoff game than I am going into the divisional playoff at Charlotte. Before the 2012 Wild Card Game, I was jittery because we hadn't won a road playoff game since 1983. Before last week, I was anxious because of the historically terrible weather conditions. 

This week? I'm not jittery or anxious. I look at a Panthers team that is perhaps the shakiest 15-1 team in NFL history and I don't feel a single twitch of fear. I see a Seattle team that will be relaxed, at full-strength, and has a SHITLOAD of recent success playing the Panthers in Charlotte. I see a stifling Seahawks defense eager to prove their meltdown in week 6 was an aberration. I see a Seattle quarterback who is surely, silently itching to show HE is the one who should be the presumptive NFL MVP.

I think we roll in a game that is less competitive than many are expecting. Seahawks 26, Panthers 14 feels about right. By Sunday evening we'll be one step closer to the restoration of the Emerald Empire...

We've played the Panthers 10 times, and won 7 of those battles... Here's a look back at the Top 5. Enjoy! 

Seattle was a trendy Super Bowl pick going into the 2013 season 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 in Week 1. 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!

In the sweltering North Carolina heat, the Hawks indeed got off to a sluggish start. But when Wilson fired a perfect spiral to Jermaine Kearse for a 43-yard touchdown, Seattle held a 12-7 lead with 10 minutes left. The Panthers answered with an impressive 9-play, 72-yard march down to the Seahawks' 8-yard line. Then the L.O.B. did its thing- Earl Thomas wrested the ball away from DeAngelo Will1iams' mitts and disaster was averted. With five-plus minutes left, the offense needed to play keep-away to seal the win. 

The drive got off to an abysmal start when Marshawn Lynch was tackled for a 5-yard loss. But Wilson followed that up with completions to Derrick Coleman and Doug Baldwin to keep the drive alive. Wilson and Lynch teamed up on a 14-play drive than ran out the rest of the clock and started Seattle's march towards XLVIII with a hard-fought victory. 

The Seahawks were 3-3 and skidding through a 2-game losing streak. This was about when ESPN was filled with stories about Russell Wilson not being "black enough," and so on. It seemed like it would all come crumbling down with one more hard shove, with one more calamitous defeat. Seattle trailed 9-6 with just over four minutes left to play, On the ensuing 10-play, 80-yard drive, Wilson would complete passes to Cooper Helfet, Kevin Norwood, and Paul Richardson before drilling a touchdown strike to Luke Willson to give Seattle a 13-9 lead with only 53 seconds remaining. Back-to-back sacks by Bruce Irvin sealed the win, and yet again the Hawks wriggled out of the noose. 

Whenever I get too arrogant about my opinions related to our beloved Seahawks, remind me that I wanted Russell Wilson benched early in the 2012 season. I hadn't even wanted him to take on the starting job in the first place, and after an ugly performance/loss in St. Louis dropped Seattle to 2-2, I was more than ready to see Wilson get the hook in favor of Matt Flynn. 

I'm a dumbass. 

After a Charlotte pick-6 gave the Panthers the lead early in the 2nd half, I seethed with misplaced rage. Wilson actually had a solid day other than that, and found Golden Tate for the go-ahead score late in the 3rd quarter... But the story of this victory was authored by the defense, who allowed Cam Newton and the Cats to get all the way down to Seattle's 6-yard line. 1st and Goal. 18 feet from defeat. 

1st down: Newton stopped after a 3-yard gain. 

2nd down: DeAngelo Williams dropped for a loss of 3. 

3rd down: Brandon Browner and Marcus Trufant (Yes, for reals. He was still a Hawk in 2012) stop Louis Murphy just shy of the goal line. 

4th down: Less than a yard away. Instead of trying to score with their massive, agile QB, a pass is called. It falls incomplete. Seattle takes over inches from their own goal line with just 3 minutes left to play. 

What followed was an odd 7-play, 17-yard drive that ended in an intentional safety. Huh? Bruce Irvin settled matters with a sack-strip-recovery 2 plays later, and I was ecstatic to be proven wrong. 

Holy shit! Can you believe that the Hawks only led the 7-8-1 Panthers 14-10 going into the 4th quarter of this one? The Seahawks seemed to restore order when they built a 24-10 lead with 6 minutes left, but Charlotte promptly drove down to the Seattle 13-yard-line. Then Kam Bam'd and Bam'd... 

As I wrote at the time: 

Five years ago, Pete Carroll was hired as the Seahawks new head coach. He inherited a roster that was Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (so to speak). One seemingly small move in Carroll's complete demolition/rebuild of the Seahawks in 2010 was the 5th round selection of a safety out of Virgina Tech: Kam Chancellor. Seattle's starting safeties in 2009 were the serviceable duo of Jordan Babineaux and Deon Grant (whose average age was 28.5). Just like at every other position, Carroll's goal was to get younger/better/cheaper in the defensive backfield. Expectations were high for first-rounder Earl Thomas from Texas, but the former high school quarterback Chancellor slid into the 5th. The move into the secondary served Kam well with the Hokies, and he'd quickly build a reputation for wanton brutality once he reached the NFL. 

Bam Bam Kam has already made his mark in the league, being selected to three Pro Bowls, being named 2nd-team All-Pro twice, and surely haunting Vernon Davis' nightmares (among dozens of other offensive players). However, yesterday Chancellor delivered the best performance of his already illustrious career. He made 11 tackles, including an incredible individual effort to blow up a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams and a first down-denying hammering of sentient boulder Mike Tolbert. A bewildering flag denied him credit for an acrobatic blocked field goal at the end of the first half. With Charlotte deep in Seattle territory, and aiming to pull within 7 with six minutes left, Chancellor jumped the route and sped 90 yards for the clinching score.

A quick personal story about this one... 

I was at the game, and I was unfathomably nervous and jacked-up on Red Bull beforehand. I was in Touchdown City and they had this little obstacle course set up where you'd jump over a couple of hurdles and then take down a tackling dummy. When my turn came up I SPRINTED through the course and came at the dummy so hard that I actually flew over it and ended up face-planting ala Jon Ryan last week. I got up, dazed and a bit horrified. Someone handed me a free t-shirt. I was probably concussed. I was lucky I didn't knock out my teeth or end up watching the NFC Championship from an emergency room. 

Here I am after almost ruining everything: 

Here's my brother and I after the Seahawks clinched their first trip to the Super Bowl.. I cried a lot. 

So um... Yeah. Lots of changes since then... 

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January 11, 2016

Seahawks 10, Vikings 9

The best team won.

The team that gained more yards? They won.

The team that held the league's best running back to 45 yards on 23 carries? They won.

The team that fought back from a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit on the road not only in a hostile environment, but in one unfit for human habitation? They won.

The team with the better quarterback, whose improvisational skills turned a broken play into a season-saving masterpiece? They won.

The team with the receiver that did this? They won.                                                                                                            

The team with the future Hall-of-Fame safety who did this? They won. 

Sure, Blair Walsh should have made that kick. But that miss didn't take place on a holodeck. It happened in the most pressure-packed of situations- and not long after Richard Sherman came within nanometers of blocking an earlier kick. Snapper, holder and kicker were all likely thinking about that. The entire battery felt the weight of that moment. And they collapsed, burying Minnesota's season in frigid, jagged rubble. 

The popular imagination wants to distill the entire result down to that single moment, ignoring what the Seahawks did in order to be up by one with seconds remaining. The only Minnesota points on Sunday came after Seahawks miscues set the Vikings up with great field position. It would have been ridiculously easy for any visiting team playing in Sunday's inhumane, laughable conditions to fold after what befell the Seahawks early on. Lesser teams could have reacted to ANY ONE of a botched punt, a failed 4th-down conversion, or a 3rd-quarter drive-killing interception with slow-motion surrender. ALL THREE of those things happened to the Hawks, on top of their superstar running back (Marshawn Lynch) suddenly taking himself out of the starting line up on Friday. 

Negative six degrees. Down by nine. No Beast. No hope, right? 

There was a moment where even I thought "Shit. It's over." Early 4th quarter. The shotgun snap flies right past Russell Wilson's head and skitters 15 yards in the wrong direction. The prudent play? Fall on the ball. Even that probably would have been a drive-killer, and would have ended up burning precious minutes off the clock before Seattle got the ball back. With FIVE Vikings defenders closing, RW3 got up off the ground, scrambled right, and fired a pass downfield to Tyler Lockett an instant before getting absolutely blasted. 35-yard gain. Seattle was in position to score the games's lone touchdown. After Wilson once again found Doug Baldwin in the end zone, the Hawks were within 2. 

The Vikings decided to rely on their one true superstar to close out the win. They went to Adrian Peterson on the next two plays. Peterson is one of the best rushing talents the NFL has ever seen, but for the 2nd time in just over a month, he was absolutely embarrassed by the Legion of Boom. Kam Chancellor straight-up stole the ball out of Peterson's grip and set up Seattle for the go-ahead field goal (a 46-yarder absolutely DRILLED by Steven Hauschka- with assists from Clint Gresham and a bloodied-but unbowed Jon Ryan). 

The teams traded punts until the final two minutes. One more defensive stop would send the Seahawks to Charlotte for the NFC Divisional Playoff. Then a questionable pass interference call against Kam. Then Chancellor got beat by Kyle Rudolph to set the Vikings up well within Blair Walsh's range. I sank. I fell silent. I started composing the blogging equivalent of a concession speech in my head. The best-case scenario felt like getting the ball back with 20 seconds left and no time-outs. No chance. 

But the defense realized something I didn't: If they allowed a touchdown, defeat would be ensured. Hold them to a field goal try, and there was some tiny probability of survival. One last time, the Seattle defenders rose up, and they stopped Peterson just short of the sticks on 3rd down. Next, the formality of Walsh's winning kick. 

Here's a great article about why Walsh missed... The images will stay stamped into our brainpans forever: Sherm collapsed on the field. John Schneider kissing Pete Carroll and all but saying "Keep it. It suits you." Mike Morgan sprinting, arms splayed outward, in triumph. Michael Bennett standing in stunned silence after perhaps the best performance of his dominant career.  

Victory. Once again, Pete Carroll's Seahawks found some way to win when most of America was watching. For reference, here I am before the game, compared to right after Walsh's miss: 

I've seen some crazy shit in my 32 years of Twelving. I've seen last second wins at Arrowhead. I've seen Jay Feeley miss FOUR field goals in the 4th quarter and OT. I've seen Romo drop the snap. I've seen BeastQuakes. I've seen the greatest 4th-quarter comeback in NFC Championship Game history. If these Seahawks go on to win the Super Bowl, Walsh's miss will go down as one of the most important moments in franchise history... But NEVER forget this: This was a game the Seahawks RICHLY deserved to win. 

It's off to North Carolina to play the Paper Panthers, who have seemed ripe for a beatdown for the last few weeks. Bobby Wagner and Jeremy Lane didn't play when Charlotte edged us back in October, and Seattle's offense wasn't the mutant juggernaut it evolved into over the second half of the season. 

I'm ready for this. So are the Seahawks. It will be a meat-grinder of a game, and a stomach-churning three-plus hours for all us 12s- But Seattle will survive and advance. Why? 

Because the best team is going to win. 

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January 4, 2016

Seahawks 36, Cardinals 6

They thought it was over. 

The back-up quarterback danced on the sideline like a kid hopped up on Pixy Stix. The starting quarterback crotch-chopped the Seahawks Stadium crowd like he had just won the PBA Championship. They treated escaping Seattle with a narrow win after blowing a 19-point-lead like they had just killed the bad guy, gotten the girl, and saved the world. 

To be honest, at the time I thought they might have been right. I felt nauseous after that loss. It felt worse than the collapses against Cincinnati and Charlotte. It felt like a fulcrum, and in a bad sort of way. I'm very much a "don't give up until mathematical elimination" sort of girl, but after losing to our bitter divisional rivals and falling to 4-5, 2015 felt destined to be an unpleasant footnote in Seahawks history ala 1985: An aberrant stumble into mediocrity by a supremely talented team. 

Then, the completion of a sweep of the execrable 49ers, followed by a rousing victory over the loathsome but lethal Steelers. The benching (and release) of Cary Williams helped. The offensive line coalescing into collective greatness helped. The emergence of Thomas Rawls helped. Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin suddenly becoming drift compatible? That helped a LOT. Seattle tore through Minnesota, Baltimore, and Cleveland. They dropped a weird decision to the otherwise ordinary Rams, and entered Sunday's game at Glendale against the surging Cardinals at 9-6. 

Arizona boasted one of the NFL's best offenses, led by legitimate MVP candidate Carson Palmer. They also had plenty to play for, given that they still had a chance at securing home field through the playoffs at kickoff. The Seahawks were missing five key starters, and were 6-point underdogs according to Las Vegas. 

The Seahawks proceeded to go at everyone's trendy Super Bowl pick with steel wool and rusty straight razors. Seattle ran out to a 30-6 halftime lead before their beret-wearing fake-ass coach cried uncle and pulled Palmer from the game before Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril could split him in twain. 

The defense, maligned by so many all season, ended up leading the league in scoring defense for the 4th consecutive year. Deshawn Shead and Kelcie McCray have filled in capably in the secondary, and Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are playing dominant football- But this defense has become absolutely smothering against the run. They only allowed Arizona 27 rushing yards, and no defense in the NFL has allowed fewer yards on the ground than Seattle this season. While the Legion of Boom remains dangerous, it's the front seven that is now the biggest strength of the Seahawks defense. 

The Seahawks have the best defense in football. Based on the last two months, they might have the best offense, too. Despite losing first Marshawn Lynch and then Thomas Rawls, the Hawks have still run the ball effectively. Christine Michael has seemingly resuscitated his career, running for 102 yards on 17 carries yesterday (his 2nd highly effective performance in 3 weeks). Doug Baldwin wrapped up easily the finest season of his career, scoring 14 TDs and going over 1000 yards receiving for the first time. Tyler Lockett had another stunning outing, shredding Arizona's punt coverage team over and over and making tough, important veteran catches like.. well... Doug Baldwin. Even Jermaine Kearse has become a reliable target for Russell Carrington Wilson. 

Wilson? He's just ascending faster than the Ares IV MAV whisking poor ketchup-deprived Mark Watney from the Martian surface. He just had the best season ANY Seahawks quarterback has ever had, my 12s, 34 touchdowns. 4000+ yards passing. Only 8 picks. A QB rating of 110. Oh.. and over 500 yards rushing. NO ONE is playing the position better than the WolfBadger right now. Not Carson Palmer. Not Tom Brady. Not Cam Newton. Nobody. 

So Seattle is now the 6 seed in the NFC. They'll have to win in Minneapolis, Charlotte and (probably) Glendale to get to Super Bowl 50. It seems improbable, but the 2010 Packers won the title from EXACTLY this position- and these Seahawks are a demonstrably better team. These Seahawks have also won five straight road games. They are talented, confident and battle-tested. You'll hear about how it's going to be 12 degrees in Minnesapolis Sunday. Who gives a fuck? They could play this game in a clearing on Starkiller Base and it wouldn't affect this team. 

The Seahawks have the best defense. They have the best offense. They have the best quarterback. And, oh hi Marshawn... They'll have the best playoff running back since Emmitt Smith on the field Sunday, too. 

Turns out that it's not over, is it? 

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