2016 seemed like a bizarre inversion of the regular seasons we've grown accustomed to seeing from the CarrollHawks. In 2012, 2014, and 2015, the Seahawks started slow before delivering lethal finishing kicks into the playoffs in November/December. This season, Seattle started 7-2-1, including wins over Atlanta and New England. The offense seemed to find a punishing and explosive groove, and the defense displayed its typical bludgeoning dominance. Over the final six weeks of the season, injuries piled up and the offensive line regressed into rank incompetence. Future Hall of Famer Earl Thomas was lost for the season, and later on so was the incendiary talent of Tyler Lockett.
The struggling offensive line couldn't open running lanes or give Russell Wilson time to throw. Wilson himself seemed mis-calibrated on his passes and no longer quite fast enough to escape from the grasp of enemy defenders. The defense became wildly inconsistent, giving up 14, 7, 38, 3, 34, and 23 points over the last six frames of the regular season. Seattle secured the 3rd seed in the NFC playoffs, but the downward trajectory late in the campaign made 2016 feel more like 1999 or 2004 than 2013. The fading Lions seemed like a team even these Hawks should beat, but given Seattle's ragged December, allowing Detroit its first road playoff win since the Eisenhower Administration felt all too possible.
The hallmarks of playoff football for the Seahawks under Pete Carroll have been a punishing running game, a suffocating defense, and, frankly, bizarre shit and huge performances from seemingly random players. After disappearing for most of the season, the ground game re-emerged for Seattle. Thomas Rawls erupted for a franchise-playoff-record 161 rushing yards, including nine carries for 52 yards on the Seahawks' first TD drive. In all, the Hawks gained 177 yards on 38 running plays behind an offensive line that tore open jagged gashes in Detroit's defense. If Seattle keeps running the ball like this, they can win it all, even without Marshawn Lynch.
The Hawks defense held Detroit to a season-low 231 yards of offense. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bobby Wagner wrestled Lions ball-carriers to the ground 10 times, Cliff Avril notched a pair of sacks, and Richard Sherman erased a third of the field for Matthew Stafford. DeShawn Shead chipped in with three passes defensed and no completions allowed on eight targets. The best run defense in football held the Lions to a minuscule 49 yards on the ground. If the defense keeps playing like this, they can win it all, even without Earl Thomas.
Paul Richardson has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but Tyler Lockett's injury against Arizona gave him a new opportunity to prove his quality. On a 4th down and goal play in the second quarter, Preach made one of the most unbelievable catches you will ever see, reaching around a Lions defender to catch a touchdown with one mitt while being violently interfered with. He'd go on to make two more spectacular Largent-esque catches, and Doug Baldwin contributed one of his own, pinning the ball against his own ass to keep it from hitting the ground. Angry Doug would haul in ten more catches, including the theft of a TD pass intended for Jermaine Kearse. If Seahawks receivers keep balling out like this, they can win it all, even without Tyler Lockett.
It was a total team effort to snuff out the Lions, and they'll have to play even better to defeat the Falcons next Saturday. Four years ago, the Seahawks went to Atlanta and left after one of the most painful defeats in franchise history. Our old friend Dan Quinn and his charges think they are a Super Bowl caliber team. Unfortunately for them, so are the Seahawks. They are battle-hardened and itching to prove that their championship window is still wide-open.
They also have a quarterback who is used to playing superlatively and winning on the biggest of stages. Matt Ryan is an excellent quarterback, but he's also only 1-4 in the playoffs, while Russell Wilson is 8-3. Seattle will be underdogs next week, but they will surprise the football world and emerge victorious. If the Packers upset Dallas, they'll have to come out to Seattle for another NFC Championship tilt. If that goes down, I'll be in the house to watch our boys punch their 4th Super Bowl ticket.
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