When we talk about championship teams, we, as fans and people who discuss history, tend to paint a broad picture with big words and classic imagery. The problem is, this sometimes builds the illusion that teams that reach the pinnacle of success do so effortlessly and are far beyond the competition.
This is rarely true. Unlike college football, even the bad teams are hard to steamroll in the NFL and getting to a collection of 12 or 13 or 14 wins takes key plays in key moments to cement your destiny. I know that sounds cheesy, but when Braylon Edwards caught that fade, it was hard to ignore the fact that, sometimes, it's the big plays made by unheralded players that changes momentum in games so that the finish becomes possible.
So I want to take you through five plays in 2005 that built the backbone of a 13-3 Seahawks' season.
Week 5 Seahawks @ St. Louis:
The Seahawks came in at a disappointing 2-2, both their losses having come on the road. A considerable bugaboo for the 'Hawks was playing on the road. Another bugaboo was the St. Louis Rams. The Hawks team in 2004 had lost three meetings against this team, and so there was absolutely no reason to see this game any different.
The Seahawks traded blows for most of the contest, but their offense slowed in the fourth quarter and with a 37-31 lead, the Hawks punted and Sean McDonald fumbled the ball.
Long snapper J.P. Darche recovered the fumble and the Seahawks ran out the clock and kept on offense with momentum off the field. This set the Seahawks on an unimaginable path to collect the first of 11 consecutive victories.
Week 7 Cowboys @ Seahawks:
This game is kind of burned into my mind because at the time I was traveling with my Grandfather to Vegas, and in the 4th quarter I turned the game off of the radio, disgusted, as it had been a butt kicking by the Cowboys for most of the game.
However, my Grandpa told me I should turn the game back on and it was right at the moment Matt Hasselbeck threw a pass to a sliding Ryan Hannam for a game tying touchdown. Ryan Hannam had 13 catches all year and was really naturally a blocker, so the fact they called his number and the tough catch he made sticks more in my mind as the key to this tough, signature win. Jordan Babineux's interception on the next possession was certainly a big moment, but it's not even possible without Ryan's sliding corner catch.
Week 12 Giants @ Seahawks:
The Seahawks came in on a high after beating three NFC West opponents in a row. The Giants played defense tough and the historic the eleven 12th-man-influenced false starts helped slow the Giants as the Seahawks had just as much trouble sustaining drives themselves on offense. This game was up and down tough all over, and much like the game with the Cowboys, the Seahawks seemed disoriented against a tough defense who could slow down their running game.This game slipped into overtime and the offense struggled more and more, failing even to gain a first down until their were 7 minutes left in the overtime quarter. Jay Feely missed three game winning kicks and then on a 2nd and 21, D.J. Hackett caught a 48 yard pass to get the Seahawks onto the Giants' side of the field.
D.J. Hackett caught just 28 passes in 2005, but none was bigger than that one. What people probably don't realize is the fact that Hackett had to adjust to the ball in the air and not only that, realize that he was matched up in position where Hasselbeck would put it up for him. The problem, many times, with young guys is that as they learn the game, it becomes about route correctness and sometimes they are unable to also understand their keys with defensive looks and when to expect the football.
The catch and awareness of Hackett that the ball would be coming -- because of the safety's position and the corner's release in a zone -- pulled the Seahawks out of a funk and the next 3 runs for 23 yards just put the icing on the cake.
Week 15 Seahawks @ Titans
The media in this one called it a 'classic trap game'. The Seahawks, however, didn't play poorly to start. Shaun had a big run and Jerramy Stevens played well early.
However, the Seahawks offense struggled after the half really until the later 4th quarter. In the meantime, the defense, which was demolished by former NFL MVP Steve "Air" McNair, surged to stop the Titans on a key 4th and 1. Michael Boulware and Lofa Tatupu combined to turn back the rolling offensive force and gave the seahawks the chance at a comeback down 24-21.
Divisional Round Redskins @ Seahawks
The Seahawks came into this game bearing a ton of weight from expectations, and also the previous two years of disappointing first round exits. This was evident by the uncharacteristic fumble by Shaun Alexander and some mis-timed throws by Matt Hasselbeck.
When Shaun was knocked out by the Redskins, the air went out of the crowd and the team just looked to be too tight.
With 3:27 left in the 2nd quarter, Matt Hasselbeck threw off play action to Darrell Jackson, pulling him away from the safety and giving the seahawks their first points of the game. Though it seems kind of early to call that the key play of the entire game, for an offense that seemed to be pressing, the TD let the tension out of everyone and let them start breathing again. The offense didn't break out, but it was much more confident and Matt cut it loose more definitively after the first TD, and the team seemed to cruise to a 20-10 victory.
To wrap this up, the idea behind my trip down memory lane was to possibly help people to understand that when teams have big seasons, it's not that they are always that much better than the opponent every game; it takes key plays, grit, trust, determination and sometimes just a play from nowhere that helps bring your team out of a funk.
Or, for instance, it's a 4th and 3 fade route/back shoulder throw to a guy who hadn't even been on the field prior, except for a few snaps in spot duty.
Special seasons often happen when players that aren't expected to really step up, step up, and players that are good become better. This Seahawks' team is still incomplete. We know what the defense is every week and how it can play. This offense is still learning and growing, game-by-game, week-by-week, and this is going to mean more games are going to come down to plays just like this.
Five out of six of the Seahawks' games thus far this season have come down to the wire - the offense had the chance to finish late against both Arizona and St. Louis but came up short; they had the opportunity late to give themselves a chance to win against Green Bay, Carolina, and New England and came through for their defense. It's going to remain this way for the foreseeable future, until the offense can develop it's identity and learn to build leads early and punish late. Buckle up.