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The Seattle Seahawks beat the Carolina Panthers 16-12 to improve to 3-2.
Look, guys, let's call this game what it was: a phenomenal defensive effort that masks a litany of offensive shortcomings.
The Seahawks went on the road and won an east coast game (although they were afforded the luxury of a late kickoff time). This is a big win for the Seahawks, highlighted by Gus Bradley's defense holding would-be Superman Cam Newton to a paltry line of 12/29, 141 yards, 0 touchdowns and a lost fumble. And while Brandon Browner had moments where he struggled against Steve Smith (look at the massive differential in hip level), he held his own and the rest of the defense flew around the field giving Panthers players less margin for error than the bread-basket slot in Operation (NSFW?).
I'll get to the offense in a moment, but it's worth pointing out from the second drive of the game and onward that Cam Newton was Human Centipede-level uncomfortable. Newton short-armed numerous throws throughout the game, most notably on a fourth-and-goal play with less than two minutes left when his happy feet caused him to bounce a four yard pass.
The Seahawks offense struggled mightily for most of the game today. I took considerable flack on Twitter during the game for calling the offensive unit a liability, but I stand by the opinion that you can be a good Seahawks fans and still call a spade a spade. Anyhow, from a box-score perspective, the 'Hawks O didn't look awful. Russell Wilson got his third win as a starter, completing 76% of his passes for a TD and two interceptions, one of which was the result of a bobble by Marshawn Lynch that wound up in the hands of a Panthers defender. Lynch, for his part, ended up with 85 yards rushing on 21 carries, Sidney Rice snagged five of his six targets for 67 yards, and Golden Tate scored his second game-winning touchdown in three weeks. To top it off, the 'Hawks held the ball for nearly 60% of the game (35:46) and effectively ground out the clock after getting the go-ahead score.
So what was the problem? Well, for most of the game, the Seahawks offense was about as potent as the "before" guy in a Cialis ad. In their first two drives, they moved the ball pretty well, but as has been their bugaboo so far this season, the drives stalled as soon as the field started shrinking and the possessions ended in field goals. Additionally, the game was almost ripped out of the defense's hands by Wilson's worst play of the season -- a rushed throw that led Anthony McCoy too far and resulted in an easy pick-six for the adorably named Captain Munnerlyn. You might be saying that hey, 16 points ain't bad (it is), but it's worth noting that they also only scored a touchdown after Browner turned in the defensive play of the season for Seattle, stripping DeAngelo Williams on an option pitch deep in Carolina territory. Seattle finished with a sub-par 310 total yards against one of the worst defenses they'll play all season. One major improvement that's worth observing, however, is that Seattle improved from being the sixth-worst third-down offense by going 7-14 today.
Hidden value is something that often gets lost in football discussions, and the second-biggest play of the game for Seattle was one that showed Carroll's ability to maximize said value. With a six-point lead and less than two minutes left, Jon Ryan elected to take a punt play and run out of the back of the endzone, granting Carolina two points, but keeping the difference greater than a field goal, milking the clock, and gaining about 20 yards in field position by kicking off instead of punting out of his own endzone. There are many currencies in football, and two of the strongest ones are time of possession and field position.
After the safety/kickoff, Bruce Irvin sealed the deal with a strip sack of Cam Newton that allowed Russell Wilson to run my favorite play: the victory kneel down.
There's a lot of work that needs to be done by the 'Hawks offense to maximize their drives, but the story of this game was the defense, which was suffocating and spectacular -- like being choking to death in a tiny room filled with lit fireworks.
This was a big win, you guys, but it was also a game they could have very easily lost, especially when Carolina was facing a first and goal with a little over a minute left and trailing by six. Call this game our karmic retribution for the Cardinals loss if you must, but enjoy the win while understanding that this team still has a long ways to go.
3-2 feels good.