The last time I guaranteed a win was just before Super Bowl XL. I didn't understand much about football at the time. I learned my lesson. Football is a beautiful and chaotic clockwork of parts and pieces, and I love it for its ability to simultaneously deliver what I expect and take me by complete surprise. Since that wretched afternoon in Detroit, I've felt that football bravado is the best way to double down on the pain of losing, and I have gone out of my way to avoid that type of thinking. Being certain that your team is going to win doesn't make the wins any sweeter, but it makes the despair of losing nearly bottomless.
The 2013 Seahawks, then, leave me in a bit of a pickle.
As the taxi whisked my friends and I into Pioneer Square yesterday, the conversation turned to 42-13 and how we shouldn't expect a repeat. Kaep's a different guy, Boldin looks unstoppable, we don't have Clemons, Lynch couldn't get going last week, Wilson's magic might be wearing off...all of the familiar hedging of bets began to bubble up from my friends. They were already bargaining with the future loss. It's a fine tactic that we've learned the hard way and embraced as Seattleites, but in that moment it felt like bullshit and I called it as such. Bullshit. Everything we know about this team suggests that it's time to move on. Embrace confidence. Trust the talent.
We hopped out into the pouring rain. Throngs of 12s erupted as the rain started to fall harder. Thunder off in the distance. Gameday wasn't just in the air, it was seeping into the empty spaces between every molecule in my body. Richard Sherman wasn't paying lip service; the electricity in this town on gameday makes you feel 10 feet tall. It smelled like Seattle and ozone and sea salt and I was absolutely certain we were going to win.
Observations that may or not may be in chronological order:
- Shaun Alexander's warm welcome was cool to see. He is a Seahawk and a 12 through and through, and it was the loudest 12th Man ceremony I've been party to.
- Commemorative earplugs. The only other event I've attended where earplugs are the norm was an F1 race involving a combined 22,000 horsepower. The Clink is louder.
- Our seats were in section 135, just a few rows down from the padded seats. We were out of the rain by about six rows. It's amazing to be in an open air stadium, sit that close to the field, and still be out of the weather. It's my favorite building in the world.
- I will never forget the 49ers 3-and-out to open Week 16. Kaepernick missed a deep throw to the left seam by inches on the first play from scrimmage, and the tone was set. In what appeared to be an open acknowledgment of that game, the 49ers kick things off with a Frank Gore run off right tackle for not much. Crowd is alive. Kaep gets stretched out of bounds on 2nd down, and checks down for five yards on 3rd down when he needs six. Crowd is delirious.
- Tate flips the field position on the 35-something-yard punt return. With kickoff returns already becoming an afterthought and Tate's steady and explosive punt returns, the decision to let Leon walk is working out just fine.
- Wilson misses Willson badly and forces an ill-advised throw to Rice. The Hawks are 3-and-out after a promising Lynch carry on first down. Wilson had time to make better throws and didn't. The SF coverage looked admittedly tight.
- That blocked punt. I didn't hear the whistle that others heard, but the body language made it very clear that they thought a false start or timeout had been called. Tough break early in the game. Just the type of tough break that buried the 49ers in our last matchup. San Francisco ball on the cusp of the red zone. Time to stand up.
- The Hawks do their thing in the defensive third. Squeeze the life out of the offense. The 49ers started on the Seahawks' 33 and ran what felt like 10 plays to move 25 yards. Thurmond makes a tremendous play on the ball that sends it up in the air for what felt like an eternity. There was a terrific opportunity here for 2-3 of our guys to run into one another while trying to collect the tipped ball. Yet there seemed to be an understanding that in this situation, Earl is going to find that ball, so let him. And he did. Talent big play nullifies lucky big play and we've weathered the first big test.
- Wilson misses Sidney Rice on 1st down. Lynch puts the team on his back early with a 21-yard carry that probably should have gone all the way. You guys have seen more replays of this than I have, but it looked like Lynch went looking for contact in the second level rather than turning on the jets we saw in the Detroit Lions game last season. Not complaining.
- The drive stalls on a prolonged injury timeout, a Doug Baldwin false start, a Wilson incompletion to Miller, and finally ends with a Russell Wilson arm-punt on 3rd down after Tate slips. Reid gets to pad his Pro Bowl resume with the easiest INT you could ask for.
- In all honesty, I am eager to watch Eric Reid develop. He looks every bit the part. Shame he's in our division, but it'll be nice to have somebody else in the conversation with Earl Thomas in a few years.
- Kaep finds Kyle Williams in what is probably his longest pass completion of the entire day. Strange that the 49ers didn't go to Williams more.
- 49ers ran a ton of pure shotgun looks in this series if I remember correctly. Crowd wants blood after the interception and forces a false start and a delay of game. The officials took forever to throw the flag on the delay of game and would have had an absolute mutiny to deal with if Colin Kaepernick had gotten away with it.
- The thing I've noticed the most about this defense in the Dan Quinn era has been the presnap activity of our front seven. Gus Bradley had our guys looking like statues waiting for the snap. In 2013, guys are moving, talking, pointing, shifting, faking blitz and just generally looking cool as h*ck out there.
- Colin Kaepernick is by leaps and bounds the best running quarterback I've ever seen. Wilson is really more Aaron Rodgers than he is Kaep or Griffin.
- This is around the time that people started to get openly nervous about the thunderstorm. From "woooo!" to "dude....."
- Anyway, Sherman stuffs Kyle Williams on 3rd and long and the 49ers punt again. It barely bounces into the end zone. Whew.
- Wilson misfires on 1st down and takes a sack on 2nd and my entire section is almost comically rabble-rabbling about it. Somebody holds and the drive stalls. Yuck.
- The lightning comes close to frying the entire Hawks Nest and the game is suspended. My friends and I are annoyed but relieved to be out of the line of fire. The scene during the hour-long delay was funny. The opportunist alcoholics found themselves chugging brews to save themselves the halftime reload. The families desperately tried to keep their annoying little kids happy and dry and entertained. Angry Birds all up in it. Armchair meteorologists delivered loud proclamations about the impending weather. Everyone else compared notes on fantasy football and bombarded Twitter and Facebook. I looked for the Potacho stand to no avail. Some of you saw me on Twitter speculating that the delay would take us out of the game. It really did feel that way. People looked cold and pissed. I should have known better.
- The announcement is made over the PA that we can return to our seats and the place goes nuts. The 49ers get booed as they return to the field and the Seahawks come out to loud cheers. The players were intentionally engaging with the crowd to wake us back up. 100% chance that Carroll said "no matter what you do, go get your fanbase back into the game as soon as you step out into the lights". It worked.
- Gore or Hunter (can't recall) gets stuffed for a loss on 1st down. Kaep takes a huuuuge sack from Michael Bennett who collapsed in on himself like a folding chair to beat the right tackle. 49ers punt.
- Avril and Bennett were electrifying. They jumped off the snap, were as active and high-motor as anyone we've seen in years, and got to Kaepernick regularly. If this is Matt Ryan or Schaub or Ponder or Gabbert or oh my god we're going to devour stationary quarterbacks this season if we can get this performance on a regular basis.
- Okung hurt. Nobody else in the crowd seems concerned but my friends and I are in panic mode.
- The 2nd quarter was a blur. BIG completion to Lynch on a spidery banana-y looking play. It felt like a miracle that he caught that pass for some reason, but the be-dreaded wildebeest hauled it in and kept on going. Wilson takes a big sack that pushes Seattle out of field goal range. McQuistan essentially cuts Wilson's internal clock in half.
- Safety. Points. Clink shakes.
- Avril makes a very win-probability-friendly gamechanging play by stripping Kaepernick from behind in San Francisco territory. You could tell he was going to make a play from the moment the ball was snapped. Again, how anybody plans on defending Clemons and Avril at the same time is completely beyond me.
- Lynch stampedes for 15 or so but that's all we can muster. Wilson continues to be frustrated by a lack of protection and a lack of WR separation. 2 more RZ incompletions and we settle for the field goal. Points, but not the way you want to capitalize on a fumble in enemy territory.
- KJ makes a big 3rd down stop in coverage on Frank Gore in the next series. I thought the linebackers looked really great in space last night. I'm sure it was an area that San Francisco saw as an opportunity and the young corps responded well to the challenge. This was as encouraging to me as the improved defensive line play.
- Rice kills the next series with a moronic taunting penalty after catching a tough pass over the middle of the field and absorbing a Waterboy-esque hit from Eric Reid. There is no excuse at all to be spinning the football when that new penalty was specifically highlighted in the media and at Seahawks camp. Rice is a smart player. Do something else. Literally anything else.
- Hardly anybody moves a muscle at the half. We are beered up and ready for more football. Twitter keeps me pretty entertained when I can find a signal on the absolutely jammed cell phone towers in Sodo.
- Second half adjustments prevail again. A combination of Beast and Turbo pound away and Wilson finds Doug Baldwin for a massive completion that flips the field position. A lucky, ticky-task facemask call sustains the drive. Which reminds me:
- The officiating was an outrage. It benefited both teams equally, but it was an outrage. This crew should never sniff another primetime game.
- In what is becoming a theme against SF, Marshawn scurries into the endzone from 14 yards out, completely untouched by anyone in gold and red. Twelve-nothing Hawks, a score that draws a self-aware cheer when announced by the PA. I scribble "game over" in my notebook and then punch myself in the face.
- San Francisco's best offensive series is to follow, with a BLISTERING Kaepernick scramble and medium completions to Miller and I believe McDonald. KJ brings Kaep down on third and short and the Niners settle for a field goal, 12-3. Crowd treated it like a win. We're optimistic about the offense and may have weathered the 49ers best shot.
- A whole bunch of penalties, neverending penalties, a drive that just floats on down the field on a literal tidal wave of yellow hankies. We're into the 4th quarter. Marshawn slowmotions for 'em and the party is on in the Clink.
- 49ers are now playing from a serious deficit, and I mention to my buddies that this is the deadliest gamestate for Seahawks opponents. A penalty on McDonald (shoulda been Gore) negates a 14 yard catch and run by Gore and pushed SF back inside their own 20. Sherman gets his wish as San Francisco dials up a foolish pass to his side. I've heard SF fans calling this ball from Kaep underthrown, but in all reality it was perfect. It would have dropped directly into Davis' basket if not for Sherman's unbelievable high-pointing interception. For once, perfect coverage beats a perfect pass. The rout is on.
- Seahawks turn the INT into 3 more points after the drive goes nowhere.
- This is the point in the game where I have fully blown out one octave of my screaming voice and have to shift lower or higher. "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh" is now "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh". I don't think it carries as far and it's frustrating.
- Niners give up on the deep pass and the run game and decide to take whatever short garbage the Seahawks will cough up. I think Boldin's only catch came during this drive. A few others to Kyle Williams and another nice scramble by Kaepernick, but Obie stops Kendall Hunter in the backfield for a HUGE loss and the drive never recovers. 49ers turn it over on downs. Crowd is electric. Euphoric. Clink is shaking. Under 8 minutes to play. Red jerseys are moving to the exits.
- A bunch more horrible absurd penalties and the Seahawks are facing 1st and 27. Putrid.
- Kaep airmails a pass directly to Kam Chancellor in what is likely the worst pass of his short career. No idea what happened on this play. Do you guys know? It looked borderline intentional. Regardless, Kamtrak brings it back to the 1 yard line and Lynch scores on the next play. Full-on party. Seattle-area historians will have to dig into the archives just to recall what exactly is the concept of pants.
- Your special teams captain forces a fumble on the kickoff. Carroll twists the dagger and we are V formation up in this bitch.
A note on the crowd noise: it was loud, and it was cool that we broke the record, but it was significantly louder Week 16 last year. I'm confident that we've been breaking the 130 decibel mark for years. BeastQuake surely topped it, and the roar during Sherman's FG block return for a touchdown in the 42-13 game was unlike anything I've ever experienced. The Clink is loud.
Wilson had a bad game as a passer but a great game as a quarterback. Does that sound like bullshit? He managed the game tremendously. He made quality reads in zone read option looks. He dealt with an Okung-less offense for three quarters without turning the ball over. He kept his team on an even kilter after a bizarre, bizarre weather delay and throughout a very frustrating penalty-soaked game. He was missing on throws, late on reads, and forcing passes that he never usually forces, but he still connected on his trademark explosive plays to Lynch and Baldwin. Wilson is a threat to do that on every down, which empowers him to have a down game and still "win" at the quarterback position.
I'm not the first to point this out, but if this is what the Seattle Seahawks look like at 75% strength, when our franchise QB has a down game and the circumstances are stacked against us, there's *nothing* this team won't be able to do down the stretch. We can file this game away in the swelling "Blowouts" folder. There will almost certainly be more that we file under "Nailbiters" over the next 14 games. "Blowout losses" is going to continue to gather dust. This team has my trust. I'm expecting to win every game, and I'll say it to anyone.
There's no "story of the game" here, folks. Top to bottom beatdown against the NFC champs. We're stronger than them. We're in better condition. We're bigger. We're faster. We're certainly louder. We're having more fun than they are. We're younger than they are. We are in their heads. But my favorite two statistics? NFL record: 2-0. NFC West record: 1-0.
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