Morning start, on the road, without their top three offensive linemen, against one of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL, down by 17 at halftime... if the Seahawks don't lose this one, which one will they?
Where do I even start? The Seahawks got outplayed in the first half like it was 2009, with the Texans outdoing the Seahawks in just about every facet of the game. Arian Foster and Ben Tate carved up Seattle's out-muscled front seven behind their all-pro offensive line, Andre Johnson perfectly rounded off his routes in front of the Seattle zone, and Matt Schaub dimed nearly every pass he threw in the first 30 minutes. Meanwhile, JJ Watt and the Texans' defense gobbled up the 'Hawks cobbled up O-line, holding Seattle to 88 yards of total offense (compared to 324 by Houston) in the first half, the majority of which came on the relentless legs of Marshawn Lynch.
As odd as it sounds, Seattle was fortunate to enter halftime only down by 17. At 20-3, the game looked even more lopsided, as Houston had a dominant drive ended in the redzone on a Plinko-esque interception by Earl Thomas. It took the Texans less than 20 minutes to amass more yards against Seattle's defense than the 49ers did in the entire game two weeks ago. Much of that had to do with the constant misdirection that Houston employs; nearly every play, run or pass, the Texan getting the ball did so off of a cut-back, combo route, or pick play, leaving the Seahawks defenders looking at each other afterwards wondering who blew their assignment.
Houston's first score came after a Steven Hauschka filed goal, on a seam-route to tight end Garrett Graham who breezed right past Seattle's bracket defense and into the endzone from 31 yards out. The second came on a slip screen to Foster who was shadowed by KJ Wright until a chip block gave Arian all the room he needed to saunter into the endzone. Spliced only momentarily by brief, limp Seahawks drives, Houston marched down the field twice more, adding two field goals to their tally and headed to the locker-room for Capri Suns with a three-score lead.
Throughout the entirety of the first half, I couldn't shake the feeling that this game was shaping up very similarly to the Seahawks' playoff game in Atlanta last season. Could this team, with this many injuries to it's front line, make the same adjustments that they did in January? The answer, it appears, is yes.
After an opening drive as disappointing as pouring cereal before finding out you're out of milk, Seattle flipped a switch. Gone were the three yard cushions for Texans receivers, as were the five-second pockets for Schaub. Foster and Ben Tate still tabulated 214 yards, but they stopped coming in big, unfettered chunks. The Seahawks bent in the second half, but instead of snapping like balsa wood like they did in the first 30 minutes, they slapped back like over-flexed plexiglass. After a scary injury that left Michael Bennett on a stretcher,* the Seahawks pass rush finally entered the stadium. Chris Clemons, Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald, and Cliff Avril all recorded sacks, many of them in huge, knock-em-out-of-field-goal-range situations. The feel of the game shifted in the third quarter, but that shift wasn't represented on the scoreboard. Despite muffling the Texans' attack, Seattle was only able to post three points.
*He's okay, it seems. He returned to the stadium to watch his team win. No word yet on how many game, if any, he'll miss.
The advent of the fourth quarter saw Seattle facing a 2nd and 13 from their own one yard line, trailing by 14 with a rabid crowd showering spittle on the back of their necks. Perhaps no ascent Wilson has faced as a pro has ever been steeper than the one facing him with 15 minutes left. Then the magic started. Seattle finally converted their first third down of the game when Wilson went David Copperfield in a collapsing pocket. Then another, this one on a Doug Baldwin sideline catch that would seem miraculous if it wasn't becoming so commonplace for him. Then another one. After a touchdown to Jermaine Kearse was called back, Wilson found himself taking a 4th down snap in Houston's redzone with the whole of the Texans defense closing in on him. Seventeen changes of direction later, Wilson scooted inside the first down marker to keep the drive alive, setting up a quick Lynch TD on a simple toss sweep.
To call that drive improbable is to call the ocean kind of wet or Andy Dick a little desperate. The TD ripped the air out of the Houston crowd and breathed it into Seattle's deflated lungs like John Coffey in the Green Mile. After trading scoreless drives, the Texans needed but a couple of first down to ice the game, which brings us to 3rd and 4 with 2:53 left in the game. That's when the heavens parted, its ethereal light blinding a backpedaling Schaub, who lofted an ill-advised throw towards Owen Daniels who was cloaked by Richard Sherman.
Sherman jumped the route and housed Scahub's Level 1 Duck Hunt quacker 58 yards for the game-tying score -- maybe even losing a shoe in the process? I couldn't tell for sure because my living room was Arkham Asylum at that point. After another fruitless Texans drive, Seattle was content to kneel down and play some bonus football.
The teams butted heads for the first 80% of the OT period, each notching a few first downs but neither able to crown through the membranous barrier of field goal range. Neither, that is, until a simple stick route to Baldwin changed everything. After a short gain, the whistle blew, but Texans DB Kareem Jackson over-emphasized his tackle, picking Baldwin off the ground and suplexing him to the turf. The 15 yards his Chris Benoit impression netted Seattle was enough to put them into Hauschka's range. Eight yards later, Seattle's erstwhile placekicker lined up a 45-yarder and pummeled it through the uprights, keeping himself and his team, perfect on the season.
All told, the Texans outgained the Seahawks 476 to 270 but in the end, it wasn't enough to prevent this Seahawks team from water-walking their way to the first 4-0 start in franchise history. Good luck topping this one, fellas.