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Seahawks Cover the Spread

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I ain't gonna go guaranteeing a victory in Super Bowl XLI or anything.

I will, however, aver that the Seahawks did absolutely everything they needed to do against the Giants. They now have to be considered one of the three or so best teams in the NFL in what is starting to feel like a majorly unpredictable year for the entire league.

   
    Burleson's first TD as a Seahawk. Not shown: monkey jumping off back.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

 
That was three quarters of the greatest football I've ever seen the Seahawks play.

My advice is to forget about the fourth quarter entirely. Not because it was shameful, but because the game really was a fait accompli by then. You don't want to see a defense phone it in at any point. But if they have to, then that's exactly the kind of situation you want to see it happen.

Perhaps I'm one of those glass-is-half-full kinda guys. Or, more specificially, one of those glass-has-a-39-point-lead-going-into-the-fourth-quarter kinda guys.

The Giants would have needed to rewrite all existing NFL history books to win the game in the final 15 minutes. There was no room for that. This game only had room for Hasselbeck's 100th TD pass, Shaun Alexander getting the Seahawks' career TD record, and Qwest Field having its largest attendance ever. That's enough history for one game.

This was exactly the kind of game we expected not to happen. It was supposed to be a grudge match, a nail-biter, in a stadium emboldened by the silliest controversy in Holmgren's Seahawk history. Every reasonable commentator feared this game would expose some of the Seahawks' weaknesses. We were supposed to go home emotionally frazzled, and possibly crushed by a close, bitterly-fought defeat.

We didn't expect to be up 35-0 until the closing seconds of the first half. That's what we call "making a statement." At the top of one's lungs. Out of 500 Marshall stack amplifiers. With Iron Maiden as backup band. Echoing into the Grand Canyon.

Hasselbeck, under excellent protection all day, threw for five touchdown passes. This is his career best. Two to Darrell Jackson, one to Bobby Engram, one to Nate Burleson (sigh of relief), and just to demonstrate how incomprehensively stupid good the offense was, one to Will Heller, the third tight end on our normal depth chart. The Giants were so unconcerned -- um, not entirely without justification -- with Heller's game-breaking ability that they left him completely uncovered in the end zone, almost to the point that Hass would have been a fool not to throw to him.

(If Heller's TD reception wasn't already funny enough, it also gave Hasselbeck his milestone 100th TD pass. I love that! How did Heller get his head through the locker room door at halftime? Do they even make shoehorns big enough for that?)

   
Will Heller after catching a TD pass. Not shown: flying pig.
(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

 
   
We still might not have enough information to know how good the offensive line was, especially since Chris Gray banged up his knee and Ron Sims took over. Shaun Alexander got off to a decent start, but was ultimately clamped up for 42 total yards. On the other hand, as previously mentioned, Matt had all the time in the world in the pocket. Hasselbeck was not sacked once; he was never under serious pressure as he was versus Detroit and Arizona. The Giants have better linemen and backers than either.

The defense was far better than the final score indicates for reasons I'm about to explain, but let's just hear it for Ken Hamlin's two 1st-quarter interceptions. The feel-good interceptions of the year. Boulware also pulled a pick out of the hat.

The pass rush didn't clamp down on Eli Manning as much as we would have liked -- Darryl Tapp was the only guy to sack him -- but then again, Manning was throwing so much he was almost bound to get good yardage through sheer force of numbers. And most of his aerial yardage came in the weird fourth quarter. The Giants only had the nerve to run 15 rushing plays, all but one by Tiki Barber. They were properly stuffed for 73 total yards on the ground.

All right. Now let's talk about the fourth quarter. I suggest we write this fourth quarter off as an anomaly for a variety of reasons.

Number 1: the Seahawks were up 42-3 at the start of it. Yes, yes, I know, purists, that doesn't give us permission to fold, which I don't really think we did. But c'mon. That's a cushion if ever there was one. The game was never in doubt, even as the Giants got to 30 points. The biggest comeback win in NFL history was from 32 points down (Frank Reich's legendary effort in the Bills-Oilers playoff game in '93). That wasn't going to happen in one quarter. Forgive my excursion into cockiness, but how often can Seahawk fans afford to be cocky without feeling guilty in the morning? This was one of those times.

Number 2: The defense "folding" in the fourth quarter wasn't really the big issue that led to 27 practically post-mortem Giants points. That would be the two interceptions Matt Hasselbeck threw, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Those throws shouldn't have been made.

The Seahawks' final scoring drive was a clock-chewing masterpiece in the third quarter, full of piecemeal running plays and mostly modest passes. It slurped up a lot of precious time. That is exactly what should have been done in the fourth quarter. I was cheering for it from Section 328 from about the midway point of the third, and during almost all of the fourth. When you're up 42-3, it may be argued that you have persuasively conveyed your point, and that you should probably start the endgame.

Holmgren called for two pass plays that resulted in the interceptions. Why he felt the need to pass with that much of a lead, I don't know. Actually, Holmgren didn't know either: Every postgame interview I've seen with him tonight saw him taking responsibility for those erroneous throws.

(This is the real curiosity: In postgame Q&A's Holmgren made reference to the -- "criticism"? -- of his coaching style being occasionally too "conservative." The basic context was, "Well, you complain about conversative offense being too boring -- and see what happened? Interceptions!"

(Why this was perplexing: A -- being pass-happy to the tune of 5 throwing TD's more than satisfies my need for excitement. I got my money's worth in the first half. B -- who's complaining? The FOX Network? C -- bore us all you want, but if we win by 30 points, you could run the Energizer Bunny from scrimmage in the final moments of the game and I'd be fine with it. I'll even run down to the sidelines and pour Gatorade over that stuffed rabbit and his lame little drum myself.

(I'm not the least bit ticked off, just very amused. The fourth-quarter was an eye-roller, not a fist-shaker. Holmgren was more amused than irritated when he made those comments -- I'm not trying to come down on him, he did outcoach Coughlin today, just ask Jeremy Shockey. But they were odd. Conventional wisdom isn't always a bad thing. Run the clock down.)

   
    Eli does a slightly frantic impersonation of his brother.
(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

 
Number Three (if you're still keeping score): The 12th Man wasn't really all there in the 4th quarter. I, myself, gave up on my constant screaming campaign about halfway through the third. What if I had a speech tomorrow or something? We lost all the traffic-beaters before the Giants' second TD.

Maybe the crowd would've stayed for a spectacularly needless 4th quarter passing game. Well, darn it, they left. Who got hurt besides the concessionaires, who couldn't even legally sell their $40 Budweisers at that stage in the game?

Yes, the fourth quarter wasn't really any fun. But the damage was done. Nobody has ever scored more than 31 points in the fourth quarter, and we were up by 8 more than that.

We will probably not have many opportunities for complacency this season. This is one we could afford. I would much rather have our defense slack off very slightly, and not risk any injuries before going up against Chicago. The lesson from the 4th quarter mental errors have been learned (I hope).

The Seahawks did what they had to do. They made a major statement against a legitimate conference contender, they neutralized the Giants early by eliminating revenge motives and forcing survival ones, they established an authority that normally eludes recent Super Bowl losers, they seized more than a few moments, they made Jeremy Shockey want to take out a convenience store after the game.

I do not like to gloss over weaknesses, ever. At the same time, I resist exaggerating the implications of today's poor fourth quarter. Eli didn't exactly turn into Jesus. Through three quarters he looked a lot more like Lazarus.

The Seahawks know what they need to work on: Shaun's running funk, maintaining patience in the plateau, reducing the price of beverages, etc. They'll handle that. Today's game was a major, deafening step forward.

I mean, really. Will Heller? If we have so much wealth we can spread some to him, we're doing all right.

Possibly more comments on other aspects of this game later. Remind me to tell you who they've outed as the guy who complained about the "artificial noise" stuff (or just head to Sando's to find out now).