The Seahawks won in dramatic fashion Sunday afternoon, with Russell Wilson throwing two big fourth quarter touchdowns - one on a fourth down fade pass to Braylon Edwards, and another on a 46 yard strike to Sidney Rice with 1:18 remaining - to defeat the New England Patriots 24-23.
The Seahawks, as Teddy KGB might say, just kept hanging around - with two interceptions, some tough defense and punishing hits, and they found themselves, somehow, still in the game going into the fourth quarter, down 23-10. It remained a two-score game going into the quarter despite atrocious offensive output in both the 2nd and 3rd quarters for the Seahawks; 31 net yards of offense in the 2nd frame and 15 yards net offense in the 3rd, but the defense held the Patriots' #1 rated offense to field goals, not touchdowns, when they needed to in order to give Russell Wilson and this offense a chance.
Before we talk about Wilson, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Braylon Edwards, let's talk about what this defense was able to do, matched up against such a high-volume passing, explosive offense.
Tom Brady threw the ball 58 times - a career high for him and the 2nd highest total a Seattle defense has ever faced - finishing with 395 yards and two touchdowns on 36 of 58 passing (62%). He hit Wes Welker over the top for a 46 yard touchdown in the first quarter and then hit Aaron Hernandez on a fade route in the back corner of the endzone when he identified the mismatch with safety Jeron Johnson. The raw numbers paint a picture that the Seahawks defense were overmatched, but I wouldn't say that was necessarily true. They gave up a lot of yards, but not a lot of points.
Brady threw two picks - and that number really, honestly should have been five -- as Earl Thomas had two balls go right through his hands (one that would have been a sure pick six and another in the end-zone) and Richard Sherman had one go off his hands late in the game. Those were three potential huge plays that Seattle missed on, so when the national media conversation starts moving to how New England ultimately shot themselves in the foot in the 2nd half and let Seattle squeak out a win, just remember how many plays Seattle failed to make too -- those two or three missed interceptions, plus add in Zach Miller's terrible fumble early in the fourth quarter and Jon Ryan's mystifying non-punt -- and it's easy to see that the foot-shooting went both ways. Is that important? No, not really, but to me, it's not like "New England played down to Seattle's level" so much as both teams missed on some big opportunities and ultimately Seattle came out on top of an ugly, hard-fought roller coaster game.
Wes Welker was his normal unstoppable and unbelievably tough self, shrugging off a couple of huge hits to catch 10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead contributed heavily to the offensive effort for New England and though Seattle was gashed for quite a few yards, I thought they acquitted themselves well in coverage and intensity. Earl Thomas had a pick and Richard Sherman another, showing this defensive secondary is still legitimately in the conversation as one of the best in the league. The defense held the Patriots to 87 yards rushing -- which pales in comparison to their consecutive 200+ yard games the past two weeks -- and New England's 3.3 yard per carry average helped convince Bill Belichick to call so many passing plays.
Make no mistake - this is exactly what Seattle wanted - it's what they game-planned for, and in the end, it actually worked out.
Gameplanning for this offense is no easy task, but future first-ballot Hall of Famer Tom Brady and his offense had his second-half drives end in:
Field Goal, Interception, Interception, Field Goal, Punt, Punt, and turnover on downs...
The gameplan was 'bend-but-don't-break' against a very, very talented and strong offense and Seattle bent, but didn't break. Not only that, they left a lot of plays on the field, and there's a lot of room for improvements. Their pass rush left something to be desired, and they again struggled badly on third downs - at one point, I believe into the 3rd quarter, the Pats were 8-12 on 3rd downs, and many of those were in 3rd and long situations. New England ended 8-18 on that down, so as the game went on, they really picked things up in that area. The bottom line -- this defense is for real, but there's still room for improvement, and that's exciting.
Speaking of improvement, Seattle's offensive attack, despite struggling in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, took advantage of a markedly more vulnerable (than what Russell has seen over the first five games) pass defense of the Patriots to open up their explosive passing game, hitting on six passes of more than 20 yards: 51 yards to Golden Tate, 50 to Doug Baldwin, 46 to Sidney Rice for a touchdown, 29 to Sidney Rice, 24 to Doug Baldwin for a touchdown, and 22 to Zach Miller. Sidney Rice got in on the action, as he bombed it downfield to Golden Tate, deep, for a big gain but Tate was interfered with and he just missed the ball (though it turned into a big gain for Seattle due to the penalty).
These big plays were integral in this game because the rushing offense never really got a strong foothold and because they coughed the ball up twice.
There were a few cluster-f*ck drives and a few head-scratching playcalls mixed in throughout - I guess this is just something that we'll have to bear with for now -- but overall I came out encouraged with the overall gameplan -- passing on first down, mixing in a couple of read-option runs to Marshawn Lynch, getting Doug Baldwin and Zach Miller more involved, and pushing the ball downfield, hard.
The lid came off just a little bit today, and Russell Wilson showed he can hit on the big plays when asked to - and this is a huge deal to Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell, and Tom Cable. A huge, huge deal. A run-first offense needs an explosive element in order to succeed long-term, and that's what we're seeing develop.
Seattle's receivers looked good throughout - Sidney Rice made some big-time catches, and Golden Tate continued to prove he's a constant threat to take the top off a defense. Braylon Edwards is finding himself with more snaps, its seems, of late, and he's taken advantage. I'm actually a proponent to get him some more targets, because he's had a knack for making high-degree-of-difficulty catches and seems to have a nice rapport with Wilson.
One thing that Pete Carroll noted in his post-game presser is that one the Seahawks emphasized a lot this week was getting the receivers working with Wilson once the pocket breaks down and the quarterback has to move. Both of Doug Baldwin's big receptions, I believe, came on plays where Wilson moved from the pocket and this is of no surprise to me. Not many players have higher motors or better effort play-to-play than Doug Baldwin, in my humble opinion, and it seems that Wilson and the Seahawks' leading reciever from last year are finally getting on the same page after Baldwin missed the entire preseason with a leg injury.
To sum up -- still a lot of things this team can improve on, and as I go back and rewatch the game a couple times this week, I'll try and break down some things that need the most work, but overall I thought it was a good, albeit, stressful win. The Seahawks now sit 4-2 and in a tie for first place in the NFC West, thanks to losses by Arizona and San Francisco today, and will look to take sole control of the division on Thursday against the Niners at Candlestick.
Two quick notes to wrap up -- first, Seattle finished the game with only 4 penalties for 35 yards -- a huge improvement and something they need to continue to improve on. Second, Seattle again came through relatively unscathed, injury-wise. "Kam Chancellor got banged on his elbow," as Pete Carroll noted, "[Byron] Maxwell aggrevated his hamstring again. [Paul] McQuistan took a knock. We're okay."