Yeah yeah, the refs cost the Seahawks the game. I saw y'all on Twitter. Just so I can get this out of the way early so we can talk about the stuff that's actually indicative of future performance: the refs were not the reason the Seahawks lost this game.
Were there some bad calls that went against Seattle? Absolutely. Were there more questionable calls against the 'Hawks than against the Colts? I would say so. Was it a factor in the outcome of the game? Sure. In a one score game everything is a factor, from phantom push-off calls to the O-line getting beat off the ball all game and the inability to keep the opposing quarterback from extending plays long past their natural lifetime. Or how about going 2-12 on 3rd down while allowing the Colts to go 7-12?
If anyone wants to believe that officials with an agenda were the reason the Seahawks lost, I can't make them think otherwise. In fact, I'm certain the comments section will hash out the particulars quite thoroughly on that account. But doing so does a great disservice, in my opinion, to the quality of football the Colts played today. For the first time in a long time an opposing QB made me feel the way Russell Wilson usually makes fans of other teams feel. No matter how close Seattle got to sacking Andrew Luck, and not matter how improbable success looked, he kept escaping like the good guy in a cheap action movie. Or any action movie.
We've seen very good QBs play Seattle and look bad but today, Luck returned the favor. To date, the Seahawks D had kept opposing QBs to a 60.7 passer rating. Andrew Luck dropped a 104 this morning. And much like we've seen with Wilson before, that number doesn't take into account how many negative plays were turned into positive ones. Before we get to griping about the nuances of Seattle's first regular season loss in 10 months, take the time to mentally tip your cap to Luck for making adjustments and taking advantage of the mistakes that the 'Hawks made.
It's worth noting that those mishaps didn't show up until after Seattle had built an impressive 12-0 lead. Through the first four games of the season, Wilson and Golden Tate were like a Match.com couple. Exciting, intriguing, sexy... but not particularly in tune with each other. It was as if they were still
exploring learning each other, reading from the same book but not quite on the same page. In the first half of this one, however, they were straight eHarmony 27-personality-traits-synched-up-before-you're-allowed-to-see-each-other compatible. Wilson threw to Tate with conviction, completing four of his first five targets Golden's way. The first TD of the day came on an appropriately wiggly 10-yard out to Tate that made it 10-0.
On Indy's next possession, the Seahawks forced a punt before Jerichoing the Colts' line and blocking said kick. As the ball careened towards the back of the Colts' endzone, Jeron Johnson dove on it and tucked it in his belly as he slid out of bounds. The ruling on the field was a safety. The video was inconclusive. At that point, I was in full "put 'em in a body bag" mode so I didn't give the five-point swing the credit it ultimately deserved. It was 12-0, Seattle was getting the ball back, and they were averaging nearly a first down per play. Then the game swung.
It happened suddenly and decisively. After Seattle failed to capitalize on the safety-punt, T.Y. Hilton ran a deep rout from the slot, with Richard Sherman giving naught but a cursory acknowledgment -- presumably because another route was hitching in his zone and, also presumably, because he thought Earl Thomas had him covered over the top. Whether Thomas blew the assignment or not, Hilton found himself alone in the biggest downfield pocket the Legion of Boom has allowed in eons. Luck's pass hit him in stride, allowing him enough room to elude Thomas and stroll in for the score.
After another Seahawks drive stalled in Colts territory, the pendulum picked up momentum. Paul McQuistan got bulldozed off the snap to such a degree that Steven Hauschka's second FG attempt of the game banged off his dome and pinwheeled back the other way. Indy scooped it, scored it, and swung the score in their favor. By that point, the game was already high up in the banana trees with both teams making the other's mistakes hurt.
The Seahawks countered with a slick 12-play, 82-yard drive that culminated in a 28-yard TD pass from Wilson to the newly clear-eyed, always full-hearted Jermaine Kearse. The Colts answered with a field goal and the game went to the break with Seattle leading 19-17.
All season we've seen Seattle win the battle of second half adjustments but were kept out of the endzone for the final two quarters while Indy reached the land of milk and honey twice more (once more by Hilton, this time on a 29-yarder and once by Donald Brown because why not?). You hear it all the time, but it comes down to execution and while the 'Hawks out-executed Indy for most of the game, they were unable to make as many opportunities count as the home team did.
The Colts made the most of Luck's escapability, of Reggie Wayne's route-running, of Hilton's explosiveness, of Seattle's scabby offensive line, of their third down chances, and yes, of a few shaky calls. The push off that was called on Tate early was straight bowsh and wouldn't have been called in a flag football game, but the pass interference call against Sherman that kept a Colts TD drive alive was the right call. In that situation, with the receiver coming out of his break against press coverage, the ref is only looking for one thing: is the defender keeping his hands inside the receiver's shoulders? The replays showed that Sherman did not, in fact, do that and while the call was a bummer, it's one that the ref will receive a good grade for. There were other questionable calls to be sure, but ultimately I think Seahawks fans should be more concerned with the penalties that were called correctly (like when J.R. Sweezy negated a first down screen pass by running downfield too early or having 12 men on the field twice) than with the ones that weren't.
It was with ten minutes left that the Indianapolis team switched from haymaker mode to lead-preservation. The secondary took away the third level, forcing a constantly scrambling Wilson to dump the ball off underneath or try and run for yardage. When the field shrunk, so did Seattle's offensive efficiency, and they settled for field goal after field goal. The Indy offense, meanwhile, began to pick up chunk yardage on the ground with Trent Richardson taking handoffs from the shotgun and Hilton/Wayne snagging almost every off-balance throw Luck attempted.
Compounding Seattle's slight deficit was their dearth of timeouts, having burned two early in the second half and squashing their final one when personnel issues put too many men on the field before Indy's (ultimately successful) two-point conversion attempt. After an Adam Viniateri field goal extended the Colts' lead to six, Seattle once again put the ball in the hands of their second-year savior and he responded with an inspiring 22-yard scamper on the first play. It was there that the drive stalled, however, and a couple minutes later Luck was metaphorically putting his knee on the Seahawks' throat.
There were some positives from this one, though. A lot of 'em. The first of which is that for the third time in three tries, Seattle has played up to or beyond the level of a quality opponent on the road with an early start time. Seattle also outgained Indianapolis 423-317, averaged 6.4 yards per carry (!), had two 100-yard rushers (Marshawn Lynch: 17 carries for 102 yards and Wilson: 13 for 102), and saw Bruce Irvin (four tackles, sack, TFL) make a nice and natural-looking debut at linebacker.
It's been forever since the Seahawks got whomped (now 31 straight games without losing by more than one score) and while the Colts earned this victory, Seattle still outplayed them for long stretches. Look, winning road games in the NFL is really hard. The 'Hawks could absolutely have won this game, make no mistake about that, but they're still playing at a high level and this game doesn't do much to alter their trajectory in my mind.
It's hard to envision your team losing until it actually happens. The Seahawks weren't gonna win them all and they'll head back to the VMAC this week with a lot to work on but they'll also head back to the VMAC with sole possession of first place in the NFC West. I'll take it.