Before we get to the game itself, I wanted to put some words down on the Percy Harvin trade (if you're not interested or just want to get to the recap, feel free to skip down to the fifth paragraph). When I first heard the news that the Seahawks had traded Harvin, I was upset. When I heard what their compensation for him would be (a conditional 6th round pick), I felt physically ill. It was the first time since the trade for Charlie Whitehurst that I was truly bewildered by a PCJS move and the first time overall that I was outright angry.
Now that a couple of days have passed and some context has been added, I find myself much more at peace about it than I was initially. Make no mistake, Percy Harvin ended up being an enormous net loss, as Seattle's out-of-pocket cost on him is $18.3 million for eight games of imited production. A conditional mid-to-late-round pick is a putrid return for a player of Harvin's caliber but as the stories of his anger issues, physical confrontations, and general disgruntlehood mounted in the wake of his departure, it became clear that there was no way this team would trade him unless he absolutely had to go. In fact, it sounds like he was gonna be out of here no matter what, so at least they got something back.
Frankly, I'm happy we have a front office that is willing to cut their losses instead of tying themselves to Harvin like an anchor in hopes of justifying the substantial price they paid to get him. It's just smart business. John Schneider and Pete Carroll took a huge swing with Percy and while we saw glimpses of why they gave up so much for him, it sounds like ultimately, he was more trouble than he was worth. With any luck, the Seahawks can get back to the north-and-south man's-game brand of football that they juggernauted their way through the NFL with last season.
Percy Harvin was the movie star that we finally got to date but there's a reason most Hollywood romances don't last. The Seahawks may have struck out with Harvin but there will be other at bats. This team won a Super Bowl with virtually no help from Harvin and there's plenty of reason to believe they can do it again. It was a brief, volatile relationship and while Percy will forever be someone else's risk/reward, we'll always have THIS.
To the game!
Things started off swimmingly for Seattle, as they forced a Rams three-and-out-right off the bat and then sliced their way right down the field. The key play was a 49-yard completion to Doug Baldwin on third and ten. Alas, the drive stalled in the red zone and the Seahawks had to be content with a Steven Hauschka field goal. Then the fucking wheels fell off.
The Rams used a long Benny Cunnigham return to set up Tre Mason's first NFL touchdown run. After a seven yard Seahawks drive led to a punt, Austin Davis nickled, not even dimed, the St. Louis offense down the field, using a couple of big penalties against first-time starter Tharold Simon that led to a short TD pass to Cunningham.
The Seahawks began to move the ball a bit on the next drive, picking up a couple of first downs before their balsa wood offensive line gave up three sacks*. The result was the rare 10-play, 29-yard drive that resulted in another punt, this one with horrible repercussions.
*Can we please take OL-drafting privileges away from Tom Cable? It's been four years of wretched pass protection, so I don't think I'm over-reacting.
In what has to be one of the greatest examples of special teams scouting I've ever seen, Tavon Austin ran to the left sideline, looking for all the world to be telling his blockers to get out of the way of a punt. Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, Stedman Bailey had peeled off the gunner he was helping block to make an over-the-shoulder catch on Jon Ryan's punt. Apparently, and I didn't know this beforehand, Ryan loves to pin his punts to his left. Despite that, Seattle's entire coverage team flocked to Austin while Bailey coasted down the opposite sideline for St. Louis' third consecutive touchdown and a 21-3 Rams lead. Bravo, Jeff Fisher.
After another measly Seahawks "drive" (three plays, zero yards), the Rams moved themselves into field goal position, not that they're ever out of it with their bionic placekicker. Fortune finally smiled on the Seahawks as Greg Zuerlein missed his 52-yard attempt, giving Seattle nice field position and 90 seconds to work with. Great teams turn those openings into points and while Seattle's greatness is certainly in question, they were able to string enough first downs together to give Hauschka a short field goal before the half that closed the gap to 21-6.
The two teams traded punts to start the second half but on the next drive, Russell Wilson showed why he's the prince I've dreamed about since I was a little girl. After missing an open Jermain Kearse downfield, Wilson began to carve up the Rams secondary. When they played zone, he dimed up stop routes underneath. When they went man, he ran the ball as soon as the DBs turned their backs to him.
He had three remarkable plays on that drive, the first coming on 3rd and 17 when he found Baldwin for a 20-yard completion. Later, he found Baldwin again, this time for seven yards, but it was the way he did that was so impressive. Wrapped up almost immediately on the left hashmark by Robert Quinn, Wilson launched a sidearm pass to the right sideline, on the money. When he released the ball, his body was horizontal not a foot above the turf. Still not sure how he did it. After that, he calmly kept the ball on a read option for a 19-yard touchdown run.
After forcing another Rams punt, Wilson kept the pressure on. Alternating first downs with his arm and legs, including a franchise-record QB run of 52 yards, Russell hustled the 'Hawks down the turf and, after a gorgeous toe-tapping TD by Cooper freaking Helfet, brought Seattle within two points. As the team lined up for the two-point conversion, they maddeningly went empty backfield. I've groaned about this for years but have mostly kept my fingers quiet on the subject this season but I can stay silent no more: it drives me absolutely nuts that there isn't even a threat of using Marshawn Lynch in a short yardage situation. Nothing will convince me otherwise. Makes me want to tear my hair out lock by beautiful, luscious lock.
To make matters worse, Austin Davis began to slice up Seattle's secondary on the ensuing drive, picking primarily on Marcus Burley who came in for Simon after he rolled his ankle early. It's tough to be the most fearsome defensive backfield in the NFL when three of your top four corners are injured but here we are. With three long completions setting up some gashing off-guard runs, St. Louis capped their answer drive with a three yard touchdown pass from Davis to Lance Kendricks to re-expand the lead to nine points.
At this point, the game was in full bonkers mode, as Wilson came back with all his guns blazing. Going 5/6 on the drive, he found big chunk completions to Baldwin and Kearse before threading the proverbial needle back to Baldwin for a nine-yard touchdown. The score closed the lead to 28-26 and we hadn't even begun to get weird. Seattle neatly pinned St. Louis inside their own 10 yard line on the kickoff and stopped them in three plays to, presumably, get the ball back with two and a half minutes left. The third down play was the first time I saw Davis target Richard Sherman, who predictably broke up the pass to force the punt situation.
On fourth and three, and lining up with his heels nearly on his own goal line, Rams punter-turned-occasional-quarterback Johnny Hekker took the snap and flipped it out to Cunningham for one of the ballsiest first downs you'll see all season. The play worked beautifully and all but sealed up the game. After a couple of plays and the two-minute warning, the Rams had a third and one that would effectively end the game should they convert. Running off tackle to the weak side, Mason rumbled for the first down and what looked like the end of the game. But he didn't see Malcolm Smith (I think?) charging from the rear.
The ball was punched out from behind, setting in motion one of the biggest YES!-NO!-YES!-NO! plays of my football watching life. Some big fella for the Rams stumbled over Earl Thomas to fall on the ball. Then people fell on him and the ball squirted out again. Then it sure as hell looked like Sherman fell on it but pandemonium ensued and the referees determined that St. Louis recovered, though I still have no idea how they came to that conclusion.
At that point, there was nothing to do except watch the Rams down out their second victory of the year, as Seattle dropped consecutive games for the first time since 2011. The Seahawks have now lost as many games this season as they did all last year. Some other observations:
-Passer Efficiency Differential is now 6-0 in Seahawks games this year.
Austin Davis: 128.6
Russell Wilson: 110.1
-Passer efficiency is not a perfect stat and while it is one of the most indicative measures of wins and losses, this game showed where it can be flawed as there was no question who the better QB was. Russell Wilson was All-World in this one and, despite the typical lack of protection, he And1-mixtaped his way to a 300-yard passing, 100-yard rushing game. Pretty sure no other Seahawks QB has ever done that. Wilson averaged 8.7 yards per pass and 15.1 yards per run. That's not the kind of stuff you're supposed to be able to do against NFL defenses.
-Davis, for his part, was very good as well. Although his longest completion before the penultimate drive was 15 yards, he dialed up completions of 18 and 30 when he needed to and threw the game-winning touchdown pass. All told, he finished with a 15-18, 152 yard, 2 TD, 0 INT line.
-I hate pinning shortcomings on injuries because every team has to deal with them but it's beyond ignoring for Seattle now. The Seahawks came into this game missing their starting middle linebacker, starting cornerback, starting center, both starting tight ends, starting fullback, and had a bunch of other guys playing through injuries, including their left tackle and strong safety. The only available FB/TE on the roster was Helfet and he responded with an impressive three catch, 61 yard, TD performance. In addition to all of the hurt players Seattle had coming in, Simon and Steve Schilling, each of them fill-ins already, left the game with injuries. This team needs to be healthy in order to regain their identity.
-Doug Baldwin exploded in Harvin's absence, converting his team-leading 11 targets into seven receptions, 123 yards, and a teeder. He is now the unquestioned leader of the WR group and it was awesome to watch him break out.
-Paul Richardson got his first start of his career and looked pretty good. His routes were crisp, he worked back to Wilson when the play broke down, and showed good awareness on his sideline catches. All told, he was targeted five times and turned those into four catches for 33 yards. Excited to watch him develop.
-Fellow rookie Kevin Norwood also made his first start and, while he wasn't on the field as much as Preach, he too logged his first career catch.
-With the team rededicating itself to the run, Marshawn Lynch received 18 carries after only getting 10 last week. Unfortunately, he failed to match last week's yardage total despite getting nearly twice the run. 53 yards on the ground and another 18 through the air for Lynch.
-Christine Michael got his first playing time this year, turning his two carries into five yards. Robert Turbin, who filled in at fullback, had two carries of his own for seven yards. All together, Seahawks running backs had 22 carries for 65 yards, a pitiful 2.9 YPC.
-Third downs have been a bugaboo for the 'Hawks this year but they were much better today, converting six of their 12 into first downs. More importantly, they looked confident on those plays. I feel good about their ability to convert them at a higher rate moving forward than they've been able to thus far. I say that because for the first time in forever, I saw Wilson step into his throws and wing the ball with purpose instead of tucking and scrambling as soon as he saw trouble. If the throws weren't there, he slithered his way to a couple crucial first downs. When everything else is breaking down, Russell Wilson is our constant.
-The Rams were four for nine on third downs as the Seahawks defense continues to struggle getting off the field.
-Penalties are not, by any means, very indicative of wins and losses. A number of recent Super Bowl winners have been among the most penalized teams in the league, including Seattle last year, when they were flagged more than anyone in the NFL. When the penalties are skewed to the degree they were today, however (SEA: 10-89, STL: 2-20), it's very difficult to overcome. I wish I could tell you it's because the officials called a one-sided game but in all honesty, the Rams were just way more disciplined than the Seahawks were today.
-The Seattle run defense rebounded from a lousy first half to hold Rams RBs to a 3.8 YPC. Michael Bennett and Brandon Mebane were wonderful today, getting underneath their blockers to blow up a number of plays in the backfield.
-It took 35 minutes for Austin Davis to throw an incomplete pass. His YPA in those first 2+ quarters was only 4.6 but they moved the chains because St. Louis found themselves in a bunch of second- and third-and-short situations. Remember when the Seahawks used to get interceptions? Would be sweet if they started doing that again.
The Seahawks are a team in flux. They spent the first 28 minutes of the game looking completely broken and then spent the last 32 looking fantastic. They racked up 463 yards to St. Louis' 272. They held the ball for 55% of the game and averaged 6.8 yards per play. The second half today was their best two-quarter stretch since the Broncos game in Week 3, as they finished the game by outscoring the Rams 23-7 over the final 31 minutes.
Seattle was, despite the outcome, the best team on the field today, at least from a talent perspective. The Rams, however, out-executed them, showing better discipline, better blocking, and better situational performance than the 'Hawks. An edge in talent is important but it's not enough, on its own, to over come an 18-point deficit. Seattle put themselves in a position where their margin for error was virtually nil in the second half. They responded by scoring touchdowns on their final three drives but they failed to get stops, no matter how fluky, on St. Louis' last two drives. The Seahawks defense didn't force a turnover today, either, so that's a problem.
This was a bad week for the Seahawks and it culminated in a bad loss. They haven't put together a complete game in a month and they continue to have major question marks as far their health and offensive line are concerned. For as many things that went wrong today, however, there were more than a few glimpses that this team can get back on track. The Seattle offense we saw in the second half can score on anybody. The defense continues to be very good from a yards-per-play standpoint, they're just missing the big play that we've all become so accustomed to seeing.
This was a game saturated in wackiness and a tip of the hat is due to the massive testicles that Jeff Fisher carted off the field. In all three of Seattle's losses this season, it's taken remarkable plays from the opponent. In San Diego, it was Antonio Gates' improbable diving TD catch. Against Dallas, it was Tony Romo's miraculous third-and-twenty conversion to Terrance Williams that allowed them to score the winning points. Today it was two sensational special teams plays by the Rams. In every single loss, the Seahawks were in it to the very end, so it's not like they're being steamrolled. This is still a team that can compete with anyone when they have an off day, I'm just tired of watching them have off days. They'll try to piece it all together next Sunday in Carolina, where they'll face a morning East Coast kickoff against a Panthers team reeling from an ass-whooping in Green Bay. Here's hoping Seattle gets its shit together, because they're still talented enough to make a Super Bowl run if they start clicking again. Now I'm gonna go finish this cigar and try to wipe my brain clean of the Seahawky grime from the past eight days.