They didn't skip a got dang beat. The Seattle Seahawks kicked off the 2014 NFL season much the way they ended the last one. They beat the Packers through the air (6.6 yards per pass to Green Bay's 4.9), on the ground (5.6 yards/rush to 3.8), and every other facet of the game. It sounds like hyperbole but it's closer to an understatement. The Seahawks were bigger, faster, stronger, and louder than the Packers all game long.
Seattle fans have earned a remarkable reputation for affecting games. We've all felt it before. I was there for the record-breaking volume night versus the Saints, I felt the ground move from the Pyramid Alehouse across the street during the Sunday Night game vs the Niners, I was there when the Giants had 11 false starts -- I have witnessed the force of the Seattle crowd and it sounded like the CLink was in an all-time frenzy tonight. Raising a Super Bowl banner will have that effect on 30 acres of crazies. This is why the NFL doesn't want Seattle hosting primetime games.
The first momentum shift of the game occurred early in the first quarter, when a Seahawks drive was extended by a running into the kicker penalty. That Packers miscue led to an anticlimactic 20-yard field goal from Steven Hauschka. The second pivotal play came shortly thereafter, when the Earl Thomas Experiment went awry. Thomas, whose selection as punt returner has drawn a lot of attention, attempted a catch in traffic he probably should have left alone. The resulting fumble set the Packers up for a short touchdown drive that gave them an early 7-3 lead.
Seattle responded in the second quarter with an unprescribed dose of Percy Harvin. Harvin, who is more of an evolutionary link than he is a normal human, finished with 160 total yards on 14 touches. On this particular drive, he was leaned on heavily with jet sweeps and multi-tiered routes that somehow stayed under 10 yards. Passing to Percy Harvin is like handing the ball off eight yards down the field.
The drive culminated with a beautiful 33-yard play-action pass from Russell Wilson to Ricardo Lockette. Wilson took the shotgun snap and sold his handoff to Marshawn Lynch like his quarterly bonus depended on it. Lockette, who was lined up man-to-man with Sam Shields, pretended to run-block for a full second before slipping behind his man as Shields collapsed on the run. From there, it was just a flick of Russell's wrist and all that was left was for Lockette to break off rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix like a groupie and saunter into the endzone for Seattle's first touchdown of the season.
A Packers field goal knotted the ledger at 10 but that was the last time this game was close. On the next drive, Lynch started biting off yardage in eight- and ten-yard chunks, with J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter mulching everyone in front of them. Without deviating from their spirit-breaking script, the Seahawks offense finished out the drive with a nine-yard TD from Lynch. Taking the ball while running off guard to the right, Lynch made a cut at the ten yard line that opened a portal to the endzone, a luminescent passage guarded by four defenders. Without a blocker to his aide, Marshawn strapped up and rhinoceros'd his way to paydirt. The most remarkable thing about it was how inevitable it seemed. Like, I didn't even consider the possibility that he wasn't going to score after that cut-back.
From there, the gap between the teams widened into a chasm. The Seahawks defense locked in a rear-naked choke that they didn't release until the final whistle blew. Earl was everywhere. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were overwhelming. Hell, Avril took out two guys in one play. Bobby Wagner tackles like an octopus. He's a Tractor beam. 14 for him.
Kam Chancellor is the most beautiful soul-reaper that's ever been sent to stalk the earth. 11 for him. The league's baddest enforcer was at his best tonight. K.J. Wright chipped in seven tackles of his own but the most outstanding feature of the defense was how many gang tackles there were. We'll revisit the D later.
As the momentum continued to grow, Seattle's efficiency became apparent. Wilson completed 10 of his first 11 passes*. Lynch, who finished with 110 yards and two TDs on 20 carries, averaged 8.4 yards per carry during the first half. Harvin had 101 total yards on eight touches in the first 30 minutes. The teams went into halftime with the score 17-10 in favor of the defending champions.
*One of which was a diving one-handed catch by Zach Miller. The cool thing about Zach Miller is that you don't have to show his replays in slow motion.
The Seahawks offensive line looked incredible tonight and I can't believe I just typed that sentence. Everything about them looked good. Max Unger sealed off his man all night long. Sweezy and Carpenter blocked like starving men who knew dinner was five yards downfield. Justin Britt looked NFL-ready. Russell Okung kept his hands full of Julius Peppers, battling him to a draw that Seattle is happy to accept. Derrick Coleman erased linebackers; just ended their influence on each play with shoulder after shoulder to duodenum after duodenum. The art of fullbacking isn't dead.
Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the world and the only guy I'd take over Russell Wilson at this point. He is so damn good at football that it is almost impossible to over-rate him. Aaron Rodgers is all of those things and he averaged 5.7 yards per attempt in this game. He was never comfortable in the pocket. The first drive ended with a sack from O'Brien Schofield. Matched up against a single blocker on a pivotal third down, OB won.
With only half the field to throw to, Rodgers attempted to pick on Byron Maxwell. He was picked off instead. Rodgers threw to his best receiver, Jordy Nelson, who drew Maxwell's assignment, 14 times. The result was a petty 83 yards and an interception that Maxwell almost took to the house. There are no weak links on this defense. Not a one.
After another Hauschka field goal, the lead swelled to 10. It was 12 after Bennett bullied his way to a strip-sack that turned into a safety. In between was a fourth-and-five that the Packers attempted midway through the third. I'm pretty much always in favor of going for it once you cross the 50 but there will be a lot of talk that the Packers felt desperate. Either way, a clock snafu combined with an overwhelmed center making his first start combined with a backup right tackle combined with Cliff Avril became another sack.
The Green Bay O-line was a mess. The worst player on the field tonight was rookie center Corey Linsley, who was making his debut in the worst possible conditions. I guess Bruce Irvin didn't pray hard enough. The explosive Packers offense was transformed into an worn out Ford Fiesta being pushed up an icy hill by three college kids. At some point, it just started sliding backwards. Meanwhile, the Seahawks ground out another touchdown, with Lynch pocketing his second of the night.
Green Bay managed one more score, a short touchdown pass to Randall Cobb after a defensive holding penalty negated a three-and-out. That was the last breath of life we saw from them. Pete Carroll made sure of that when he went for it on fourth and one, turning another play-action pass into a 15-yard reward for Coleman's effort. Pete Carroll will steal your lunch and then write your mom a thank-you note for cutting the crust off of the PB&J.
Some final numbers:
*The Seahawks out-passed the Packers 191-175. They out-rushed them 207-80.
*With all the talk about the "L.O.B. Rule" -- the NFL's point-of-emphasis on grabby defenders -- Seattle was only flagged four times to Green Bay's eight.
*The Seahawks ran for 13 first downs. They passed for 12 more.
*Earl Thomas has a negative turnover differential. That's one of the weirdest things I've ever written.
*Seattle finished with three sacks, five tackles for loss, and four passes broken up. I have no clue how you're supposed to attack this defense.
*Richard Sherman was not targeted.
It's now off to San Diego, as the Seahawks band of marauders sail ever onward in a ruthless quest for another title.