Halfway through the third quarter, Michael Bennett forced a fumble on a sweep to Rex Burkhead that was scooped up by Bobby Wagner and taken in for a score. That put the Seahawks up 24-7 with under 22 minutes to play and it looked for all the world like the Seahawks had finally been replaced by THE SEAHAWKS. Alas, that was the last high point we'd see from the defending NFC champs, as Andy Dalton and the Bengals did what so many other teams have against Seattle recently, which is to pick them apart in the fourth quarter.
Field Gulls on Facebook
Field Gulls on Facebook
The beginning of this game was an exhibition in contrasting styles, with the Bengals coming out and hitting wide open receivers like they were running seven-on-seven drills. Dalton went 4-4 for 80 yards on that opening drive, a possession that ended with a short TD pass to Tyler Eifert over a flat-footed and seemingly confused Kam Chancellor.
With Cincinnati throwing (and landing) hooks and haymakers, Seattle came right back with a number of body blows in the form of Thomas Rawls power runs, including two short third down conversions, flavored with some timely completions- none of which were tastier than this 30-yard score from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse. The thing that stood out to me most about that score was how long Wilson stood in a (gasp!) clean pocket in order to let that play develop. And in so doing, Seattle may have found a small reprieve in their pass protection moving forward. It wasn't so much that they were great in pass-pro, it was their ability to establish forward push on run plays that kept Bengals' rushers at bay.
On their second drive, AJ Green got loose against Cary Williams, catching a contested deep ball down the left sideline and prancing, as one does, into the end zone. Seattle was bailed out, however, as a holding call negated the score. Realizing that Williams, while excellent to date, might be out of his lane covering Green with no help, switched out of their scheme and had Richard Sherman start shadowing him. After that, there was a whole lotta nothin' from Green and, by proxy, from either offense for a long time. In fact, the scoring ceased altogether until the 'Gals moved the ball into 'Hawks territory late in the second quarter. That's when Earl Thomas recorded Seattle's first interception of the season, jumping a route near the pylon and returning it ~60 yards- a scamper negated by Bennett's schoolyard bullying of Dalton on the return.
No matter, Wilson found his groove and darted his way down the field to set up a short Steven Hauschka field goal that gave the Seahawks a 10-7 halftime lead. Emboldened, Seattle came right out of the tunnel and kept it going with another long drive, except this one ended when a pass intended for Jimmy Graham was tipped at the 10 yard line and picked off by Adam Jones. After another Bengals punt, Thomas Rawls went off. By the time he was done, Rawls had 169 yards on 23 carries, including a gorgeous 69-yard TD run that showcased everything you want to see from a halfback. Rawls ran decisively, cut hard, ran through arm tackles, and accelerated away from defenders in the secondary. It was a complete play from a tailback that entered the season as little more than an afterthought and the best run of his career to date put Seattle up 17-7. And when Bennett forced the aforementioned fumble that led to Wagner's TD on the very next drive, it looked for all the world like the Seahawks had announced their return to the upper echelon of the NFL.
That's when the most troubling theme of the 2015 Seahawks experience- their fourth quarter defense, exposed itself like some kind of pervert. Up 24-7, Seattle needed just one stop or one score to seal it. They did neither, as Andy Dalton did what Tom Brady, Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford had done before him; namely hitting short route after short route until one of those quick strikes ended up in the end zone. Another TD pass to Eifert, on the same play as the first one, found its way over the top of Chancellor again. After Seattle quickly gave the ball back, Dalton picked up where he left off, diming the ball around like a varsity QB getting practice reps in against the JV. That drive ended with a Dalton TD keeper to make it 24-21.
Seattle then punted again and Cincy wasted no time in getting the ball right back down into scoring range. There was a brief moment when it looked like Seattle's defense may bail themselves out for the second straight week when, on 3rd & 5 with no timeouts and 20 seconds left, Dalton was smeared from behind by Bruce Irvin. That forced a 4th down with the clock running and Cincy's special teams had to rush a fire-drill field goal as time ran out. Mike Nugent calmly nailed the kick and the game went to OT.
At that point I'll admit that even though the score was tied, it felt like Seattle was now playing short-stacked, with punts on each of their two overtime possessions confirming that. The Bengals stalled on their first drive in extra time but managed to maneuver down to the Seahawks' 25 with a few minutes left. Nugent then trotted back onto the field, adjusted for wind, called "bank" and bounced the game-winner in off the left upright.
It was a gross finish to an exciting performance and one that left me with a strange hollow feeling that I hadn't felt after any of the losses (Super Bowl notwithstanding) in the last three years. I was fine with them losing this game going into it, but to watch them fold was both bewildering and heartbreaking. It was a feeling like the league had caught up to the Seahawks. And if that's the case, I shouldn't be surprised. Hell, I've been preaching since 2012 that this stay on the mountaintop wouldn't last forever and that every moment among the NFL's elite should be cherished.
For all of our propensity to call players and coaches idiots, the NFL is still made up of the finest football talent and football minds on the planet and the result is a landscape that constantly shifts in an effort to level those mountains. The Seahawks got a leg up a few years ago with a couple of insane draft classes maximized by cheap contracts and a scheme that fit their talent like new socks. The key to staying at the top of the hill isn't to simply be smarter or more talented than the competition; no, at the crux of it all, the key to sustained success is the ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Now it's time to see if the Seahawks are capable of making those adjustments.
-I mentioned the Seahawks' trend of defensive crumbling in the fourth quarter, so let me substantiate that. Starting with the Super Bowl, the Seahawks have now given up 56 fourth-quarter points in their last six games compared to 58 in the first, second, and third quarters combined over the same stretch. If you were to extrapolate the Seahawks' defense during the first three quarters of the last six games, they're allowing ~13 PPG. Their fourth quarter defense is allowing 38 PPG. I can't explain it and at this point, I'm not sure the coaches can either. Regardless of the why or how, the what has got to stop if this team is going to compete.
-In his second career start, Thomas Rawls ran for more yards in one game than Marshawn Lynch ever has as a Seahawk. Rawls now has 326 yards on 56 carries (5.6 YPC) in what basically amounts to 2.5 games of action. He's the real deal.
-Seattle came into this game with just six sacks and zero interceptions. They left with 10 and one. Those aren't incredible numbers but it was encouraging to see the defense fill the stat sheet a little bit.
-Jimmy Graham was targeted a team-high five times resulting in three catches for 30 yards. His efficiency remains admirable but the volume is disappointing. Late in the game, the Seahawks ran a stick route to Luke Willson in tight coverage and a deep ball to the diminutive Tyler Lockett. Both fell incomplete. I don't hate those plays but if you're not gonna throw them to Graham, what's he there for? Whatever, be as mad about it as you feel like. I'm still leaning towards the they'll-figure-it-out side of things but today's effort was a real bummer.
-Wilson was mostly good today, finishing 15-23 (65.2%) for 213 yards (9.3 YPA), a touchdown, and an interception for a final rating of 91.4. Unfortunately, almost all of that production was early in the game as Seattle's offense failed to acclimate to Cincinnati's defensive adjustments. Again, adjusting is what it's all about.
-On the flip side, Dalton shrugged off a middling middle of the game to finish 30-44 (68.2%) for 313 yards (7.1 YPA), 2 TDs, and an INT for an efficiency rating of 94.2. In reality, the only difference in production between the two QBs was volume, as Dalton threw the ball nearly twice as much as Wilson but was about equal in terms of efficiency.
-The Seahawks finished with 200 yards rushing and 197 passing. That fits the bill for what Pete Carroll likes to do but the "when" is as important as the "what" and Seattle did all their whatting when they should have been whenning.
There are a lot of ways to view the Seahawks' first five games. On one hand, they are two overtime losses on the road away from being 4-1. On the other hand, they're a miracle fumble away from being 1-4. On another hand, they've had fourth quarter leads in all five games. On, um, yet another hand, every non-Jimmy Clausen QB they've faced has carved them up down the stretch. On hand #5, the Seahawks blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. On your mutant sixth hand, the 'Hawks were this close to beating an undefeated team on the road with an early start coming off a short week. Carroll said after the game that he thinks they're closer this year at 2-3 than they were last year at 3-3. The degree to which we believe him probably says more about us than it does about them.
Ultimately, this team is 2-3 and two games out of first place in their division. Personally, I find myself leaning towards Carroll's assertion and given his proximity to what's happening as well as their post-2011 track record, I don't know why I shouldn't. A year ago next week, the Seahawks had just lost consecutive fourth quarter leads to the Cowboys and Rams, traded their prize offensive acquisition for peanut shells, and seemed to be in complete disarray. That team won 11 of their next 12 and came within a yard of winning their second consecutive Super Bowl. And before you begin shouting that last year's team was obviously better than this year's, I encourage you to go back and read the comments sections after that Rams loss.
For me, it boils down to this: five games is, as much as we're loath to accept it, a small sample size. Are there concerns? Shit yeah there are. But recent history overwhelmingly suggests that Seattle is capable of identifying and rectifying them as the season goes along.
In 2012, the Seahawks started 4-4, then won eight of their next nine en route to coming a sliver's breadth away from the NFC Championship game.
In 2013, the Seahawks started, well, who are we kidding. The 2013 Seahawks pretty much beat everybody on their way to their first Super Bowl win, but the savagery of their title game beatdown has obscured from memory how many close wins against bad teams the '13 squad had.
In 2014, the Seahawks started 3-3 before winning 11 of 12 and coming a sliver's sliver's breadth away from repeating as Super Bowl champs.
Sure, this season could go off the rails, but nothing about Seattle's talent or resiliency suggests that. On the surface (read: preseason expectations), the worst of their schedule is behind them. In reality, the 'Hawks draw their second consecutive undefeated opponent in the Carolina Panthers next week, who happen to be coming off a bye. A win back home will do a lot for the tenor and trajectory of this team. In the meantime, try not to freak out. Or do. I'm not your dad.
The cigar of the day is a fun little smoke- the 1875 from Romeo y Julieta, available for the best price I've found at www.Famous-Smoke.com. Flavorful without being too spicy, this tasty chunk makes for a really enjoyable small meal of a cigar and doesn't require too strong a potable counterpart.