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Seahawks Cigar Thoughts, Game 6: Seattle blows 4th quarter lead again, lose to Panthers 27-23

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The Seattle Seahawks blew their fifth 4th quarter lead in their last seven games, falling to 2-4 on the season and suffering just their third home loss int the last four years.

Been here before
Been here before
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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/folds up notes and tosses them handsomely over shoulder, where they're immediately incinerated* by pet dragon**

Do you guys want to read this or do you just wanna check out any of my write-ups from the last three losses? Cuz it's basically the same shit dressed up in a different color pattern. In the most physical game that the Seahawks played this year, they battered the Panthers for three quarters before collapsing under the weight of expectation like never-been-there-before jabronis trying to figure out how to win for the first time. For the seventh straight game, the two-time defending NFC champions outplayed their opponents for three quarters and for the fifth time in that stretch, they changed from world-crushing automatons into lawnchairs like the world's lamest Transformers.

*sniffed at
**pug in a dragon costume

For the better part of three years, we've gotten to sit back on our autumnal and wintery Sundays, kick our feet up, and casually watch the the best team in the NFL stomp the life out of their opponents the way wives and children used to find a nice hill on which to picnic and watch the local Civil War battle. Since about this time in 2012, the Seahawks have enforced their will upon a league of dogs, establishing themselves as alpha, grabbing the largest piece of meat available, and going for the throat of whoever dared to try and take it. At home they've been piranhas, circling their tank and waiting for their weekly feeding time, when wholly unprepared guppies were dropped unceremoniously into a swarm of teeth and primal horror for the amusement of their spectators.

It was all so, normal for us. When you've sat on your mountaintop perch and looked down at the writhing scrappers below for long enough, you start to forget what it was like when nothing was given. The deep willingness to fight and die for your next meal starts to get covered up by warm meals and a comfy royal bed like embers in a slow but unceasing flurry of snow.

For three years the Seahawks were dismissed and disrespected, undersized and underpaid. Those Seahawks didn't just fight the dogs across the alley for dinner, they left those dogs in such a state that the next pack to come crawling through would be forced to consider whether the scraps are worth it. Those Seahawks got strong, grew from yapping pups in need of whelping into a hard-driven pack of ear-ripping, underbelly-clawing wolves, driven and united by an ancient desire. And then, it seems, those Seahawks gave up the call of the wild for a seat by the fire. And then, after that got comfortable enough, that deep-seeded need for more resurfaced only this time, more wasn't going to come from the dogs on the street, more was gonna come from the hands of the owner. And as the organization (rightfully) began to give these players the money that they deserve, it stands to reason that the desire, nay, the need to rip the breath out of opposing windpipes may have began to wane.

Mankind has always progressed towards increased comfort, and in a vacuum that's okay. But NFL football isn't played in a vacuum, it's played in the chaos, the maelstrom of genetically superior, specially trained modern gladiators throwing their demigodly frames around with mayhem on their minds. It is the ability to navigate that storm, to strike hard and quick, to carve out the territory around you and defend it with everything you have that separates the winning teams from the losing. An enormous amount of games are decided by, quite literally, the outcome of three or fewer plays. Everyone in the NFL shares the same 98% of talent, preparation, strategy and heart but glory belongs to those who win the final 2%.

That 2% has belonged firmly to the Seahawks for over 50 games. How many times have we seen the 'Hawks make the plays that needed to be made? How many times has Russell Wilson led the offense down the field in the final five minutes or overtime to steal a victory? How many times has the defense bowed up in the clutch with a big stop, sack, or turnover? I can't tell you the exact number but at some point it became expected.

We as fans became as expectant of victory as the players themselves. In a world where entire weeks of preparation and training often come down to the gridiron version of a coin toss, it seems as though Seattle played with a weighted quarter and the 12s have become incredulous when the Seahawks haven't won. We too have forgotten what it was like to show up hoping for victory instead of expecting it. Now we wipe our brows and say "phew" when Seattle wins close games instead of celebrating and demanding wholesale change when they lose 'em. This isn't an admonishment on how to cheer, but games like this are reminders of what it's like and stark examples of how quickly we can be yanked back into the world where teeth haven't been dulled by soft food.

Or maybe it's not that. Maybe the cause of the Seahawks' late game struggles are something else entirely, something more technical or strategic. After all, the Seahawks are fewer than ten plays away from being 6-0 and maybe, just maybe, this knucklehead banging away at his keyboard is being far too simplistic in attributing this stretch to the lack of desire in men I've never met and who have spent more time dedicating themselves to what they do than I have to anything.

I mean, really, this offensive line is bad to the point that we get excited about decent quarters of play from them. Russell Wilson has been pressured at a historic rate this season and their forward push on run plays is about as consistent as my wife's food preferences. I hate to harp on this but for all the ire we want to direct at Darrell Bevell or Pete Carroll or Russell Wilson Tom Cable or Jimmy Graham for Seattle's lack of offensive production, everything they do is predicated on naught more than a lack of getting-your-ass-kicked by the OL.

We saw on a few drives what the Darrell Bevell offense can look like when there's time to operate it. No possession all season has better encapsulated what this offense is supposed to look like than Seattle's third one this afternoon. After a short run by Marshawn Lynch was knocked back by the time-honored tradition of a personal foul by Ricardo Lockette, the drive went as follows:

*Russell Wilson scrambles for 4 yards
*Wilson to Chris Matthews on a stop route for 12 and a first down
*Play-action pass deep to Tyler Lockett that was overthrown and incomplete and still my favorite play of the drive
*Wilson keeps it for 24
*Wilson runs again for 11 more
*Wilson sacked for -3 (gotta keep 'em honest)
*Wilson down the seam to Jimmy(!) Graham for 25
*Incomplete shovel pass
*Wilson runs around in the backfield for 94 seconds while Graham takes three defenders across the field, allowing Luke Willson to sneak underneath for a 16 yard catch
*Lynch up the pipe for 3
*Lynch right back up the pipe for the 1 yard touchdown

12 plays and 90 yards in 5:30 for seven points.

On that marvelous possession, you saw Seattle get back to the principles that in the past have allowed them to score quickly or drain the clock as necessary. They took a deep shot and even though it was unsuccessful, it forced the defense to recognize that they were willing to take that chance. All of a sudden, safeties stopped creeping up and running room opened up underneath. Receivers caught passes in stride and Lynch got forward push in short yardage situations. That's Seahawks philosophy when paired with execution. But alas, that too was fleeting.

And for all of the struggles the offense has had, they still lead the NFL in rushing. And honestly, I think Wilson has been as good as ever and that was before he stopped being a socialist with his targets and started force-feeding Jimmy Graham (who responded with a monster eight catch, 140 yard performance that lacked only the ripping off of his own helmet and screaming "are you not entertained?"). Wilson is completing 70% of his passes and has a passer rating of nearly 100 despite literally being pressured on a higher percentage of his dropbacks than any QB in history. The Seahawks offense has a lot of nice furniture but their foundation is shaky as shit.

We all expected this O-line to struggle early in the season; what we didn't expect to see is every single quarterback not named Jimmy Clausen morph into human cheat codes once the fourth quarter arrived. Some of it has been the result of exceptional plays, like Nick Foles' ridiculous lob to Stedman Bailey between Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman or Tyler Eifert's incredible diving grab last Sunday; but most of it has come from dudes getting wide open all of a sudden.

And honestly, if it was just a matter of Seattle's cover guys getting beat by half a step and QBs making perfect throws, I'd begrudgingly tip my cap and look forward to the next game. But when it's defenders looking around before the snap unsure of their assignment, or worse, the Legion screaming and pointing fingers at each other, it's enough to make you start questioning some things. These are guys who can identify their roles and the roles of those around them on a given play as easily as breathing oxygen suddenly looking like they just woke up from a vivid dream, uncertain if what they're seeing is real or a hallucination.

The Seahawks' servers seem to be infected with some insidious malware that's triggered as soon as the third quarter clock hits quad-aughts. Maybe it Trojan-horsed it's way in there through contract negotiations and personal opportunities in the offseason. Or maybe the Seahawks just forgot to update their antivirus software, mistakenly assuming that what's worked before will work again. Either way, I hope Paul Allen still remembers how to program.

If you mistakenly wandered in here looking for the cure to what ails the Seahawks, I can only offer you a seat on the couch and a stiff tumbler of scotch. I've got no idea how to re-inspire a bunch of millionaires dealing with a stretch of failure previously unknown to them. But Pete Carroll does. One thing I am confident in, however, is that streaks like this can become self-fulfilling prophesies. After a while, that expectation of success starts to be gnawed at by the doubts fueled by recent performance. It's why slumps exist.

I would warn, however, against mistaking descent for destruction. What I said last week about Seattle's track record in identifying and repairing broken systems early in the season is still worthy of keeping in mind, as Seattle is only one game worse than they were at this point last season. And while the problems don't seem very fixable right now, they didn't at this time last year either. Besides, the 'Hawks are still only two games out of first place in the NFC West.

All I know for sure is that this sucks. The feeling of dread that accompanies the end of games regardless of whether Seattle's ahead or not is sickening. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and it blows when that creeping feeling of hibernation isn't buoyed by a Seahawks win. Fortunately, the team that is struggling is composed of like nine All Pro players, not a squad of schlubs.

It's not like Seattle can't score, or tackle, or cover, or block. In fact, they've done most of that pretty well most of the time. It's just that they're not doing it enough. The talent is there. The coaching is there. The execution, really, is almost there. This season can still go in two directions. Ten games is a lot of time.

The trip back to the castle on the hill got a bit steeper today, but it didn't disappear. The first step comes in five days, as the Seahawks travel to San Francisco on a short week to play the 49ers on Thursday Night Football. Onward. Upward.

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The cigar this week sucks. Everything sucks. It's terrible and it tastes like dried wombat placenta. You can't buy it.