For the last number of years, we've all known that things tend to go sideways whenever the Rams and Seahawks play each other. For whatever reason(s), the games end up with all sorts of fluky shit happening and almost always remain in flux until the final drive. No matter to what degree Seattle has been better than St. Louis over the last four years, the games have been, almost without exception, wonky as hell. I've never been able to quite put my finger on it until my buddy Jono tweeted out the perfect description regarding St. Louis's relationship to Seattle:
@JacsonBevens they are the paper to the Hawks rock. And most teams are scissors.— Jono Bo Bono (@Dingis) December 28, 2015
Today's game, a wet and weird affair that ended with the Rams winning 23-17, was more of the same. The Seahawks out-gained the Rams by over 100 yards, had the ball for most of the contest, converted 47% of their third downs, and held St. Louis to 3.9 yards per play. That, combined with superior talent and QB play, should have been enough to win and most of the time it will be. Today's game, for a litany of reasons, just slipped away. So how did it happen?
Well, if I'm being perfectly honest with you, I think it was pretty fluky. If you want to call me a homer or a hack for thinking that, go right ahead, my mom still thinks I'm great. But hear me out- there were a number of things which occurred in this game that you're not likely to see again for a while. Okay, I know some of you are waiting with pockets full of "yeah, but..."s and "well, actually..."s so let me acknowledge the things that weren't fluky first.
The Rams defensive line, replete with five first-round picks and arguably the best in the NFL, dominated the Seahawks at the point of attack. Christine Michael, who got his first NFL start, never had a chance to get going seeing as he was basically running face first into the American Gladiators as soon as he got the ball. Russell Wilson was forced to run around a rubble-strewn backfield like a rat in a maze and the results of that ran the familiar gamut between incredible and horrific.
Additionally, Seattle committed a ton of penalties, a number of which were of the stupid variety (lining up offsides, forgetting the snap count, diving head first into a sliding quarterback) and constantly put the offense off their game script while extending Rams drives. Receivers dropped passes, defenders dropped interceptions, and Seattle failed to record a single sack. Make no mistake, Seattle under-performed in this game and an effort like that won't get them far in the postseason.
That all being said, consider the following: despite performance deficiencies from nearly every positional group, the Seahawks were still six points away from winning this game. They fumbled five times, and it will be a long time before you see that again. Just like it'll be a long time before you see a league-average receiver catch Richard Sherman with bad footwork and breeze by him for a TD on a simple go route. Every review (four by my count) went St. Louis' way. Patrick Lewis, probably the most consistent offensive lineman the Seahawks have had this season, snapped the ball with all of the touch and accuracy of a teenager egging a house, resulting in two drive-crippling fumbles. That ain't gonna happen again either.*
*It has to be noted that the Seahawks caught a few breaks too, like that terrible call on the Rams defender for head-to-head contact that led to Seattle's first score and Lewis' snap deflecting off Wilson straight to Michael.
The Rams scored three touchdowns in this game. One was on a fumble recovery when Will Tukuafu somehow had the ball knocked out of his massive, couchy bosom by Mark Barron. Another was when St. Louis took over on Seattle's 28. The third was the direct result of two Rams fumbles being launched forward after terrific hits by 'Hawks tacklers and then sprung upon by the same oafish Rams lineman twice in three plays. There was not one real, quality sustained drive from St. Louis in that entire game.
For whatever reason, the Seahawks came out flatter than month-old soda and while I am in no way acquitting them of their subpar effort, it would be a mistake to assume that the result of today's performance is indicative of who this team is. They did not play worse than they did on Monday night against the Lions, nor when they squeaked out a win in Dallas. Results color memories of the process. The Seahawks are coming off of a two-month stretch in which they've won seven of eight games while re-calibrating the NFL record books for offensive production.
I can spend another 1,000 words breaking down the ins and outs of this game and we could argue all day about whether the result was anomalous or not but I don't really care to. There are a litany of reasons why not, the main one being that this game doesn't really change my perception of who the 2015 Seahawks are. The worst part about the fan experience is the terrible, gloomy specter of recency bias that follows a loss. It creeps over us with its grey dreariness, soaking our skin and freezing us to the bone like, well, like the weather this game was played in. After a loss, especially a home divisional loss to an inferior team, everything seems shitty and the good plays are blacked out like a redacted CIA file by hyper-focused attention on what went wrong. We tend to look back at past results through the lens of the most recent one, and the clarity or cloudiness of that scope shades our view of what came before.
A week ago, the Seahawks were invincible- a wild band of marauders laying waste to every team unlucky enough to fall into their path. Right now, they're a team with a lot of questions and are lacking the killer mentality that the 2012-2014 teams had. But here's the thing: it's the same damn team. I have talked all season about how one bounce, one great play, one drop severely skews the perception of an entire team's performance. And while the final score is the ultimate, inescapable trump card, letting today's tally convince you that the Seahawks are not still one of the best teams in the NFL is to sell both yourself and this team short*.
Consider this: in 2013, the Seahawks won a handful of shitty games against shitty teams by shittily small margins. You may not remember that because they won the Super Bowl by five touchdowns in what was maybe the most complete title game performance in NFL history. It was a masterpiece that expunged forever from the memories of some fans just how shaky and flawed that unit could be for much of the season. Even now I can hear a bunch of you fuming at the audacity of me calling into question the merits of the best Seahawks team of all time, but unclench your teeth, wipe your chin, and chill for a sec while you remember that the very same squad had to overcome a 21-0 deficit at home to beat an 0-7 Bucs team, and squeaked out victories against three other teams that finished 7-9, 2-14, and 7-9 by a combined eight points. They struggled mightily for a solid two month stretch and their losses came as a result of giving up big pass plays late.
Then they caught their groove, rolled a bunch of teams, and entered the final two games of the season looking unstoppable. In Week 16, they hosted the Arizona Cardinals, and despite having won seven of their last eight games, came out flat, couldn't move the ball, couldn't capitalize on opportunities, and lost 17-10 in a miserably cold, rainy contest. Sound familiar? And no, this defense isn't as good as that defense, but that offense wasn't as good as this offense, either.
But my point isn't to disparage the hallowed accomplishments of a team that you and I will both cherish forever. Rather, it's to point out that no team, no matter how talented or well-coached or whatever, comes out and dominates every game; NFL players are too good to let that happen. Furthermore, I mean to say that teams can still achieve great things after bad performances. Hell, every great team has had bad performances at points throughout those season but the true measure of their greatness has been in how they responded. And while we've been spoiled in that we've gotten to witness domination more frequently than any other fan base in football over the last four years, the Seahawks, even the best incarnations of them, play below their potential from time to time. In my mind, that's simply what we saw today- an off performance compounded by some goofy results on weird plays and mistakes from key players we're unlikely to witness again for however long this season lasts.
And frankly, this loss doesn't really change the trajectory of this team's season. The Seahawks are still going to the playoffs, and they'll still have to win three road games in order to reach the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season. Whether they're the #5 or #6 seed doesn't matter a whole lot because they'll still likely have to win in Carolina and in Arizona, and if the difference between playing at Washington or at Green Bay / Minnesota is the difference between a win and a loss, then this team wasn't going to get there anyway.
Until I see a Pete Carroll-coached team play a multi-game stretch of bad football late in a season, I consider it masochistic foolishness to think it will happen. Call that willful ignorance if you like, but there's simply no track record to suggest that this game was anything other than an aberration in the midst of a winter surge the likes of which we've witnessed each of the last four years. This loss sucks but I doubt it affects how the players and coaches view themselves or their ability to win.
So mourn this loss for however long you deem appropriate. Carve up the comments section with your frustrations. Up next is a trip to Arizona to face what I think is the best team in football and honestly, I couldn't be happier. Carolina's loss, combined with the Cardinals' evisceration of the Packers, means Bruce Arians' boys will likely bring everything they've got to the table in what could be Seattle's stiffest test of the season.
Win or lose, I would much rather the Seahawks enter the playoffs having sharpened their teeth on the tough hide of a true contender than watching them devour the soft belly flesh of some defenseless lamb. It is a beautiful, nearly consequence-free preview of what it will take to win in the playoffs this season and I'm sure the team is far hungrier than even you and I are to see how they stack up. The Seahawks lost a crapfest today but ultimately, it doesn't matter a whole lot. Carroll's teams are phenomenal coming off of a loss (13-4 over the last four seasons) and I'm stoked to see what kind of fight they bring to the desert next Sunday.
There are a bunch of other stats that are pretty interesting from this game, like how Wilson-to-Baldwin continues to set records or Seattle's streak of 25 consecutive games with 100+ rushing yards ended or how this was the first time in 64 games that the Seahawks never held a lead or how they've now lost more home games this season than they had in the three seasons combined or you know what I don't really want to talk about this anymore. This game was one of those sloppy poops that requires half a roll of TP to properly clean up and leaves you feeling gross and unsatisfied; but what matters is that everything gets flushed and you get on with your life.
Ultimately, if the Seahawks play like they did today, it won't matter what their playoff road is. If the Seahawks play their best, it won't matter what their playoff road is either. It's gonna be a week of heavy personal inventory being taken at the VMAC but history suggests, nay, it states with resolution that we should expect an impressive bounce back performance next week. Until then, onward and upward my friends.
The cigar of the week is the delectable Chapter One from La Flor Dominicana, available at www.Famous-Smoke.com. This stick gives you a slow-burning, flavorful roast without ever letting the heat get in the way of the taste. Highly recommend, as this has been a long-standing favorite of mine.
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