Don't Call the Seahawks Lucky


All was silent in downtown Minneapolis at approximately 1:00 PM on Sunday, January 10th. The Seattle Seahawks were leading the Minnesota Vikings 10-9 with 26 seconds left in the game. The previous 59+ minutes had been dominated by Mother Nature. Neither team could muster much productivity on the offensive side of the ball. Minnesota’s offense, in crunch time, had driven the ball down the length of the field, deep into Seattle territory, leaving the Seahawks with little chance to win the game. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh sauntered nervously onto the frozen tundra of TCF Bank Stadium, the piercing gazes of 50,805 hopeful fans boring into him from all angles.

An anxious hush fell over the nation as Walsh lined up off of the left hash. A perfect storm of subzero weather conditions and suboptimal ball placement resulted in Walsh connecting with the laces of the football, causing him to pull the ball wide to the left of the uprights. After the Vikings had dominated the entire game, the Seahawks, in short, got lucky.

NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS. Let’s delve into the lovely little thing that I like to call analysis. A pedestrian viewer might just claim that Blair Walsh’s untimely lapse in foot-eye coordination was a bunch of B.S. luck for the Seachickens. Digging a little deeper might lead one to a different conclusion.

The first half of Sunday’s contest read a little bit like the first half of Seattle’s season. The Seahawks, dealing with ultra-high expectations, simply weren’t playing up to snuff. They had little to no offensive success over the course of the first half. After the immense success of the offense in the second half of the season and the torrid scoring pace of Russell Wilson becoming the norm, the entire country simultaneously wondered if the Seahawks were a fluke.

"They were ranked first in DVOA and scoring defense for the fourth year in a row? But they’re losing 9-0 in the fourth quarter! DVOA is a joke!" Slow down, speed racer.

The reason that I (along with a multitude of other Seattle fans) was staying calm at this stage of the game comes down to Seattle’s inherent ability of staying in games. The Seahawks have been dubbed by many as a fourth quarter team, but we can extrapolate that statement to an overview of how they navigate entire seasons. The 2013 season was a bit of an outlier, as Seattle started strong at 11-1. But 2012, 2014, and 2015 were all similar in the fact that Seattle started playing at a shaky level that wasn’t deemed championship-caliber in the least. Each year, though, the Seahawks went on tears starting in November that would lead to playoff berths and ultimately playoff wins. This comes down to Pete Carroll’s philosophy that he constantly instills in his players: finish strong.

When Seattle was down 9-0 to Minnesota in the fourth quarter, did they blink? If I may cite the revolutionary Georgian philosopher Bruce Pernell Irvin, Jr., HELL NO. Russell Wilson stared down the barrel of the gun and worked his magic.

With 13:03 left in the game and the ball at Minnesota’s 39-yard line, Russell Wilson began to check out of a Christine Michael run to a Doug Baldwin bubble screen on the right side. What happened next was a shit-show of epic proportions that morphed before our eyes into pure poetry.

Center Patrick Lewis snapped the ball early, catapulting the pigskin 15 yards in an unideal direction. Russell Wilson realized this, sprinted back, scooped up the ball, and found a wide open Tyler Lockett in the middle of the field, who took the ball down to the Minnesota 4-yard line. The Seahawks had turned a broken play into a 35-yard gain. Total luck.

NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS. A lot more went into this play than meets the eye. First off, Pete Carroll needs to be commended for keeping his team so ridiculously disciplined. This play would have been negated had Seattle’s offensive lineman started running downfield. Instead, all five trench-warriors lingered along the line of scrimmage, waiting for their friendly neighborhood magician to make something happen in the backfield.

Second off, Tyler Lockett needs to be commended for realizing the situation, identifying the scramble drill, and uncovering between the hashes downfield. No-E made it extremely easy for Russell Wilson to get rid of the ball, despite the five rushers in the backfield.

Although we don’t do it too often, Jermaine Kearse must be commended for his blocking work downfield, or his lack thereof. As Tyler Lockett accelerated toward the left sideline, Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes was in a position to catch up and make a tackle from behind. Kearse recognized this, and went in to block Rhodes from the side. It must have been a tempting opportunity to blow up Rhodes, but that would have likely resulted in a flag being thrown, and the entire play basically being null and void. Instead, Kearse set the equivalent of a screen in basketball, cutting off Rhodes’ path to Lockett and giving the Seahawks an additional 20 yards of field position.

The final person we have to credit on this play happens to be the most obvious choice: Russell Wilson. There were 95 different quarterbacks that were on a roster in the NFL this year. Only one of them would be able to turn this broken play into a huge gain. This sorcerer just happened to be commanding the Seahawks offense at that very moment.

Within the span of seconds, Russell Wilson spun around, put his mouthpiece in while sprinting towards the loose football, slid down like a second baseman snagging a hard grounder and glanced up to see if his linemen were downfield. He then stood up, surveyed the field, avoided Captain Munnerlyn blitzing off the edge, and eluded the four other oncoming rushers just long enough to float a perfect ball to Tyler Lockett.

People can call this miraculous sequence a fluke, but there was very little luck involved. Thanks to extreme discipline and savvy, the Seahawks turned what would have been a 15-yard loss for 31 other teams in the NFL into 35 yards and a 1st and Goal at the 4-yard line. Seattle would ultimately punch it in two plays later on the classic Doug Baldwin touchdown play that Darrell Bevell has called a lot recently. Yes, yes I know what you’re thinking. I like that play too.

The overwhelming narrative I heard after the game on Sunday was that the Seahawks were dominated the entire game and that they had no business winning. But let’s think about this for a second. Adrian Peterson, all-world running back who led the NFL in rushing yards and scaring the shit out of defenses, rushed for a whopping 45 yards on 23 rushes. That’s not even 2.0 yards per carry, after he averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the course of the season.

Peterson also lost a fumble on a reception in the 4th quarter that would have given Minnesota a first down while up 9-7. A lot of the time, fumbles are lucky. Seattle has been very unlucky when it comes to fumbles this season, as they forced 20 of them, while recovering only eight. But this fumble recovery was not lucky.

Seattle is coached up and very aware of Adrian Peterson’s past fumbling issues. On this play, KJ Wright grabbed Peterson’s left arm and held onto it, allowing Kam Chancellor to rip the ball out. A diving Earl Thomas knocked the free projectile off of its initial trajectory, keeping receiver Mike Wallace from snaring it right away. And who else would emerge from the ensuing scrum but defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin. A monstrous 3-technique weighing in at 330 lbs. was in the right place at the right time, but wasn’t he just following Pete Carroll’s mantra "Always Compete"? This was no coincidence.

The play is never over until it’s over, just as the game is never over until it’s over. The Seahawks understand this very well (i.e. NFC Championship 2015), but Sunday took it to another level. After the fumble recovery, the Seahawks converted a clutch 3rd and 7 and Steven Hau$chka kicked a subsequent 46-yard field goal to give Seattle the lead, 10-9.

Minnesota and Seattle traded three-and-outs and short, meaningless drives for the rest of the game until Minnesota’s final attempt to reclaim the lead. A big pass interference penalty against Kam Chancellor and a 24-yard pass play to Kyle Rudolph put Minnesota deep in Seattle territory. After the Seahawks defense yawned daintily and stopped Adrian Peterson three more times to cause a 4th and 1, Blair Walsh came onto the field, and missed the aforementioned field goal. This was a kick that any kicker in the NFL would make 99 times out of 100.

People who have been so quick to bash Blair Walsh for missing this field goal need to take a step back and realize that he made three field goals earlier in the game to make a win possible in the first place. They also need to realize that Richard Sherman, coming off of the right edge, was a hair’s length away from blocking one of Walsh’s previous field goals. Now go back and watch how this influenced Walsh’s kicking motion on the final play. Walsh seemed to rush his kick more so than before, most likely due to Sherman’s presence. This also subliminally caused Walsh to try to kick the ball to the left a little more than he previously had, to avoid a block off of the right side. He did end up pulling it to the left – just a little more than he had anticipated.

There are many reasons that you could argue why the Seahawks shouldn’t have escaped Minnesota with a win, but when you break it down, they were the better team. Blair Walsh’s missed field goal was quite the special teams gaffe, but let’s not forget that a botched snap caused Jon Ryan to try to scramble for a first down instead of punt, giving Minnesota the ball deep in Seattle territory. There’s a three-point swing on a special teams gaffe for you. Had Seattle been driving into the closed end of TCF Bank Stadium earlier in the game, Russell Wilson likely would have connected deep with Doug Baldwin on a long touchdown pass, or Steven Hau$chka would have attempted field goals instead of having Seattle go for it on 4th and long. The elements certainly took their toll on both teams over the course of the game, but it seemed to have more of a negative effect on Seattle throughout.

In the end, it comes down to which team was mentally tougher. Sheil Kapadia of ESPN recently released an article explaining the science behind the quantification of grit. I’m no psychologist, so I won’t get into specifics, but a professor from UPenn, who is the driving force behind this study, visited the Seahawks locker room. She later came out and said that she had never seen anything like it. It’s a culture unlike any other in the sporting world.

The Seahawks have been to the top of the mountain. They have also been knocked off in brutal fashion. They’ve felt every emotion on the spectrum and experienced hardship every step of the way up to this point. The Seahawks were the mentally tough team on Sunday. When they knew they had to shut down the league’s best running back, they did. When they needed a crucial turnover late in the game, they got one. When their offense and special teams consistently put them in terrible position, their defense held strong and got off the field.

When the pressure was on, Blair Walsh couldn’t deliver for his team. But the Minnesota Vikings didn’t score a single touchdown in the 60 minutes played on Sunday. Their entire team couldn’t deliver in the end. So don’t you dare try and say that the Seahawks were solely lucky, because that is lazy.

The better team won on Sunday and is going to Carolina to battle Cam Newton and the Panthers. Let’s wait and see how far preparation, discipline and grit can carry the Seahawks.