Now THAT is what we’ve been waiting to see. The Seahawks got up early, pulled on their boots, and set themselves to stomping on their east coast hosts in a 27-17 victory over the Jets that wasn’t even that close. It was the team’s most complete performance of the season, as they outplayed New York in just about every facet of the game.
The Jets, to their credit, had a terrific first drive, with Matt Forte and Quincy Enunwa presenting difficult challenges in the open field and Ryan Fitzpatrick calmly checking down under pressure. The drive came to a weird conclusion when, on 3rd & 14 from the Seahawks’ 18, a short completion over the middle turned into a fumble recovered by Jeremy Lane. It was ruled an incomplete pass on the field, which was a guess as good as anyone’s at the time. Replay, however, showed that it was most certainly a catch and a fumble so naturally the call stood and the Jets kicked a field goal to take the only lead they’d have all day.
That score would hold for a couple more drives, before Seattle unfurled a 92-yard possession comprised of seven crisp plays that featured everything that Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell want to see in their passing game. It started with an absurd one-handed catch by Jimmy Graham who, more on him later, was sensational again today. He followed that up by erasing his man with a seal-off block for Doug Baldwin on the bubble screen that you all love so much.
Two plays later it was Baldwin again, this time diving between two defenders deep down the seam and corralling a 38-yard completion despite getting unloaded on in the process*. After a short Christine Michael run, Russell Wilson waggled left on his two busted nubs and lobbed a strike in to CJ Spiller who circled into the endzone out of the backfield.
*Every week, it seems, Baldwin unhinges our jaws with an incredible play of some sort. The type of play that is amazing in real time and only increases in value when seen super slo-mo. In this instance, it was how vulnerable he made himself to make a catch knowing he was gonna get popped. Then, on the replay, you see how violent the collision actually was and how the ball doesn’t even move in his grasp when the hit comes.
Spiller, who was added to the roster only days ago, is a player I’ve had a crush on since he was vaporizing defenses at Clemson almost a decade ago. When he entered the draft in 2010, he was the guy I wanted Seattle to draft more than anyone and I was crushed when Buffalo selected him. But then the ‘Hawks took Earl Thomas, who went on to become my favorite Seahawks player of all time already. Then a few months later, as a direct result of the Spiller pick, the Bills traded Marshawn Lynch to Seattle and that worked out okay. Anyhow, my point is that it’s awesome to finally see Spiller in a Seahawks uniform and even cooler that he scored in his debut.
From there, it was simply a matter of the better team determining its margin of victory. After another defensive stand, Seattle went another 85 yards on another seven plays, ending it on another Wilson TD pass. The recipient of this one was Tanner McEvoy (yes, really) who was so wide open he must’ve wondered if he was running in the right direction. McEvoy’s first career catch went for 42 yards and a score so, you know, not a bad welcome to the league. New York would close the gap to 14-10 before the half, but that’s as close as it would get the rest of the way.
Wilson, long the recipient of an unfair reputation for having his passing numbers inflated by his schoolyard scrambling, was a maestro in the pocket. Lacking his usual escapability, Wilson calmly completed 13 of his first 14 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He would finish 23-32, for 309 yards, with three teeders, no picks, and a sparkling passer rating of 133.5. On a sprained ankle. And an injured MCL. At this point, it’s amazing that anyone is publicly denying that Russell Wilson is a top-tier quarterback, but his critics dwindle as he continues to answer every question about his perceived limitations. Question his greatness at the risk of your own credibility.
Wilson spread his completions out over eight different guys, chewing up yards and regurgitating them to his receivers in easily digestible chunks like a doting mother bird. None of his little chickadees were more impressive than Graham, however, who continued his logic-defying return to greatness after tearing his patellar tendon less than a calendar year ago. Graham followed up his six-catch, 100-yard performance last week with a six-catch, 113-yard effort this afternoon. He showcased every reason the ‘Hawks traded Max Unger and a first round pick for him. In addition to his single-handed grab, he caught jump balls, crossing routes, contested balls, and sideline fott drags. The Seahawks were like a military force showing off their futuristic special weapon.
Graham was not alone in delivering astonishing catches, as the entire Seattle receiving corps balled out to varying degrees. Jermaine Kearse twice beat Darrelle Revis for catches, Baldwin snagged all four of his targets for 54 yards, McEvoy got loose for the deep score, and Paul Richardson made one of the best catches this year, skying over a defender for a phenomenal 27-yard catch. Tyler Lockett was largely limited to return duties, so it’s encouraging to see everyone step up without him. Hell, even Christine Michael scored in the passing game, mixing a nine-yard TD grab in among an impressive five catches for 32 yards.
Actually, let’s take this time for our weekly C-Mike Appreciation meeting. If you’re new here, there’s cookies and some pamphlets on the back table. With Thomas Rawls out for who knows how much longer, the heavy mantle of the Seattle run game has been placed squarely on his shoulders. That means more than running well (check), it means being a reliable receiver out of the backfield (check), securing the football (check), understanding audibles without having to ask the QB what play you’re running (check, finally), and picking up the pass rush as a blocker (check). To the latter point, I think Michael’s most impressive effort came on a play in which he didn’t even touch the ball.
Lined up to Wilson’s left in the shotgun, Christine had his eyes trained straight up the middle in pass protection. With Russ dropping back and looking right, a delayed rush came off the edge with an unchecked defender aiming right for the middle of Wilson’s back. Michael peeled off his initial read, squared up the rusher, and stopped him cold, allowing his QB to go through his reads before escaping pressure right where the blitz came from. It was the final level of of the Christine Michael inception. The awakening is complete- C-Mike has achieved his final form.
Seattle’s polished, if statistically unspectacular, offensive performance was made possible by an ever-improving O-line. Honestly, I kind of expected this year’s smattering to be the worst version yet. But Tom Cable has seemingly coached his boys up real good and, if it’s legit, has done it about five weeks ahead of schedule. They didn’t get the push in the run game they’d have liked (66 rush yards), but they kept the pocket generally clean, allowing their stationary QB enough time to go through his reads. They went up against a Jets front seven that outgunned them from a talent standpoint and blitzes more than any other in the league. I’m not ready to say the Seattle OL has “arrived”, but they’ve at least shown they can read the invitation.
Seattle’s defense continued its suffocation of every opposing offense they face, limiting the Jets to ten real points and seven annoying-ass cartoon circus points. They held the to-date potent New York rushing attack to 58 yards at a meager 2.9 YPC clip, harassed Fitzpatrick into four sacks and three (!) interceptions, and challenged Todd Bowles to try and beat them deep. They won at the line of scrimmage, tackled well in the second level, and contested nearly every throw that traveled more than 10 yards in the air.
And for all of that, the most entertaining part of the game was, pants down, the battle between Richard Sherman and Brandon Marshall. I’ll start by admitting that Marshall is arguably my favorite non-Seahawk in the NFL and as a football fan, I was hoping not only that Sherman would shadow him, but that Fitzpatrick would target him throughout. It was a showdown between two of my favorite players in the league and they delivered the prize fight I wanted.
Sherman came into this game having allowed a grand total of 23 yards on 12 targets, but to his credit, Fitzpatrick came right after him. They each landed memorable punches, with Marshall having more success against Sherman than anyone has in a very long time. Late in the first quarter, Marshall got loose with a double-move and hauled in a 41-yard reception. Then he got 14 more on a precise back-shoulder out route in front of Sherman. Just before the half, he caught Sherm with a jab step inside and faded to the pylon for a touchdown.
Sherman, for his part, gave every bit as good as he got; more, even. By my count, Sherman was targeted a staggering 12 times, and despite allowing 89 yards and a touchdown, only gave up four catches and snagged two interceptions (and nearly a third). His detractors will point to the yards and the score but will undoubtedly ignore the fact that even so, his passer-rating-against was 48.9. And that’s the best game anyone has had against him in I don’t know how long. Marshall is a true man’s-game WR and had an impressive outing, but I gotta give this one to Sherman who continues to defend his title as the best cornerback in the game.
Now, about Earl Thomas. It’s been a weird season for Seattle’s all-world safety, as he had yet to make the type of imprint on a game that we’ve grown accustomed to. He hasn’t been bad, and honestly our criticism of his performance probably says more about our expectations than his play, but he hasn’t been the world-beating force we’ve anticipated. His presence was felt in this one, however, as he put everything that makes Earl Earl on full display. He made a couple of great tackles, missed one, got beat on a couple of pass plays and broke up a couple others. He dropped an interception, caught an interception, and tried to over-rule the ref on New York’s goofy offensive fumble-recovery TD by shouting his decision into the ref’s mic and over the stadium’s PA.
Listen, Earl’s play has been peculiar this year but Thomas is peculiarity incarnate and he’s still the best safety in the game. I ain’t worried until I’m worried, and I’m not worried yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s game catapults him back into the stratosphere. Everyone else was great. The Seahawks are great.
You know, it’s amazing how we don’t even talk about the difficulty presented by early east coast start times. It is a circumstance that foretold a loss for decades, and yet I bet Pete Carroll has a better record in eastern morning games than he even does at home. Incredible preparation.
Seattle looked every bit the title contender in this game, and are answering each and every one of the concerns levied against them. They can’t pass block — 9.7 Y/A. Wilson has to scramble to be effective — Wilson’s best game yet, confined to pocket throughout. The Seahawks don’t force turnovers anymore — three picks in this one. The Seahawks are adapting, evolving into predators of a new era. They are dangerous again.
The Seahawks are 3-1, and will have at least a share of the division lead as they head into a much-needed off week. As fans, we’re given an early reprieve from our weekly stresser and it is my recommendation that you enjoy it with the appreciation that this team’s window is still wide the hell open. So, until a fortnight from now: onward, upward, and cheers.
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