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Film Gulls: The best players and moments from the Seahawks win over the Falcons

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Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Football is a fickle fiend. One moment, a team can be absolutely dominating in all three phases and look to have the contest all but locked up. Then, in an instant, it can all fall apart. The constant complexity of the game makes it easier to experience lapses in communication and scheme than one may think.

That is what happened to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday when facing the surging Atlanta Falcons. After building a 17-3 lead at halftime, the Seahawks let the Dirty Birds drive down the field not once or twice, but thrice, to take a commanding 24-17 lead going into the 4th quarter.

It’s easy to abandon hope at a moment like this, as the defense hadn’t shown us a damn thing during the 3rd quarter that provided a glimmer of hope. We only could sit back and observe our beloved Legion of Boom fall apart at the hands of Matty Ice and the most maddeningly straight-out-of-Madden-create-a-player receiver known to mankind.

Can you win the game in the first quarter?

Can you… You all know how the rest of the saying goes.

How can people lose hope with 15:00 still on the clock? Have they already forgotten the absurdity of comebacks we have seen this team complete in the past? It matters not, as a still-hobbled Russell Wilson and a reinvigorated defense willed Seattle back from the brink of defeat into the warm, welcoming embrace of victory.

In a game that all signs pointed to being the sadistic, stress-inducing love-child of the Fail Mary game and the Divisional contest in Atlanta from early 2013, the Seahawks got their shit together and pulled out a gritty win. A win that very few other teams could have gotten, given the circumstances.

And to all the lovely people out there saying the Seahawks got lucky on that final missed pass interference call, take a look at Julio Jones’ hand placement at the line of scrimmage.

I’ll let y’all figure out what happened there.

Let’s take a look at which Seahawks stood out in the nail-biter against the Falcons.

Jimmy Graham

I’ve sung Jimmy G’s praises a lot over the last month or so. The dude has looked absolutely dominant in his inexplicable return to form thus far in 2016, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. What made things so impressive on Sunday, aside from his number of catches and conversions on critical downs, is how he is beginning to influence how defenses roll coverages when facing the Seattle offense.

In the red zone, despite Seattle not passing or any touchdowns, the defenses are keying in on him, for good reason.

On a critical third-and-6 with seven minutes left in the game, Graham’s presence opened up a lane for a conversion to Tyler Lockett:

Graham, lined up in-line, runs up the seam, carrying two defensive backs with him. The linebacker #59 drops back into coverage. Graham’s route upfield leaves the linebacker isolated in coverage on Lockett, which is generally not conducive to defenses. No-E runs a nimble curl around the spinning defender and easily makes the catch, keeping the drive alive which would later result in a touchdown.

While it didn’t look like much in real time, teams are beginning to fear Graham again. This isn’t a “oh, we should probably cover that guy,” fear. This is a “what the hell, we had four guys on him in coverage and he still pulled down that jump ball, we need to bracket the shit out of him” type of fear.

This is what we all hoped the Percy Harvin effect would yield. Defenses are terrified of the continuously developing trust and connection between Graham and his quarterback, who just so happens to show up next on this list.

Russell Wilson

Even on a day where he threw for no touchdowns, Russ looked pretty damn good. He missed a couple of throws, including an inexcusable duck to Tyler Lockett on a crucial third down in the 3rd quarter. I’ll cut him some slack, as he clearly isn’t 100% yet. We all hoped he would bounce back onto the field and be the classic scrambling Russ we all know and love after a bye week. That’s not how knee and ankle injuries work. It takes time.

What was seriously encouraging on Sunday was how well Wilson was climbing the pocket. On a day that his receivers were doing him very few favors, Russell got it done when he needed to get it done. Even with one leg (one half plus one half equals one, my friends), Wilson is a magician in big moments:

Wilson takes the snap out of the gun with Alex Collins protecting to his right. Atlanta blitzes one and Collins picks it up well. Jimmy Graham carries two defenders to the left on a crossing route, clearing out the right side of the field. Wilson bails on a pocket that is being pushed up the interior, allowing Dwight Freeney to bend the edge around Bradley Sowell and come in hot from the backside. Collins allows the blitzer to come free at Wilson and leaks off to the right as a safety valve. Wilson waits until the last possible second and floats the football into Collins’ waiting arms. The rookie runner rumbles for a first down and holds onto the ball while Vic Beasley tries to force a fumble.

The fact that Russ makes this play while hobbled to the extent that he is, especially when it is to put his team in range for the game-winner, is absolutely incredible. These types of plays go underappreciated since we’re so used to them, but look at it from the perspective of a Falcon’s fan. That is a back-breaker. That’s an absolutely devastating haymaker to the gut five seconds before the bell sounds.

There isn’t another quarterback in the league more confident in his own abilities. There isn’t a quarterback in the league able to make something out of nothing when it’s all on the line.

Of course, none of this would’ve been possible without the man of the hour.

Earl Thomas III

Oh goodness gracious. How we overreacted. Earl’s early-season struggles were surely concerning, but there shouldn’t have been a doubt that he would quickly retreat to his apex.

Thomas’s astounding play on Sunday seemed so astounding because we haven’t really seen peak Earl since the end of 2015.

Damn straight.

There is a zero percent chance that Seattle wins on Sunday if Earl doesn’t take his game to the next level. Without his main man Kam beside him, ET3 took it upon himself to bring the boom against Atlanta:

On third-and-long on the Falcons’ first drive, Mohamed Sanu runs a deep slant while covered by Jeremy Lane. Sanu gets an inside release on Lane and has an easy first down right ahead of him. Thomas reads Matt Ryan’s eyes, diagnoses, and breaks on Sanu quickly, lighting him up and jarring the ball free for a near-interception by Lane.

The defended pass prevented the Falcons from likely reaching field goal range. That’s a three-point swing right there, my friends.

We all know that Earl’s crucial 4th-quarter interception put the Seahawks in position to kick the game-winning field goal. His awareness and ability to be in the perfect place at the perfect time is still mind blowing to me. I’ve never in my life seen another player get as many tip drill interceptions as Thomas has.

My favorite play of the day from Thomas came on Atlanta’s final attempt to drive downfield and regain the lead. They didn’t. But they tried. And Earl was having none of it:

On 2nd down from his own 25, Ryan takes the snap out of the gun. Sanu lines up off of the right side of the line and runs a crosser to the left under the tight end, who Jeremy Lane carries upfield. Ryan sees that Sanu is all alone and guns the ball in. Once again, Thomas keys in and breaks on the ball with unthinkable speed, reaching Sanu just as the ball does. Sanu, needless to say, does not catch the ball.

The coverage by DeShawn Shead on the following play was phenomenal, as well. What stands out to me about this play is the bounce in Earl’s step that we haven’t seen yet this year. When #29 is in his zone, there is nobody better.

The unfathomable thing about how solid the Seahawks’ defense has looked this season is that Thomas hasn’t been himself. If he can harness the spark we witnessed on Sunday, Seattle’s defense can be taken to the next level. When Kam gets back… Whew.

Area 29 looks to be back and off limits. Just in time for the Cardinals.

Other Thoughts

–Bobby Wagner has still been the best and most consistent player on this defense all season. His ability to put pressure on quarterbacks has been incredible and the rate of his play diagnosis is pretty insane. If he keeps it up, he should get another First Team All Pro nod.

–Jarran Reed is a stud. That is all.

–Cliff Avril’s ability to bend the edge is otherworldly at times. Fingers crossed for more houses being built in Haiti.

–Christine Michael didn’t look quite as #woke on Sunday as he has recently. There were a couple of instances where he could have put his head down and gotten a crucial yard for a first down where he just didn’t. I’m definitely guilty of forgetting that we have Thomas Rawls on the shelf. When he gets back and this offensive line gels more and more, the one-two punch of Rawls and C-Mike will be a lot of fun.

–Germain Ifedi, who was grossly inconsistent, looks to have about as high of a ceiling as I could have hoped for. It was only his second game in the NFL against a defensive-minded coach who understands Seattle’s offensive line scheme better than most. Progression will come with time.

–Michael Bennett seems to be extremely fortunate to not be seriously injured. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go by Sunday night.

–DeShawn Shead, whose praises I sung above, continues to look fantastic. His emergence has given Sherman the freedom to roam with certain receivers.

–I’m obviously not an NFL coach, so I’m probably missing something, but Seattle’s inability to counter Kyle Shanahan’s habit of rolling tight ends and running backs out wide to boot Sherman to the boundary and away from Julio Jones was quite maddening. They figured things out, but it took way too long.

–Sunday night. Arizona. I am very interested to see how this one goes. The Cardinals open as one point favorites, which is a bit puzzling. It all comes down to Carson Palmer. Once again, if Seattle executes to their ability, they can beat anyone. 1-0 every week.