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Six from 6-6: Forgotten plays that changed the Seahawks-Cardinals game

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Highlighting the inconspicuous moments that shifted the fortunes of Sunday’s endless brawl

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

In any football game, you can always point to plays that could have changed the outcome, or at least changed the dynamics so that a quite different path might have arrived at that outcome. In a game like Sunday’s 6-6 Blood Draw in Arizona, where not even a razor blade can fit within the final margin because there literally was no margin, each of these plays becomes magnified.

I’m going to start calling it the Blood Draw, by the way, even though I didn’t come up with it in time to include it with the sobriquets I proposed on Monday, because it signifies the tie score at once with how draining it must have been for the players—we’ll see the real cost of the extraction next week in Carolina and New Orleans perhaps—and because it feels like blood has finally been drawn in a way that makes the Arizona Cardinals-Seattle Seahawks rivalry now a real feud. The best suggestion I saw otherwise was probably “Shanknado”, although it loses points for creativity because the pitch came from Hawknado and, yeah I realize these canonized games often are named after a single punctuating play (Immaculate Reception, Beastquake, et c.) but I didn’t feel focusing on the missed field goals fully captured what made this game so epic (n.b.: Ice Bowl).

Anyway, we all already know about the two failed kicks in overtime, and the Bobby Wagner block, and the Tanner McEvoy block, and attention has already highlighted how Kelcie McCray tracked down J.J. Nelson to save the touchdown, and how Earl Thomas kept David Johnson out of the end zone by inches, and Thomas’s near-interception in the fourth quarter. Those plays were all tremendously consequential in preserving the tie. But I want to take a look at some other moments that, given the degree of closeness, could have equally swung the result to a win or loss for either side.

1st and 10 from the Seattle 1-yard line (2:14 1st quarter): Christine Michael up the middle to SEA 1 for no gain

At first viewing I thought Michael, Sr.,’s spin move was an absolute error. To waste movements getting out of the end zone like that might have easily doomed Seattle to a two-point defeat pinned as squarely on Michael, Sr. (please don’t blame the infant Christine Michael), as the fumble at the end of the L.A. Rams game (which is to say, only partly squarely). I would have much preferred to see him long-stride to any gap just to cross the goal line. But when I saw how much Rodney Gunter’s penetration crossed Bradley Sowell’s face, I realized Michael, Sr.,’s pirouette might have actually prevented his getting scooped for the more disastrous loss.

3rd and 11 from the Seattle 21-yard line (13:31 2nd quarter): Carson Palmer pass incomplete short right to Andre Ellington

This incompletion forced the field goal attempt that Wagner blocked, but it could have been a first down or worse as Wagner got caught up in Jermaine Gresham’s drag across the middle leaving Ellington running wide open the opposite way. Jeremy Lane took Larry Fitzgerald on a deeper drag while K.J. Wright went with Gresham, meaning Ellington got covered only by the high-wire overhead camera. Fortunately for the Seahawks, Cliff Avril slaps right past D.J. Humphries’s attempted kick-out block to radically affect Palmer’s throw.

3rd and 4 from the Arizona 40 (9:23 2nd quarter): Carson Palmer pass short middle to David Johnson to ARZ 46 for 6 yards

On the next series, Avril again gets to Palmer for what looks like a momentum-swinging third-down sack. Instead, from Avril’s grasp Palmer flips the ball to Johnson for a little delayed screen—who scurries for a possibly game-altering pickup to advance the chains. When you notice the linemen arrayed in front of Johnson it is clear this isn’t the miracle outlet it appeared at the time, but this is also one of those plays when the rules discouraging tacklers from treating quarterbacks like ordinary ball carriers really interferes with their opportunity to complete the action. If Avril had unloaded on Palmer, the play is over, but the fact he tries to wrap him up more daintily allows a first down that should have been blown up.

1st and 10 from the Seattle 31 (4:06 2nd quarter): Carson Palmer pass incomplete deep left to D.Johnson

Later in the same drive, Arizona arrives in range to take shots at Seattle’s end zone with the game still tied. First down Johnson runs an arrow route the he turns into a fade along the left sideline aiming to take advantage of Thomas’s press coverage with no extra safety over top. Earl is usually that safety, but while it’s not surprising to see Thomas show the speed to stick to Johnson, Johnson has three inches on Earl which might have been a mismatch as the ball arrives perfectly targeted for Johnson’s reach at the 10-yard line and no defender between him and the end zone.

However, despite his height disadvantage, Thomas’s arms are the exact same length as Johnson’s, so Earl uses his limbs like a praying mantis to knock the ball away.

2nd and 10 from the Seattle 31 (3:59 2nd quarter): Carson Palmer pass incomplete short right to Larry Fitzgerald

On second down, Richard Sherman doesn’t back down as Fitzgerald tries to run his skinny post right through the defender. Because he’s standing his ground, Sherman is able to make a ton of contact, which tilts Fitzgerald off balance just as the ball is thrown. With now a step on the All-Pro, Sherman turns to track the ball and appears in excellent position to make an interception until K.J. Wright employs his long reach to tip the ball out of range. Holding the opponent to a field goal in a 0-0 ballgame counts as a success for the defense, but an interception in this territory to preserve the shutout would have been even more valuable and might have convinced the boys in red that they were getting beat back by the tide.

I also want to point out the sack just before halftime that forced the clock to run out with no Cardinals timeouts. It was a costly play for Arizona, and a key surfacing of Frank Clark, but ultimately this prevented a score only because of the blunder by Bruce Arians to exhaust his stoppages earlier. So this is technically the successor to the Wagner leap.

2nd and 9 from the Seattle 21 (8:40 4th quarter): Russell Wilson sacked at SEA 14 for -7 yards (Chandler Jones) FUMBLES, recovered by Mark Glowinski at SEA 1. Mark Glowinski to SEA 1 for no gain

Most underrated play of the day goes to Glowinski for scrambling down to the one to jump on the ball knocked out of Wilson’s hand.

The Cardinals did a superb job on the play taking advantage of Seattle’s scheme to waste Glowinski as a pass protector, overloading the right side of the Seahawks line and bending Jones from Bradley Sowell’s left to chop the ball away. Luckily for Seattle it also left Glowinski unengaged and free to track the ball and drop into his feeble curl around it just outside the goal line—because from 10-0 the Seahawks were never coming back on this night.