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Cigar Thoughts, Game 9: The Seahawks are awesome again

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The Seahawks beat Patriots 31-24 with a goal-line stand in one of the NFL’s best games this season.

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Seattle Seahawks v New England Patriots
Arrival
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

This was the week, I told myself. This is the game where the letdown finally happens. After five-plus years of being in every single game until the last drive, with no reprieve, not even for one week, tonight was gonna be the night that the Seahawks took a very forgivable whooping.

Seattle entered this game on a once-in-a-lifetime streak of 91 consecutive games without losing by more than ten points. In fact, there’s only been one game in that stretch where they weren’t within a touchdown. It’s a streak that’s still sounds as absurd the 100th time you hear it as it did the first. As a fan base, we’ve been treated to a historic, likely never-to-be-repeated streak of competitive (if not dominant) football. At no time since mid-2011 have we been able to say, as the fourth quarter winds down, that it just wasn’t their day — that the Seahawks don’t have a chance. And yet, when the schedule came out, I told myself that this would probably be the one.

After all, the streak has to end sometime, right? There’s no way one team can just go on either winning or being in it until the last drive every single week in perpetuity. So why not on a short week after a Monday night game, taking a cross-country trip to play the freaking Patriots in Foxboro, who were coming off their bye? And yet...

Seattle’s answer to all of these perfectly acceptable excuses was to unleash their game of the year, matching or surpassing the Patriots in every phase of the game en route to one of the most impressive, exhilarating, and downright entertaining regular season games in Seahawks history. Seattle was ruthlessly efficient and tremendously opportunistic. They were gritty in competition and resplendent in victory, marrying their offensive and defensive performances like war-torn lovers.

A stage that was set for an execution became the scene of a glorious battle, in which the condemned became the victor while the mortal bell tolled for the gallowsman. The Seahawks won the way the Seahawks do when they’re their best selves, combining precision passing and chunky run plays with a defense that has enough great plays in it to seal a victory.

Tom Brady was held without a touchdown pass at home for the first time in a decade while Russell Wilson wondered what the big deal was, tossing three of his own. The defense got beat by the scripts on the first drive of each half but locked down just about everything else, sacking Brady twice and turning the ball over twice. They scored on seven of their nine non-kneeling possessions and answered every single Patriots scoring drive with one of their own. The lead changed seven times but the only team to score twice in a row were the cocky visitors from the Emerald City.

Four years ago, this team put the NFL on notice with a (then-) shocking victory over the Patriots, a win whose post-game reaction elevated Richard Sherman from under-rated corner to NFL superstar and public enemy #1. I believe that win in 2012 was a fulcrum upon which the destiny of the Seahawks franchise tilted in their favor. It was a brash announcement of a new arrival among the league’s contenders and took them from my favorite team to my favorite team ever.

I was moved to write about it then, not knowing how prescient those feelings would turn out to be nearly a half-decade later, but here we are. In the heart of the 2016 season, that rogue ship of marauders and mercenaries is still sailing the NFL’s seas in search of blood and gold, they’re just better paid now. This game was more than just a confirmation of something we suspected back then, however; it was also the fiery cradle in which a star was born.

Six months ago, I told anyone who would listen that it was time to get excited about CJ Prosise (!). Tonight, after some annoying injuries and a convoluted depth chart, we saw why. Tonight, with the nation watching, Prosise emerged from the hazy nebula of post-draft hype to accumulate a Seahawks season-high 153 yards from scrimmage in his first NFL start. He led the team in rushing (66 yards on 17 carries) and receiving (87 on seven catches). The 153 yards is only 24 shy of Marshawn Lynch’s career high, in case you weren’t impressed yet.

Prosise still looks super raw as a runner, which makes sense considering he was a wide receiver until 15 months ago, but it’s his versatility as a playmaker that gives him so much promise. He was targeted seven times in this game, a staggering total for a Seattle RB and good for second on the team behind Doug Baldwin’s eight. He combined impressive awareness with with incredible agility, consistently getting open in the passing game and maximizing yards after the catch. He displayed fantastic hands in coverage and instinctively found the soft spots behind nearly every Patriots blitz. He even leveled one defender after a long catch, knocking the would-be tackler down like a toddler.

Is CJ Prosise the future of the Seahawks running game? No, I still think a healthy Thomas Rawls has the shoulders to carry that mantle, but what Prosise does give the franchise is their very first neo-RB, the type of switchblade backfield threat dares defenses to define and contain him. He’s one more thing to worry about in an offense that’s beginning to click like they did around this time last year.

And while the team’s new toy provided crucial first downs and positive gains to keep the playbook open, it was Seattle’s talented QB that provided the most oomph. Building off his best game of the season, a newly healthy Wilson commanded the game from both inside the pocket and out. Mixing traditional pocket presence with a bit of his own special voodoo, Wilson masterfully guided the offense tonight. He made quick decisions, threw the ball accurately, and kept plays alive in that sweet special way of his that has opposing fans throwing their shoes at the TV while I writhe on the floor in sweaty ecstasy.

Simply put, Russell Wilson was marvelous. He completed 25 of 37 passes (67.6%) for 348 yards (9.4 Y/A), 3 touchdowns, and 0 turnovers for a rating of 124.6.* He played like an MVP in some of the most austere game conditions one can find oneself in. He made every throw in the book, from mid-range darts to soft short-term lobs over the blitz, to immaculate downfield heaves to scrambling passes in full sprint. He completed balls to seven different receivers and found Doug Baldwin in the end zone thrice.

*Fun fact:
When targeting Jermaine Kearse, Wilson was 2-7 for 26 yards.
When targeting everyone else, he was 23 for 30 for 322 yards and 3 TDs, which is a rating of 144.0

And for all the rightfully deserved praise Wilson gets for his mobility, he is still somehow under-rated as a deep ball passer. Perhaps it’s because he’s mid-sized, or maybe it’s because it’s too hard to admit that arguably the game’s best scrambler is also its most accurate long-range thrower. I admit, it doesn’t make sense to me either but, per the broadcast, Wilson is completing 65% of his passes that travel 25 or more yards in the air. How impressive is that? The NFL average is 34%.

We saw the full array of weaponry from Wilson tonight and the productivity of his receivers reflects that. Tyler Lockett got loose for 72 yards on his three catches, Paul Richardson added 52 from the pulpit on his two grabs, and Jimmy Graham caught all four of his targets, translating them into 48 yards of his own. The offensive line played their best game of the season, which isn’t to say they played a good game, but it was their best. All in all, it was an offense that reminded us how good they actually are when their quarterback can move a little and they’re not constantly backing themselves up. It was a dynamic performance from a unit that has struggled to score this season, but turned nearly 80% of their possessions into points.

My goodness, we haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. I’ll admit, I thought the Seahawks were going to need to score a bunch of points tonight. Given the absurdly high play count the Seattle D has endured over the last month, I didn’t think they’d be able to stay with New England’s surgical attack for sixty minutes. It was a premonition seemingly validated by the nine-play, 75-yard TD drive the Patriots opened with.

After that, though, they dug in and found a rhythm. They’d give up a few other long drives, but none of the yards came easy. It was frustrating as all hell to watch them struggle to get off the field on third down again, as they allowed the Pats to convert on six of their first nine third down attempts. They also allowed three rushing touchdowns for the first time in what has to be forever, each of which was a short plunge from LeGarrette Blount that came at the cost of supreme effort.

The Seahawks defense didn’t dominate but nobody completely mutes a Tom Brady offense. What you can do, however, is turn down the volume enough to get your own work done and that’s exactly what the Seahawks did. They picked off Tom Brady, sacked him twice, and forced three total fumbles. They tackled with fury, with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor attacking ball carriers and potential receivers alike with claws out and fangs bared. Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright provided their typical second-level solidarity while Richard Sherman erased a third of the passing game.

The entire squad played defense with a snarl, giving up yards but never their leverage. If the Patriots wanted to move the ball, it was going to take either perfect blocking or a perfect throw and to their credit, the Patriots did each a number of times. But thing about forcing your opponent to be perfect is that no one is, no matter how Faustian the deal they’ve made is.

New England was good tonight, but they weren’t good enough to beat a Seahawks team who is rapidly closing the gap between their performance and their potential and ultimately couldn’t score when they absolutely had to. Not that they didn’t have the opportunity...

For the everyth time in a row, it seems, the Seahawks found themselves backed against their own end zone with the game on the line. No matter the opponent, no matter the game flow, this team is hell-bent on laying their fortunes on the crucible of that final yard. The Patriots had the ball, with just one yard between them and a last-minute tying of the score. Armed with a million weapons, Brady broke the huddle with four chances to move the ball those three fatal feet.

His first attempt was one of those sneaky hurry-up-and-take-the-cash-out-of-the-purse-before-mom-sees-you sneaks that he’s so fond of. It got him close, but Seattle turned him away. Their second try was a halfback dive to Blount, who leaped over the pile for his fourth TD only to see his wings melt in the scorching proximity of Kam Chancellor, who seized him by his waist and yanked him back to earth. Brady’s third attempt was another boring-ass, lame-ass, dick-ass, QB keeper except this time he fumbled the ball and had to fall on it.

That left New England with one last try. In the spirit of the legendary battle in which they found themselves embroiled, the two teams sent their champions out to the left. Like Achilles and Boagrius, Kam Chancellor and Rob Gronkowski squared off in an arena unto themselves, split wide away from the snap. Brady took three quick steps and lobbed the ball up between the two titans, letting valor decide the rest. Gronk rushed Kam with a powerful forearm shiver and Chancellor responded in kind. Like two crocodiles fighting in a swamp, Gronk and Kam attempted to rise from their entanglement only to watch the ball skitter harmlessly across the turf. Kam didn’t have to win, he only needed to fight to a draw, which he did without a flag to sully the experience.

The sequence was delicious, given the way things ended the last time these teams played each other, and while it certainly won’t quench the hunger pains brought on by that loss, it sure tastes good going down. Now, just like every week, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth over whether the Seahawks should have been flagged on the final play. And just like every other week, people will waste dozens of precious, God-breathed minutes of their life arguing with strangers over the merits of a no call. Regardless, the Seahawks put forth a monster performance against a great opponent and were rewarded with a win.

The victory moves them to 6-2-1 on the season and issued notice to the rest of the NFL that they’re back on a Super Bowl track. The win keeps them two games ahead of their nearest challenger in the NFC West and keeps them (essentially) two games back in the loss column of the Cowboys for home field advantage. The Packers, Vikings, Falcons, Saints, and Panthers all lost, leaving Seattle alone in second place in the conference with just seven games to go and a rookie QB ahead of them.

We’re seeing it happen again. There are many of us who have warned against the woeful bleating about a sluggish start to the season because for the fifth straight year, the Seahawks are beginning to play their best football entering the second half of the year. It’s a tale as old as time and there’s no reason to think that Seattle’s best football ain’t in front of them.

The Seahawks are awesome again. I’ll drink to that.

Onward, upward, and cheers!

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