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Cigar Thoughts, Game 1: Seahawks win exciting final preseason game over Dolphins

Forty-five minutes of underwhelming football was more than made up for in a wild fourth quarter, as the Seahawks eked out a narrow season opening win.

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The NFL exists not merely to entertain us humans- that is a byproduct of a greater design. The NFL was created by the gods as a savage diversion. An NFL game is their version of a dogfight- dozens of highly-trained, genetically superior specimens battling out in front of a multitude of bloodthirsty fans. It is chaotic by default, a high-variance contest of muscle and intelligence upon which the deities slap down their heavenly $20s. This game disappointed those gambling gods for three quarters before escalating into wild swings of momentum that refused to cease until the final gun.

The Seahawks started their season with five consecutive passes (four of which targeted Tyler Lockett) with Russell Wilson completing the first three for 19 yards before Jon Ryan booted it away to the Dolphins. After snuffing out the Dolphins on their first drive, the Seahawks gave the ball back to Wilson who quickly completed his next five passes, including CJ Prosise's first career catch, on a drive that eventually sputtered out on Miami's 21. Steven Hauschka calmly lobbed his first field goal attempt through the uprights and the Seahawks took a 3-0 lead.

The Dolphins answered right back when Arian Foster, who is still good at football, turns out, took a pass 50 yards into 'Hawks territory. Miami nuzzled the ball close when Jordan Cameron was slammed down an inch short of the first down on a third and long. The 'Phins decided to go for it on fourth, tempting a fate they didn't understand well enough to fear. The play call was a run up the middle but Kam Chancellor swooped in like an angel of death and buried Foster in the backfield.

The Dolphins would get another shot, though. On Miami's third drive, Earl Thomas got distracted by a cool looking ladybug over there and Kenny Stills found himself running unencumbered for the easiest touchdown of his or any other career. At that point, I'm not really sure what happened. Anyhow, he dropped it and a Frank Clark sack on the next play put a stop to any perceived momentum. After a wild interception from Wilson on the next drive led to a Miami field goal, the teams politely exchanged missed blocks, penalties, and dropped passes until just before halftime.

That's when Wilson found a rhythm and navigated the ball from his own 8 to Miami's 20 with four seconds left. Hauschka banged another one through and the Seahawks took a 6-3 lead after a first half that saw Wilson throw a career high 26 passes with just 144 yards (5.5 Y/A) and a pick to show for it. The good news is that the vaunted Seahawks defense played sensationally, aside from the mental flatulence that allowed Stills to get open deep. Miami only managed three first downs and 111 total yards, going just 1-7 on third downs.

Early in the third quarter, Wilson found himself collapsing under the pass rush and going to the turf with Ndamukong Suh all over him. As Russ went down, Suh uncharacteristically stepped on the QB, twisting Wilson's ankle and sending a shock of panic through the pacific northwest. The Emerald City spent the next five minutes turning progressively bluer as fans held their breath with every hobbling step Wilson took, hoping he'd shake it off. And shake it off he would, getting the 'Hawks down to the Miami 32 on the next drive before a fourth down pass to Baldwin was broken up. I'm generally a fan of going for it on 4th & short so I can't be too critical but you gotta wonder if a roll out pass is the best call when your QB can't run.

The third quarter was otherwise uneventful, with the score remaining 6-3 throughout. Early in the fourth, new left guard Mark Glowinski got his milkshake so thoroughly drank that he was pushed into Wilson before he could even deliver a handoff. The resulting fumble was pounced upon by the Dolphins and they took possession already in field goal range. Once inside the 20, a Tannehill pass was tipped at the line, hovering in the air as it begged Bobby Wagner to intercept it. Bobby, however, was more interested in attempted homicide than a turnover and obliterated the intended receiver while the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. Miami's ensuing field goal attempt was swatted out of the sky by Cassius Marsh and Seattle preserved their lead with about ten minutes to go.

The Seahawks' next possession was promising, getting down inside the Miami 40, but it ended when Wilson underthrew an open Christine Michael on 3rd & 6. I couldn't help but think at the time that the miss was gonna bite their butts and sure enough, the Dolphins proceeded to take the ball 87 yards in three minutes, finishing their emphatic possession with a Tannehill TD run for a 10-7 lead. And so, like the many epic tales and tragedies before it, the stage was set for the Seahawks offense in the game's final minutes.

So which group would we see? The out-of-sorts, scramble-until-hopefully-something-happens-maybe group that had so far taken the field, or the heroic band of avengers led by an iron-willed QB and a nutty old garage scientist coaching from the sidelines? It was the second one.

The Seahawks, who had heretofore sputtered to six points on eleven possessions, fittingly morphed from disappointing sacks of coal to pressure-formed diamonds on their 12th. Clutch is a funny thing, a God Particle-like idea that we're all certain exists but is nearly impossible to pin down long enough to define. I think about clutch the way you hear people talk about miracles- I can't quite explain it, but I know it when I see it. And what I saw was the calm dismemberment of a defense that had been winning for 56 minutes. Clutch is winning at the line of scrimmage on 4th & 1 from your own 34 yard line. Clutch is uniting with a 6' tall receiver on a crossing route on 4th & 4 from midfield. Clutch is careening your team the length of the field while moving like a shopping cart with a stuck wheel. Clutch is Jimmy Graham making his first catch of the season on a game-winning drive less than a year after blowing out his knee. Clutch is twisting your man up at the line of scrimmage to get open in the endzone for a game-winning touchdown. Clutch is getting destroyed on the line of scrimmage to let a crucial extra point get deflected.

The Seahawks faced defeat on three snaps in that final drive and converted every damn one of them. The game, however, was not over yet, as Miami got the ball back with 47 second left and down just two points. The good news is that on the first play of the drive, Ryan Tannehill overthrew a pretty open Kenny Stills 50 yards downfield. The bad news is that on the first damn play of the drive, Kenny Stills was pretty open 50 yards downfield. That scare aside, the Seahawks defense ended the game authoritatively by dominating Miami's OL on the final two plays, including Cliff Avril driving Tannehill into the turf in his own endzone on the game's last snap.

For all of the offense's heroism, it was the defense shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for that win. They held the Dolphins to 111 yards in each half, a dismal total that took 53 plays to accumulate. Miami managed just 62 yards rushing on 20 carries and 160 through the air on 33 dropbacks, including four sacks. The defense clogged the run lanes, harassed the quarterback, broke up passes, and blocked a kick. They were as good as they've been, despite a buffet of missed tackles from the best safety on earth. All in all, a thoroughly encouraging performance from the four-time defending scoring champs.

Other observations:

Christine Michael was good today, logging 66 yards on 15 carries and notching another five on two catches. He ran hard and decisively but never got loose. It's funny, after all these years, C-Mike is still flirting with massive breakaway runs every fourth carry or so but has yet to hit on one. Regardless, he looks marvelous at the first and second levels. Thomas Rawls was eased back into action and responded with 58 yards from scrimmage on 15 carries. Nothing spectacular but more importantly, nothing to indicate that the ankle injury that ended his 2015 season was anything more than an afterthought. I'm excited to see him at full speed.

Seattle's offensive line, the ballyhooed soft spot in the Seahawks' armor since the day Pete Carroll speedwalked his Sketchers into the VMAC for the first time, was severely tested by Miami's monstrous DL. Suh, Cameron Wake, and Mario Williams put Seattle's OL in a meatgrinder for 60 minutes, and while I wouldn't say the 'Hawks blocking looked good, they held up long enough to let Wilson go through his reads at least most of the time. What was a little surprising to me was Seattle throwing 43 passes against 32 rushes, especially considering Wilson's ankle and the lack of pass protection, but maybe this is just who the Seahawks are now. Or maybe not. We really know so little after one game.

It took Seattle five tries to convert their first third down. Then they converted four of their next six before missing on the following six. They converted their last one though :-) Five for 16 (31%) overall. That will need to get better, but it was propped up by going two for three on fourth down. Miami, meanwhile, only converted three of their 13 third downs, a grisly 23%.

Doug Baldwin is no fluke. He has graduated from scrappy UDFA to roster stalwart to locker room leader to a bona fide WR1. He is so good at getting open in so many different ways- over, under, around. You could put double coverage on Doug Baldwin in a car trunk and he'd still find a way to get separation. Tyler Lockett got open a bunch too, but a series of drops kept his stat line to three catches for 17 yards on eight targets. I'm sure he'll be fine but that was weird to see.

Jimmy Graham had one catch for 11 yards. It was a big catch, as it relates to win probability, but a bigger catch as it relates to the fact that his knee is functional to the point of being NFL ready ten months after shredding it on national TV. He may never be what he was, but just to be what he is is bordering on miraculous.

The Seahawks secondary was terrific today, with the unlikely exception of Earl Thomas, who whiffed on some big open field tackles on some of Miami's best plays and looked totally lost on the gift-drop by Stills. DeShawn Shead was hardly targeted at all but was sharp when he was. I don't think Richard Sherman was thrown at once today, and in every replay they showed, he was stuck to his man like the wrapper on a frozen stick of butter. Jeremy Lane slipped on a couple of coverages but had a few really nice plays including blowing up a WR-screen by bulldozing the guy blocking him back into the ballcarrier. Love that dude. Tannehill was generally forced to settle for short- and mid-range passes which the 'Hawks defenders quickly rallied to. That's a winning formula.

The Seahawks won the time of possession battle by nearly ten minutes but lost the turnover battle 2-0.

It wasn't a great game, but the standings don't care. Nobody blows out 19 straight opponents in the NFL so you take your wins whenever and however you can find them. That being said, the Seahawks probably won't be able to get away with performances like today's if they want to win a bunch of games; but I also don't think they'll play many like today. Much like their showdowns with the Rams, Seattle's inferiority at the offensive line of scrimmage against a team like Miami is often enough to make up for superiority everywhere else. Styles make fights and Seattle is fortunate enough to escape with a split decision victory over an underdog whose strengths specifically targets the Seahawks' biggest weakness.

The Seahawks are 1-0 and Russell Wilson didn't die. This is our best reality. Onward, upward.

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