All season we’ve talked about how these aren’t the same Seahawks, not like the 2012-2015 teams. Those teams had dominant run games and played oxygen-depriving defense. Those teams had swagger and attitude and seized momentum and peaked at the right time. This team had done none of that, or at least not with consistency over any significant length of time. This Seahawks team got here by hook and crook and just didn’t seem prepared for another postseason run.
Then tonight happened. With Century Link Field pulsing like a giant speakerbox, the 2016 Seattle Seahawks put on an absolute show. They ran the ball better than they had all season, racking up a game-tilting 177 rushing yards and gave up the fewest points in team playoff history, yielding just two (long) field goals. They controlled the ball all night long, garnishing their efficiency with dashes of the spectacular.
In short, it was vintage Seahawks football.
It started early, with Thomas Rawls racking up 73 yards and five first downs on 12 carries during Seattle’s first three drives. It was a beautiful combination of Rawls running ferociously and the the O-line consistently winning at the snap. Yeah, you read that right. The ground game looked the way we all imagined it would back in September, before you know, it ended up sucking.
On a drive in the second quarter, Seattle ran the ball 12 times. In one possession. As a team, the Seahawks averaged 5.2 yards per carry* with Rawls notching a heavy six per tote. It was the first time in a long while that the game so perfectly followed the script that Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell, and Tom Cable have so carefully crafted over the last seven years. And that’s without CJ Prosise who, don’t look now, may be back for next week’s game.
*not counting kneel-downs.
Remember last season, when Thomas Rawls played like the best running back in the NFL for a two-month stretch? That guy has been absent ever since that electric run was shorted out by a gruesome ankle sprain. Rawls has never emerged from that shadow; obscured by injuries and missed blocks, he struggled to build any momentum during a season that saw Seattle’s vaunted run game sink to a pitiful 25th in the league. Tonight, that guy was back.
Rawls eviscerated his home team, with the Michigan native setting a new Seahawks playoff record by carving up the Lions for 161 yards and a touchdown. He was the recipient of an unexpected number of holes to run through and he made the most of each one, taking every yard that was available and a few dozen more just for fun. He terrorized the Detroit defense, plowing over tacklers when he felt kind enough not to liquidate their ankles in the open field. He didn’t need to embarrass Lions tacklers to that extent but he did so anyway. It was a superfluous effort from a guy with all the talent necessary to be a bell-cow NFL back.
When Seattle wasn’t bullying the Lions on the ground, their receivers were dazzling them through the air. Perhaps the starkest difference in this game was the performances of the two teams’ receiving corps, with the Lions dropping a number of easy passes while Seattle’s went full Cirque du Soleil, starting with Paul Richardson making the best catch by a Seahawk all year.
At the end of Seattle’s third drive, the Seahawks found themselves facing 4th & goal from the 2. That’s when Pete Carroll unzipped his khakis and plopped his billowy, sexagenarian balls on the table and went for it. Taking the snap, Russell Wilson rolled to his right and lobbed the ball to Richardson in the back corner of the endzone. The ball was under-thrown, forcing Seattle’s former first pick to get creative. “Preach” leaped in the air and, grabbing the defender by the face-hole, swung around his body like a stripper on a pole to snag the ball with one free hand before colliding with the turf. In an era where NFL receivers astound us weekly, it was legitimately one of the best catches I’ve seen in a long time.
And he wasn’t done. A few drives later, he would sky over a cornerback who was draped all over him to pluck a ball out of the got dang sky along the left sideline. A few drives after that, he made a diving one-handed catch that had me chuckling at the absurdity of it all. A guy who had been relegated to afterthought territory was all of a sudden the star in football’s primetime show. After spending the bulk of his NFL career sidelined with injuries, Paul Richardson chose a hell of an occasion for his coming out party.
With the smoke from Richardson’s fireworks still lingering in the air, Doug Baldwin took over with an aerial show of his own. With Seattle up 19-6 in the fourth quarter, Baldwin ran an out route on 3rd and long. The ball seemed to surprise Doug, hitting him just as he was coming out of his break and it banged off his arms as he spun his head around. It would have been a forgivable incompletion, and was ruled as such, but Baldwin wasn’t here for the bullshit.
As the ball headed for the ground, Baldwin collapsed on it, juggling it around the entirety of his body before pinning it to his handsome butt with one hand as he skidded to a stop. The official immediately ruled it incomplete but Baldwin got up hot, gesturing for Carroll to challenge the ruling. After a brief conversation with his impassioned receiver, Carroll agreed to let the red flag fly and the replay confirmed Doug’s conviction. The call was reversed, giving the Seahawks a first down and Baldwin a chance to try and top himself.
A couple plays afterward, Wilson found Jermaine Kearse wide open in the endzone for the game-clinching score. It was a marvelous opportunity for the much-maligned Kearse to have a positive contribution after a dreadful regular season, a gift-wrapped playoff score for a receiver in need of a win. It was a feel-good moment for Jermaine, but Baldwin was having none of it. Just before the pass settled into Kearse’s waiting arms, Baldwin darted in front and intercepted it with one hand, tumbling into the painted grass for the game’s final touchdown. It was a fitting nightcap for a boozy, highlight-filled night for the Seattle passing attack.
It’s not often that Seattle wins by 20 and Russell Wilson wasn’t one of the three best players on the Seahawks offense. Such was the case tonight, as Wilson had an average performance that was statistically elevated by his receivers’ airborne theatrics. His final numbers were terrific, completing 23 of 30 passes for 224 yards and 2 TDs with no interceptions and a rating of 119.3. Stupendous numbers but ones that bely a fairly errant night by Wilson’s standards. Remove the otherworldly catches by Richardson and Baldwin and Wilson is left with a very pedestrian day at his office. Look, I’m not gonna bag Russ on a night where he won his 8th career playoff game (which, by the way, is already the 15th most in NFL history), but the quality of passes that left his hand tonight won’t be enough against Atlanta next week.
That being said, it wasn’t all bad from Seattle’s erstwhile leader. He took some sacks he didn’t need to, looked a bit hesitant overall, and missed a few throws he would normally connect on. Even so, he made good on a number of them, including multiple 3rd & longs. There have been enough games where Wilson single-handedly dragged a poorly performing offense to victory that he can be forgiven a few poor plays on an otherwise stellar night for the team. He’s a great QB, but he’ll have to be every bit of it next week.
In front of Seattle’s stat-stuffers tonight was an offensive line that was incredible in the run game and serviceable on passes. They seemed in sync with each other all evening, finishing their blocks and, perhaps more encouragingly, not looking like blindfolded children whenever the defense ran simple stunts. They gave Wilson time on most of his drop-backs and provided a stage on which Rawls could shine. It is absolutely worth mentioning that the Lions brought the worst defense among playoff teams to town, but even so, it’s heartening to see Seattle’s worst positional group play so well. If they play this well a week from now, we may very well see Seattle in the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four years.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks were as stingy as they’ve been all year. They harassed Matthew Stafford, intimidated his receivers, and swallowed Detroit’s running backs whole like giant snakes let loose in a bunny farm. The Lions managed just 231 yards at a flaccid 4.6 yards per play clip. The attack came from everywhere, with the defensive line, linebackers, and secondary all living up to their heralded billings. At one point they snuffed out a 4th down play and it looked like Seattle’s defense had 13 players on the field.
The pass rush was consistent, logging three sacks and forcing Stafford off his spots all night. Cliff Avril notched two of the QB takedowns and Frank Clark, who might have been the best player on the defense tonight, snagged the other one. In fact, the most under-rated aspect of tonight’s game was Clark moving to nose-tackle, putting his hands in the dirt, and straight up dominating Detroit’s interior line. He spent as much time in the Lions’ backfield as their own running backs and will likely be the last thing Stafford sees on the inside of his eyelids when he goes to sleep tonight.
Behind them, Bobby Wagner excelled again. The NFL’s leading tackler and maybe its best defensive player had a team-high ten tackles and was as disruptive as an earthquake. He was flanked by another stalwart performance from KJ Wright, as they continue to comprise the best linebacking tandem in franchise history.
Meanwhile, the boom came back to the Legion. Kam Chancellor stalked the middle of the field, claiming it as his own in Earl Thomas’ absence and ready to deliver cold death to anyone who trespassed. In the run game he was an enforcer, sticking every ballcarrier he met and planting them where they once stood. Meanwhile, Richard Sherman casually passed the time by eliminating an entire third of the field, spending the entire game unbothered by a single challenge. That left just one area of the field available, from which Detroit was only able to wring 182 passing yards.
It all added up to the 10th consecutive home playoff win for the Seahawks, the ninth postseason victory in the last seven years after just seven in the previous 35. It’s the sixth time in the seven seasons since Pete Carroll came to town that the Seahawks have advanced to the second round of the playoffs. It’s their 64th overall win in the last five seasons and the eighth in Wilson’s first five seasons. What we’re talking about is the greatest stretch of success in Seattle sports history. It;’s amazing when you think about it. Since Carroll and John Schneider arrived in 2010, the Seahawks have...
*Won 9 playoff games
*Won 4 NFC West titles
*Won 10+ games 5 times
*Advanced to the final eight 6 times
*Made 2 Super Bowls
*Won the franchise’s only championship
It’s an unprecedented level of success in this area and a stretch that nearly every NFL fan in the world would kill for. The Seahawks are going to the divisional round where they’ll be one of eight teams with a chance to win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks are in the mix for a ring for the fourth consecutive year. The Seahawks have been a blessing for the better part of a decade and the fun continues for at least one more week.
Onward, upward, and a big sloppy celebratory cheers!
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