This team is going to kill me. I mean, they really had no business even being close to winning this game at the end, and yet. And fucking yet.
The Seattle Seahawks came into this game with a 6-3 record, winning five of their last six games, with a primetime record of 21-3 under Pete Carroll, the most successful Monday quarterback in history, and an 11-game Monday night winning streak. Even still, the 5-4 Atlanta Falcons were the first road favorite in Seattle since early 2012. Most of that, I would think, has to do with the consternation surrounding the injuries to future Hall of Famers Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor and, to be fair, it was a pretty morose week among ‘Hawks fans too.
Sadly, the beginning of the game substantiated that inclination. The Falcons used a big kickoff return, a spectacular third down catch by some guy, a PI (surprise) in the endzone, and a short Tevin Coleman run to take a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive. To make matters worse, Shaquill Griffin left the game with a head injury. It was as bad a start as you could ask for. Actually, no that’s not true.
Tyler Lockett, who looked very much like the spry version of himself that scared the league as a rookie, answered with a huge return of his own. After a nothing run and quick completion to Lockett, Wilson went his way again. This time, however, Russell whipped the ball three yards behind Lockett’s head and straight into the chest of Desmond Trufant. Trufant’s return set up an incredible catch by Julio Jones and somehow, an even better one by Mohamed Sanu for Atlanta’s second TD in the game’s first 4 minutes. It was a cataclysm born of Seahawks mistakes and phenomenal Falcons play.
Even then, with almost everything possible going wrong, I gotta admit I still felt pretty calm. I’ve reached a point where I literally believe Russell Wilson can win any game, no matter how dire the situation. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way and that confidence was validated by Seattle’s next drive when Mike Davis, after a long Lockett return and making his first career start, started ripping off runs like pre-injury Thomas Rawls. Wilson replaced his memory card after the pick and began dissecting the Falcons like an ornithologist, going 4-5 for 39 yards and another goal line strike to Jimmy Graham. It was Graham’s seventh TD in his last six games at it bisected the Atlanta lead at 14-7.
After Seattle’s defense stepped up and forced a punt, it felt as if the ship had righted itself after an uneven start. The newfound security was short-lived, however, as Germain Ifedi got smoked off the edge, leading to a vicious hit on Wilson that knocked the ball loose. Adrian Clayborn scooped up the fumble and trotted into the endzone to make the score 21-7 and the Seahawks found themselves on the ropes early.
As we’ve seen so many times before, Wilson and Co again charged back, cruising down the field after Lockett’s third big kick return. A smattering of first downs got them inside the five but an offensive PI call forced a desperation 3rd down heave that came up empty and the Seahawks settled for a short field goal to make it 21-10. Then the Seahawks did something I would do at least once a game if I were a coach: pooch the kickoff into nowheresville. They did, and the ball proceeded to squirt around like a waterballoon that’s slipped off the nozzle. Tedric Thompson hopped on it on Atlanta’s 11 and Seattle was right back in it.
Seattle blanked on their next couple of plays and, on 3rd & long, Russ stood medium in the pocket and fired a rocket over the middle to Graham, where Jimmy cradled it before getting belted by two Falcons. A generous spot gave Seattle a first down and, after three unsuccessful tries at capitalizing, the Seahawks went for it on 4th & goal. Tired of watching his running backs fail at getting the game’s most valuable yard, Wilson plopped his balls on the table and called his own number. Sprinting right out of a heavy set, Russ turned upfield in a flash and scooted in for the score.
After a Falcons field goal with a minute left, Lockett hit his fourth kick return of 35+ yards and set Seattle up for a momentum score before the half. After a couple of incredible rushes by Russ and a terrific sideline catch by Paul Richardson, the Seahawks faced a 4th & 1 with seven seconds left. Blair Walsh came out to kick a short field goal and it looked for all the world like the ‘Hawks would head to the locker room down by four.
Maybe Pete Carroll lost a bet. Maybe he thought they had too many points already. Maybe he’s actually insane. Like, literally. Whatever the cause, Seattle did not kick the field goal, opting instead to run a fake where Jon Ryan shoveled a pass to a sweeping Luke Willson. You read that right and it went about as well as you’d imagine, as Grady Jarrett slipped unfettered into the, uh, backfield I guess? and slammed Willson to the turf.
I honestly don’t hate calling a fake there. I mean, I would’ve preferred the field goal but TDs are still mo betta and the right play call could have stolen one. But asking Jon Ryan and Luke Willson to successfully run a shovel sweep is like trying to cook goulash with a toaster. And even if it had worked, Willson would’ve had to score from 25 yards out on what was essentially a run play. Just a weird weird moment that will loom large over the ‘Hawks-centric conversations we all have this week.
Life rarely gives immediate opportunities for atonement but the first drive of the second half did just that for Carroll. A PI call against Atlanta and a slick screen pass to Mike Davis were largely responsible for putting Seattle in field goal range and this time Pete toed the line. Walsh rewarded him, calmly knocking the 37-yarder through the uprights and making it 24-20. At this point, Seattle had outscored Atlanta 20-7 since falling behind 14-0 and it all of a sudden felt very doable.
But the Falcons came out and wasted exactly zero time chunking the ball back down the field. The drive ended when Matt Ryan lobbed a beautiful cross-field pass for a touchdown to Levine Toilolo on just a gorgeous play design. From there, Wilson went right back to doing his thing. Finding Graham, Preach, and Willson put Seattle into field goal range. A holding call knocked them out of it. On 3rd & forever, Wilson uncorked one of the fastest, most athletic, ballsiest scrambles you’ll ever see a franchise quarterback attempt. His death-dive at the sticks was rewarded with a heavy crack from a Falcons defender and an improbable first down, even by his standards. We honestly don’t deserve Russell Wilson. Unfortunately, the drive stalled shortly thereafter and Walsh confidently drilled a 46-yarder to make it 31-23
After a rare defensive stop, Seattle got the ball back down just eight. A quick pass to JD McKissic got them nine, and a zero yard run by Eddie Lacy got them zero. On 3rd & 1, Wilson ran a go-to play: a quick waggle to his right where he hits Baldwin on an out for a fast few yards. We’ve seen it a thousand times and everything went great, until the ball hit Doug’s hands. Now, every receiver has drops- even the best ones- and make no mistake, Doug has some of the best hands in the world. He’s got a top-five catch percentage in the NFL since entering the league and hadn’t dropped a ball all season. Until this play.
Doug bobbled the pass and Carroll stupidly challenged the ruling that it hit the turf before Baldwin regained control. Maybe Doug talked him into it- he was certainly pleading his case- but Pete’s gotta know better. The wasted timeout was a major blow and the Falcons responded with a gut-wrenching five-minute drive that ended with a chip shot field goal after a Tevin Coleman TD was overturned.
What happened next was amazing. With under four minutes remaining, Wilson hit a big run to his left, then passed to Graham over the middle. That was followed by a dumpoff to McKissic, who drew a late hit penalty on the sideline. With Atlanta reeling a bit, Russ went with a hard count and got the Falcons to jump. Having earned a free play, Wilson found himself in a clean pocket with a wide open Baldwin streaking down the center of the field. Wilson’s pass was perfect and this time Baldwin hauled it in for a huge score. With Century Link about to tip on its ear, Wilson hit Jimmy in the flat for the two-point conversion and the stadium was going absolutely bonkers. It only took 55 seconds to go from down 11 with no hope to down 3 with real chance.
Seattle pinned Atlanta deep on the kick and a couple of runs left the Falcons with a 3rd & 3. To this point, Atlanta was a remarkable 9-12 on third downs and it seemed almost inevitable they’d convert again here. Except this time Sheldon Richardson, who was outstanding tonight, collapsed the pocket and sacked Ryan for a big loss. The defense had held, and 4QRW had a minute and change to pull off the miracle.
He just about did it. They converted two big third downs on this final drive, the second of which coming when Wilson broke the pocket and sprinted up the middle for 15 yards. It was another stellar play from Wilson but it could have been much, much more if not for a heroic diving trip tackle by Dion Jones. That finger on that shoelace was the difference between Seattle having the ball at midfield and them having it somewhere inside the 30, cuz Russ had room. Turns out it would matter a bunch.
A short, in bounds pass to McKissic on the next play left Seattle scrambling. With the clock ticking under 20 seconds, Wilson found Richardson to the Falcons 34. Seattle would spike it with seven seconds left and it looked like they were going to try to run one more play to get closer. In the moment, I was screaming for them to kick it, not thinking about the history of kicking long field goals when the air is cold and wet in Seattle. Perhaps Carroll knew he needed to hedge a bit and strongly considered sneaking in one more play. Eventually, though, he relented and sent Walsh out to tie the game.
With half the fans wanting him out of town already, and his very public miss in the playoffs two years ago, this was an enormous kick for Blair Walsh. When he hit it, the ball flew straight and true. End over end it tumbled, straight down the freaking pipe. It just never got there. The attempt fell one yard short and the Falcons escaped Seattle with a monster win.
-Russell Wilson came into this game accounting for a league-leading 82% of Seattle’s yardage this season and a staggering 95% of their offensive TDs. Tonight he somehow surpassed those numbers, as his 258 passing yards and 86 rushing yards were 89% of Seattle’s total. The NFL record, by the way, is 81.8%. Oh, and he had all three touchdowns.
His two turnovers early put his team in a big hole, and that can’t be overlooked, but the way he responded was awesome. He is this team’s everything right now and hell, he’s ready. He also passed 3,000 rush yards in his career which is pure lunacy especially when you consider he had no legs for all of last year.
-The traditional running game never got going, although Davis had a couple of nice ones before he got hurt. I’m still not convinced Eddie Lacy has gained a yard yet this season, and JD McKissic is a great player to have but not exactly a guy you want establishing the run. Seattle’s RBs had 50 yards on 16 carries. This is a dead issue.
-The defense actually held up pretty well, all things considered. Hey, I said all things considered! The injury to Quill was devastating, as it forced Jeremy Lane onto Julio Jones and put Byron Maxwell, who got here like an hour ago, on the field for nearly every snap. That they didn’t get torched for 400 pass yards is kinda amazing, really. In fact, the Falcons only threw for 190 yards and more than a third of them came on stupendous plays by their receivers. It was the efficiency that beat them, though. The Falcons got open when they needed to, or drew a flag, and it was always just enough.
Sheldon Richardson and Bobby Wagner were incredible against the run tonight. Wagner is having a Defensive Player of the Year type of season and is the main reason this defense is still hanging on. Frank Clark and Michael Bennett set and kept the edges, too, but the Falcons just kept on converting. It didn’t matter how Atlanta got to third down, or where they were on the field, they moved the chains. Pass, run, scramble, penalty, it just didn’t matter. They hit on 6 of their first 7 third downs, 8 of their first 10, and finished 9 of 13. If it seemed like Earl wasn’t a part of the game, it was because Atlanta literally never tried a pass over the middle more than 10 yards downfield.
-9 penalties for 106 yards. The Seahawks are dead set on being the most penalized team in league history.
This loss sucks, no way around it. It knocks the Seahawks out of the playoffs for now and was a missed opportunity at first place in the division. They didn’t lose because they weren’t good enough, they lost because A) Atlanta played really well and B) they made a ton of mistakes, from coaching on down. And C) just so many mistakes.
Still, this team absolutely refuses to fold. I can’t think there are too many teams out there who, down 21-7 and missing a massive chunk of their best talent, would have, or even could have battled all the way down to the final yard these dudes did. Most of them probably roll over, but the Seahawks at least made that game fun as hell. Injuries may leave them deficient of the talent necessary to get back to the Super Bowl but if they do fall short, it won’t be for lack of fortitude.
Here’s the good news: there are still six games left. And one of them is against the Rams. A first round bye is gonna be tough at this point, especially with three losses in the conference, but the division title is still very much in play and from there, who knows?
For now though, it’s wounds-licking time. Next week is the 49ers in Santa Clara. The Rams get the Saints. It’s a dogfight for the NFC West from here on out but the ‘Hawks have both the dogs and the fight to win it. Onward, upward.
I’ve had a box of El Suelos laying around for a while that I finally broke into tonight. Tasty, but it burned real hot. I’ll give them another shot before writing them off. Paired it with some Makers 46 cuz I needed something strong enough to keep up.