The skies were ugly when the Seahawks and 49ers kicked off today and it cast a wet, grimy haze over the play of both offenses. After two heart-rending losses in the last three weeks, ‘Hawks fans were hoping for a stress-free win over the lowly Niners in Santa Clara. Seattle was in no mood to acquiesce to our requests, however, and proceeded to bumble their way through the game’s first 30 minutes.
There is no question that the weather played a big role in the offensive ineptitude, and its effect was felt from the get-go. After the ball blew off the tee on opening kickoff #1, the second attempt flew almost straight sideways and out of bounds. Seattle took the field in great position but Russell Wilson, ever polite and feeling bad for the Niners’ bad start, eschewed an open JD McKissic on the game’s first play and opted instead to throw it 30 yards into the wind. The ball fluttered softly, well short of Jimmy Graham, and was picked off by Eric Reid at the sideline.
It was an ugly start and it immediately put the onus on Seattle’s defense. Fortunately, trotting CJ Beathard and the 49ers offense out against this Seahawks defense, even with the injuries, is like trying to kill 11 bears with a water gun. Seattle’s defensive front would spend the afternoon overwhelming the Niners’s OL and the first possession was no exception. The ensuing three and out put the ball back into Seattle’s hands with a chance to redeem their poor start.
One thing Wilson does as well as any quarterback I’ve ever seen is play fearlessly after a turnover. Despite a bad throw to start the game, he came right back out and tossed it all over the field, hitting Paul Richardson twice and driving down to the 49ers 30. Then things got gross again. On 2nd & 7, Wilson threw it right through the hands of Richardson after not seeing an open Jimmy Graham for what would have been an easy touchdown. Then, under duress on 3rd down, Wilson heaved a desperation toss towards the sideline that was almost picked off again. That ineptitude bled into Blair Walsh’s field goal attempt as he missed, you guessed it, wide left from 48 yards.
Seattle’s defense continued to set the tone and a couple drives later, Bobby Wagner did something impossible. After Quinton Jefferson forced an intentional grounding, Santa Clara found themselves facing 2nd & long deep in their own territory. Beathard dropped back and wung a ball into the hands of some guy I’ve never heard of. As soon as he caught it, the receiver was blasted by Wagner, who wrapped him up and threw him to the ground. The coverage and tackle were impressive enough on their own, but it’s what Wagner did on the way down that almost defies explanation.
Somehow, in the one-third of a second that it took to slam the receiver, Wagner’s hands ripped the ball out of the receiver’s grasp and into his own. Like, I get how he did it but I still don’t understand how he did it so fast, while his body was horizontally wrapped around the guy, and whirling to the turf. Just incredible.
The pick set up a slick 13-yard pitch play to McKissic, which was followed by a 2-yard Wilson keeper for the touchdown. On both of those plays, Duane Brown and Luke Joeckel completely erased the guys they were blocking and made the two runs look almost easy. It would be the only time the offense looked good in the first half. The rest of the first two quarters was a sloppy mural of miscues and bad execution. At some point the 49ers kicked a field goal.
Once the second half started, the game finally began to resemble the sport of football as each offense found a groove on their opening possessions. The Niners used a couple of nice Carlos Hyde runs to get a field goal to start the third quarter and bring the 49ers within one. It put some pressure on Seattle’s underwhelming offense and Wilson and Co answered definitively.
On the Seahawks’ first second half drive, Wilson rolled right on a 3rd down against a three man rush. As he neared the right hash, he playfully lobbed the ball between the second and third levels of Santa Clara’s defense. Doug Baldwin, who had all of 2 receiving yards up to that point, contorted his body to catch the ball for 23 yards and a first down before tumbling to the ground. That was followed up by a nice catch and run by (is this right? This can’t be right...) Tanner McEvoy, which was followed up by a touchdown lob to Nick Vannett. It was a drive that looked frustratingly effortless, as in, why don’t you just do that every time?*
*Because football is hard and NFL players are good. But still.
From there, the game settled into the type of rhythm we all hoped for from the outset. Seattle’s next drive included a couple of borderline miraculous plays from Wilson, who spent the entire afternoon somehow escaping sure-thing sacks, and ended with- you guessed it- a TD pass to Jimmy Graham. The drive was aided by a dubious endzone PI call on a bomb to Baldwin, but life is 10% what happens and 90% how you respond to it. After the penalty, the predictable dive to Eddie Lacy was predictably stuffed at the one, so Wilson went to what has become the safest goal line bet in football. Taking the snap, Wilson looked left and fired a quick strike to Graham who was helplessly “covered” by some quaint little defender sent out to die.
That score made it 21-6 and from there, it was just a matter of Seattle wearing an inferior opponent down to their nubs, you know, like they used to. A heavy dose of Eddie Lacy three-yarders and Russell Wilson scrambles sucked the life out of the Niners in the fourth quarter and a Blair Walsh field goal pushed the lead out to 24-6. Santa Clara would add a TD against Seattle’s backups on the last play of the game and all 14 of their fans celebrated it like they’d won the Super Bowl.
-These always start with Russell Wilson but that’s only because he might be the most important player in the NFL. He came into this game accounting for over 80% of Seattle’s yards this season and 95% of their offensive TDs. Even with a semblance of a traditional running game in this one, his 253 all-around yards were 80% of the Seahawks total and he either threw or ran for all three of their touchdowns. After a dreadful first two quarters, Wilson’s second half went as all of his second halves do, which is to say: spectacular. After going 6 for 15 for 80 yards and a pick in the first half, Russ went 14-19 for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the game’s final two quarters.
Wilson’s performance was more impressive than the numbers suggest, too. His production today came despite being harassed all game long. Some of these were a matter of the OL getting beat and some, as is always the case, were the result of Russ scampering about like a four-year-old who doesn’t want to go to bed. Whatever the case, he found himself within the grasp of Niners defenders all afternoon but he always managed to escape. Despite getting sacked seven or eight times today, Russell Wilson was never sacked.
*I bet Russell Wilson would set the record for running around the field naked before being tackled by security.
This victory also gave Russell Wilson more wins in his first six seasons than any QB in history. He still has five games left.
-The Seahawks had a running game today! Sort of! Eddie Lacy had 46 yards, albeit on 17 carries, and added 15 more on 3 catches. JD McKissic continues to shine when called upon, turning 4 carries into 22 yards and 4 catches into 24. Look, this team as currently constructed will never dominate anyone on the ground, but it’s important that they at least be able to have it as a part of their offense. A performance like this one keeps the run game in play moving forward. Thomas Rawls got just one snap, which bums me out, because I can’t imagine he’d only have 46 yards with the room Lacy had on most of his 17 carries.
-Doug Baldwin was nearly invisible for the second straight game, notching a grand total of 20 yards a week after getting just 40 on two catches. I don’t think this matters. Baldwin is still a total stud and will be a huge part of this offense moving forward. His slack was picked up today by Paul Richardson, who turned a team-high 7 targets into a team-high 4 catches for a team-high 70 yards. Jimmy Graham, who was held catchless for the first half (including a drop), bounced back with 3 catches for 34 yards and a TD in the second half. The remainder of Seattle’s passing production was spread thinly across the bready surfaces of Nick Vannett, Tanner McEvoy, and the two running backs. Wilson took what was there today, and that’s fine.
-The defense was great again. Despite the very public injuries to some of their best players, the Seattle D has been tremendous over the last fortnight. Even without Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Shaquill Griffin, the ‘Hawks held their opponents under 200 yards passing for the second consecutive week. They snuffed out the running game, holding Santa Clara to 3.5 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per pass. They got three sacks, an interception, and broke up four passes. The touchdown they gave up doesn’t matter and only happened after most of the starters were pulled. Optimism is the only rational response to how this defense is playing.
-The stellar defensive effort was led, once again, by Bobby Wagner who found himself sternum-to-sternum with just about every Santa Clara ballcarrier. He led all players in tackles and now has 100 on the season- good for 2nd in the NFL. His 7 solo tackles give him 76, which is #1. He has been the best player on the Seahawks defense this season, which is a hell of a statement on a team that boasts Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, and Sheldon Richardson.
Bradley McDougald continues to be incredible as a substitute for both Earl and Kam. Sheldon, Lacy, Joeckel and others have claimed the most headlines but the best addition to this team this year has been McDougald. Eight more tackles for him this afternoon. Up front, Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Jefferson, Michael Bennett, and Frank Clark were devastating. Jefferson went down late, so hopefully he’ll be okay. Injuries have been destroying this team like a plague and, as we saw today, a healthy Jefferson is a big time difference maker. Richardson had six tackles, which is remarkable for a DT, Clark had 1.5 sacks, and Bennett added one for good measure. Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell, and Justin Coleman were good if not great in coverage. Just a total effort.
-Seattle went a respectable 5-13 (38.4%) on 3rd downs, a product of having reasonable distances to cover instead of the 3rd & 14s that hamstrung them during the first half of the season. On defense, they held Santa Clara to 31%, which is great.
-Just 6 Seahawks penalties for 35 yards today. Amazing how much easier it is to watch this team when you’re not cringing in expectation of a flag after every play.
The win boosts Seattle to 7-4 on the season and keeps them very much in the mix for a postseason run. They’re currently tied with Atlanta for the final playoff spot, a distinction they concede to the Falcons due to last week’s outcome. Still, they’re only one game behind the Falcons, the Panthers, Saints, and Rams and they all still gotta play each other. Not only are the playoffs well within reach, the division title is close enough to sniff and a first round bye isn’t out of the question.
Seattle is now 4-0 in the NFC West and, despite the tough recent losses, are in position to make some noise. This win gives them some much needed momentum as they begin a gauntlet of opponents that include, in consecutive weeks, the 10-1 Eagles, the 7-4 Jaguars, the 8-3 Rams, and a Cowboys team that will have Ezekiel Elliott back. We’ll learn a lot about the postseason chops of this team over the next month but for now, enjoy where this team is at despite all their obstacles.
Onward, my friends, and ever upward.
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The 2017 season of Cigar Thoughts is proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners.
Went back to a classic My Father cigar with the Macallan 12=Year Double Cask. After the last few games, I needed a couple of old reliables.