When the 2017 NFL schedule came out, I joined in the age-old masturbatory exercise of circling hypothetical wins and losses*. This game in Jacksonville, despite it’s original kickoff time of 10am PST, was one that I thought might test Seattle, but it certainly wouldn’t be a loss. Then this season happened, and Seattle found themselves in front of a raucous south Florida crowd, trying to beat an 8-4 team that boasted the best defense in the NFL — and doing it without Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman.
*As per the yoozh, the Seahawks went 15-1
In the first half the defenses roared like lions battling for control of the pride, the spry young Jaguars ravenously scaling the cliffs while the battle-scarred Seahawks tried to beat them back. It wasn’t long ago that these Scars were Simbas, and these Simbas were frantically dodging wildebeests; but the last three months have apparently been one long Elton John montage and the upstarts are staking their claim to Pride Rock.
The Jaguars started with the ball but were forced to punt immediately, thanks to two great tackles from Byron Maxwell. The Seahawks offense, for their part, looked great on their opening drive with Russell Wilson using quick releases and swift footwork to pick up two fast first downs. With Jacksonville’s defense on their heels, Seattle drew up a beautiful roll-out isolating Wilson and a wide open Nick Vannett. Wilson put the ball on target, a touch high perhaps, but eminently catchable. Instead of hauling in a 25-yard reception and setting up a tone-setting score, Vannett deflected the ball off his stainless steel hands and out of bounds. The drop killed any momentum Seattle had built and they’d settle for pinning the Jags inside their own 10 with a Jon Ryan parachute punt.
The Jaguars seized on Seattle’s missed opportunity, using two mid-range completions and a long Chris Ivory run to set up a field goal (made possible by a terrific Shaquill Griffin breakup in the endzone). From there, the Seahawks’ penalty team took over. Germain Ifedi, far and away the most flagged player in the NFL*, got called for an admittedly questionable hold, then uttered some magic words to an official who tacked on 15 more. Shortly thereafter, a gorgeous 35-yard screen play to Mike Davis was called back because Luke Joeckel got too far downfield. Honestly, I think Seattle’s play design to start the game was fantastic but you wouldn’t know it, as execution was trumped by buffoonery.
*Far and away my least favorite Seahawk, too
To be fair, the Jags returned the favor with some bad penalties of their own, including two drive-ending sacks getting wiped out by illegal hands to the face flags, both by guys Ifedi was blocking. Germaine Ifedi’s best play is literally getting punched in the face. Wilson was then intercepted by my favorite non-Seahawks defender in the NFL, the Jalen Ramsey, on a bomb to Doug Baldwin. Our fallen champion, who is definitely dead God rest his soul, Danny Kelly put it best when he called Ramsey “football’s Gary Payton”. The trash-talking shutdown corner had just picked off a leading MVP candidate, a microcosm of the Jacksonville defense’s first half performance.
The Seahawks did not slouch either, forcing another Jaguars punt before opening the next drive with three tremendous runs to Mike Davis in a row. Yeah, you read that right. 21, 13, and 10 yards, all behind Duane Brown and Luke Joeckel, to put Seattle in field goal range. The drive would eventually sputter around the 20, setting Blair Walsh up for another missed field goal, this time fading it to the right. Seattle’s latest gaffe sent the teams to the half with Jacksonville holding a 3-0 lead and Seahawks fans feeling like they were watching the Washington game all over again.
Seattle started the third quarter with possession of the ball and big hopes for a brighter future. Unfortunately, Wilson was sacked on the first play and threw an interception on the second, with Jimmy Graham exacerbating things by committing a personal foul after the play. Through 16 throws, Wilson had completed just 9 of them for 36 yards and two interceptions. A gruesome early performance from one of the best players in the world and a validation of how good the Jaguars defense really is.
Jacksonville built on the turnover, as good teams do, riding Leonard Fournette to Seattle’s 18 before Blake Bortles found Dede Westbrook in the turkey hole for a 10-0 lead. On the play prior, all-universe linebacker Bobby Wagner came up with a tender hamstring and there appeared to be some miscommunication as a result. Wagner would not return, a not insignificant development. The Seahawks, to their credit and, like they always do, bounced off the ropes with a great drive. It was highlighted by a spectacular 43-yard diving catch by Doug Baldwin, his first of the game, and set up a Walsh field goal that he actually made, saints be praised.
On the ensuing kickoff, Terrance Garvin got free and blasted the Jags returner into another dimension. The ball barely escaped the wormhole created by the impact, instead flopping to the ground where Tedric Thompson outwrestled three alligators for the recovery. Two plays later, Doug Baldwin was celebrating a game-tying teeder after catching a gorgeous 26-yard pass from Wilson. Walsh’s extra point was perfect and justlikethat the game was tied at 10.
On the very next play, Bortles found an uncovered Keelan Cole for a 75-yard touchdown to make it 17-10. After putting the clamps on Jacksonville’s defense for 30+ plays, dudes were all of a sudden getting wide the hell open. Seattle would punt it to Jaydon Mickens, who impolitely returned it 72 yards to Seattle’s 1. On the next play, Fournette casually strolled off the left guard’s buttocks and into the endzone for Jacksonville’s third touchdown on their last three offensive plays.
The Seahawks actually got something going on the next drive, but that got nipped in the bud when another Wilson bomb was picked off by AJ Bouye, his second. Wilson’s ushered in a soul-wringing 8-minute field goal drive that bled deep into the 4th quarter. Down 17 with half a quarter to play? For most teams, the only things left would be left is a few more shovelfuls of dirt on the casket. All it meant for Seattle is that 4QRW had to work a little faster than normal.
On his first opportunity of the game’s final stanza, Wilson nimbly escaped two separate sacks, stepped into the rubble that used to be his pocket, and uncorked a 61-yard bomb to Paul Richardson. Preach, having streaked behind the defense, caught the ball, planted his tiny elven feet, and juked the final defender into yesterday before sauntering in for an enormous touchdown. The score brought Seattle back within 10 and gave Russell Wilson the NFL record for 4th quarter TD passes with 16. With Seattle’s faint heartbeat suddenly booming against its rib cage, the Jags’ response was nothing short of a magnificent dick swing.
Whereas most teams in this position — up 10 with seven minutes remaining — would try to control the ball and shorten the game, the motherfucking Jacksonville Jaguars ran a reverse on the kickoff return. Then, facing 3rd & short, they dialed up a one-on-one go route down the right sideline. A perfect pass preceded a wonderful lunging catch and the high-leverage possession continued. Their bravado was rewarded with over three minutes taken off the clock and a Josh Lambo field goal to make it 30-17.
NOT THAT IT MATTERED TO RUSSELL WILSON. After a quick completion to JD McKissic, Wilson dialed up Tyler Lockett’s number, paid the long-distance toll, and connected for a 74-yard touchdown to make it 30-24. I mean, it’s silly when you think about it. At this point, 4th Quarter Russell Wilson was 3-3 for 140 yards and 2 TDs, and the Seahawks had turned a hopeless proposition into a one possession game with plenty of time left.
For the first time in this heavyweight clash, the Jags found themselves under siege and it looked like the wily ol’ Seahawks were gonna pull off another heist. A two-yard run and a shaky incompletion later, the Jags found themselves walking backwards after a false start. They were rattled, plain and simple, and I don’t fault them for that. Every NFL team has times when they feel the pressure and the threat of collapse is breathing its stank-ass breath on their necks. On 3rd & 13, they threw up a white flag and settled for a nowhere draw play. Just like that, their seemingly insurmountable Jaguars lead with seven minutes left had become a potential game-winning Seahawks drive with more than three remaining. You could almost feel it. Russell Wilson was cruising now and Jacksonville’s secondary had been letting Seattle’s slight receivers get open behind them.
After an incompletion behind Jimmy Graham and off his hands, Wilson found Baldwin in the flats. Startlingly, Doug stepped out of bounds half a yard shy of the first down, a shortcoming made worse by Germain Ifedi getting beaten for a sack despite drawing a flag for illegal procedure. All of a sudden, Seattle was facing a 4th & long. I am still stunned Baldwin gave himself up so easily and so close to the sticks. Bizarre from a player as ornery and competitive as he is.
At any rate, Seattle had 4th & 9 with the game on the line. Again, Wilson found himself under almost immediate pressure and lobbed a prayer towards Baldwin. The ball fluttered harmlessly to the turf and Jacksonville took over just a first down away from a win. Lost on that play was Paul Richardson juking his man, who then pulled him to the ground with him. It was a clear defensive hold and it went uncalled. Lots of stuff goes uncalled and Seattle got away with a couple in this game too so I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
Seattle’s backup defense actually held strong on the next two plays, putting Jacksonville in a difficult 3rd &11. With Pete Carroll wisely and uncharacteristically keeping his timeouts intact, the Seahawks were one stop away from putting the ball back in the hands of their hero. That’s when the Jags did something that would make me so damn happy if I was one of their fans. Lining up, they handed it off to Fournette to the left side and the monstrous running backs sprinted through a gap to secure a first down and the ball game. From there, all that was left was a couple fights, a couple ejections, and Quinton Jefferson trying to climb into the stands to fight some asshole who threw shit — all while Earl Thomas looked on disapprovingly.
-Russell Wilson was his best and worst self in this one, carding three touchdowns and three interceptions. For a QB with an underwhelming first half track record, this one was particularly underwhelming. His second half performance, however, was sublime. His passer rating in the 4th quarter this season is over 130. That’s more than three games worth of 4th quarters, at a rate of production and efficiency that the game has never seen before. Even with this loss, he is the player we’ve waited our whole lives for.
-Doug Baldwin rebounded from an invisible first half with no catches to finish with three catches for 68 yards and a TD. Jimmy Graham rebounded from an invisible first half with no catches to finish with no catches. Tyler Lockett was fantastic, recording 4 catches for a team-high 90 yards and a TD. Paul Richardson continued with his stellar per-catch efforts, averaging 24 yards on his 3 grabs. JD McKissic led the team with 5 catches as a valuable check down and Mike Davis chipped in a gritty 66 yards on 15 carries.
-The Seahawks allowed touchdowns on their first three plays without Bobby Wagner after allowing just 3 points in the 33 plays with him. There should no longer be any doubt who the best defensive player on the planet has been this year. By the time KJ Wright was knocked out with a concussion a few plays later, it was basically Earl Thomas and a bunch of backups behind Seattle’s DL. That this game remained close and didn’t end up 40-17 is a testament to Seattle’s tenacity.
-I don’t think I’ve ever included an opposing team in this section of the article but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how impressive the Jacksonville Jaguars were today. If their was any question whether this team is ready for the big time, they answered it definitively. It wasn’t just a complete game, it was vintage Seahawks, stupid penalties and all. Remember the 2012 version of the ‘Hawks? While there’s a massive difference between the QBs, the similarities elsewhere are striking.
Jacksonville used dominant, suffocating defense, a powerful running game, loud mouths, and titanium balls to give the Seahawks all they could handle. When the game was on the line, they plopped ‘em on the table and dared Seattle to do something about it. Now maybe if the defensive holding was called on Seattle’s 4th & 9, we’d be having a very different conversation. But life isn’t about what could’ve happened, it’s about what has happened and, more importantly, how we respond to it. The Jags may or may not have caught a break, but they leveraged it into a win and all too often, entire football games are decided by just that.
Now, if you’d told me a fortnight ago that I could have a win over the Eagles at home in exchange for a loss to the Jaguars on the road, I’ll admit I would’ve taken it. However, if you’d thrown in injuries to Wagner and Wright, I’d tell you to fly a kite. Fortunately for Seattle, the Rams lost to Philadelphia. Unfortunately for them, literally every other team they’re competing with for the playoffs won. If nothing else, this result removes any of the ambiguity about who to cheer for. Any hope for a first round bye was extinguished today, and it may very well be the division or nothing.
Next up are the Rams, in Seattle, with the NFC West crown, for all intents and purposes, on the line. Win, and the Seahawks control their own fate for a Wild Card game at home. Lose, and their backs are firmly against the wall, needing to win out and get some help to even get in.
The Seattle Seahawks have entered the crucible. It remains to be seen how they respond and, in light of potential injuries and suspensions, with whom. Onward and upward, my friends.
Lit up a Gurkha Beauty and paired it, perfectly I might add, with Knob Creek’s Rye. Thoroughly recommend this combination of you can make it happen.