I could not decide what music to play after I got home from the Seattle Seahawks’ 24-10 over the previously-anointed NFL champs the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m old enough that once upon a time I used to quietly celebrate each time Seattle reached eight wins in a season, but that milestone seems insufficient to describe what happened Sunday against the formerly 10-1 Eagles.
Yes, the Seahawks Seahawked mighty hard, by giving up half the third downs available to Philadelphia’s offense, including conversions of 12, 13 and 14 yards in the third and fourth quarters, by running the ball 25 times against 31 throws by Russell Wilson, when runs produced just four first downs compared to 12 through the air. But Seattle also seemed to dominate the game in the fashion that it did four and five years ago, by forcing the Eagles into unhappy passing situations again and again: Philadelphia was decent running the ball for 98 yards on 26 tries but it was worse on planned running back runs (3.4 yards per carry) and excepting three exceptional first down runs by quarterback Carson Wentz and tailbacks LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi was only able to generate 2.8 yards on average on the remaining 23 runs. That made Wentz attempt 48 throws, including three sacks and an end zone interception to cornerback Byron Maxwell, traded from Philadelphia and released by the Miami Dolphins earlier in 2017.
Although Wentz engineered four drives of at least 50 yards, reaching inside the Seahawks’ 30-yard line each time, the Eagles collected only 10 points and failed on fourth down twice in Seattle territory.
I love those tracks.
But there was a refinement and resituation of perception involved in the Seahawks’ Sunday Night Football win that mad me put on a German-Nigerian songstress called Nneka.
It’s a lovely song, about resilience and survival that seems pertinent to Seattle’s season, at 8-4 in an NFC with four division leaders already with nine or more wins after 12 games and two Wild Card contestants already with wins over the Seahawks (or three if you count the Washington Redskins). But however the protest pulse felt relevant, Seattle’s resounding win over the top of the conference demanded in my mind something more transcendental, even more throaty in it’s call.
Professional football in 2017 feels in some sense like a folk song, a vastly surprising pool of wisdom that still feels somewhat predictable (Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, Eagles all being good) but the Seahawks for the remainder of the year have to tear through that curtain of refined expectation with a preserving defiance, as imaginatively as possible, like an original rock ’n’ roll special like Tina Turner or Rosetta Tharpe.
The song comes at first as a spiritual, a religious insistence on a narrow path (“if you can hew right to the line”), but stands at the same time for radical belief in the process producing unexpected results: like a huge win over the accepted Super Bowl favorite and expected MVP.
Russell Wilson outplayed Wentz Sunday by executing a more designed offense: He got three times as many touchdowns out of two thirds as many throws. For all the wailing over Seattle’s bumbling insistence on running the football, the Seahawks offense mutated seamlessly from formations with one or two running backs to empty backfields putting Philadelphia’s defense into frequent mismatches. It was an playcalling creativity not unseen earlier in the year, but not apparently used to the same orchestrative intent: Seattle was beautiful without being particularly dynamic with the ball.
It was, essentially, as gritty as a win can be, while staying dominant. Alistair Corp already highlighted how useful the Seahawks’ defensive depth was in maintaining an elite standard in the sort of high-intensity games that used to feature headlining plays by O.G. L.O.B. brothers Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. Shaquill Griffin and Bradley McDougald demonstrated flaws that don’t totally remove those absences from legend and memory, but each rolled like lifetime initiates in moments calling for Seattle’s famous identity—sticking themselves into tackles and pass breakups like private investigators into the city of brotherly love’s criminal prosecutors—with an extra hand by surprise starter Maxwell, the former Seahawk who quickly outplayed nearly two years of bad Yelp reviews in a short time back in the Seattle blue and green.
Bobby Wagner recorded 13 tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage, placing himself visibly in the front of the Defensive Player of the Year conversations in a season without J.J. Watt, and in which Khalil Mack’s and Von Miller’s teams aren’t crushing foes while Aaron Donald gets overshadowed by the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive breakthrought. Wagner seems more respected than before, but this turf-layer puts the odds on an AFC talent taking advantage of weaker opponents to scoop a numerical edge down the stretch.
Frank Clark bent around the end and stunted into the interior for two Wentz sacks, once on third down and another time to restrain an Eagles drive on first down that turned into an interception. Sheldon Richardson made the requisite phantom takeaway by forcing a goal-line fumble, the new candidate for how the Seahawks are a paper winner given how many people on the internet scolded the referees for making the obvious and only possible call when a runner gets so careless with the ball near the end zone, just as they did after the road win in Los Angeles. These plays may separate Seattle from 6-6 and 8-4, or maybe other goofy turnabout should put the Seahawks at 10-2, like Philadelphia. No matter the true value of this club in 2017, they’re playing the right tune for right now to claim their spot back in the NFC competition.