This was an unexpectedly wild football game, one whose final result looked nothing like the contest’s beginning. It was another September game, and another woeful start for the Seahawks offense. The O-line looked lost as they tried to identify which of Tennessee’s front seven were rushing and which ones weren’t, robbing the team of any chance to establish their game plan. Russell Wilson’s first 12 drop-backs included seven incompletions, a sack, two fumbles, and three completions for 22 yards- an infantile 1.8 yards per pass play. That, combined with a run game that averaged about a yard and a half per carry during the same period, led to punts on Seattle’s first seven possessions.
Part of that was poor blocking (again), but a lot of it was an (again) skittish-looking Russell Wilson flat out missing open receivers (again) and not by small margins. I don’t know if it’s happy feet, or a carryover from last year when injuries forced him to rebuild his throwing motion with less legs and more shoulder. Whatever the reason, the iteration of Russell Wilson that played the first 10 quarters of this season was a far cry from the one who had the most successful first four years in NFL QB history.
The saving grace during Seattle’s parched slog through a barren offensive desert was their defense, who held Tennessee to a similar fate through the game’s first 20 minutes. Constant pressure and stuffy run defense kept the Titans’ offense at bay, limiting Marcus Mariota to two completions on his first nine attempts. Tennessee was, however, able to manufacture a couple of field goals and a 6-0 lead.
With time running down in the second quarter, it looked for all the world like Seattle would enter the half scoreless. However, seemingly out of nowhere, Wilson rediscovered his long ball, dropping diamonds down the chimney to a well-covered Doug Baldwin and a less-covered CJ Prosise on consecutive plays. Seattle’s first explosive plays in 186 games gave Wilson the chance to dart a ball inside the pylon to a diving Baldwin for the go-ahead score. It was a beautiful reminder of what this offense can be when Russ is in rhythm. Unfortunately, they scored with enough time for Mariota to complete 47 consecutive short passes and set up a Titans field goal as the clock expired and sending the home to the locker room with a two-point lead.
After a calm and mostly boring first half, the 3rd quarter got downright crazy. Wilson came out with his balls on fire, searing them into the palms of Baldwin, Paul Richardson, and even Jimmy Graham(!). He looked calm, confident, and controlled as Seattle chalked up chunks of yards. On the drive’s final play, he hit Chris Carson in stride over the middle, and CC rumbled into the endzone to give Seattle the lead back at 14-9.
That’s when all of Tennessee’s offensive players put on their force fields and became physically impossible to tackle, apparently. Rishard Matthews got free on a short pass and then he just, I mean, he just kept running. Seattle had defenders all around him but they weren’t able to touch him as he swerved down the field, careening 55 yards into the endzone after flooring three ‘Hawks with a cut-back on the 10 yard-line. That gave the lead back to Tennessee, where it would reside for the remainder of the game.
After TDs on consecutive drives, Seattle went three-and-out. The Titans picked up right where they had left off, needing just five plays to go 54 yards, finishing the scoring drive by hitting a wide open tight end for a 24-yard walk-in TD. Seattle punted again, putting an exhausted defense back on the field. That’s when Demarco Murray ran off the left tackle, made a cut, and then followed an envoy of blockers 75 yards for the longest run against the Seahawks in the Pete Carroll era. I don’t think he was ever touched, and the Titans lead swelled to 16.
Seattle, for their part, bounced back with yet another touchdown drive, as Wilson hit Luke Willson down the seam for a 27-yard score to keep the game on a tether. An unsuccessful slant to Paul Richardson on the two-point conversion kept the margin at 10, a crucial difference than eight, especially given what happened next.
The Titans put together another long drive, this one fizzling in the red zone and leading to a field goal that made it 33-20. Then, like a boxer who’s losing on every judge’s card but who refuses to give in, Wilson peeled the Seahawks offense off the mat once more and staggered forward, all jabs and looping uppercuts. Amazingly, he kept connecting, bringing the ‘Hawks into the red zone again. Then, down 13 and with all 3 timeouts remaining, Wilson surveyed the defense and decided he needed to burn one. That’s fine- better to make sure things are in order and run a play you know you’ll execute.
Instead, the Seahawks unleashed a catastrophic series of events. On 2nd & 10, coming out of the TO, there was a major breakdown up front and a defender came free up the middle. Wilson, unable to avoid the rush, backpedaled 12 yards in the center of the pocket before flinging the ball out of bounds. It resulted in an intentional grounding call and just like that, 2nd & 10 became 3rd & 27. The next play, a 5-yard dump-off to Graham, set up 4th & 22 with 7:41 remaining. They should have kicked a field goal, gotten within 10, and given themselves a chance to make a couple of stops.
Pete Carroll opted not to do that and instead of kicking, Seattle attempted a Hail Mary against eight DBs. To make matters worse, Seattle’s five blockers were unable to even slow up Tennessee’s three rushers, with one of them getting a clear shot on Wilson as he heaved up an unanswered prayer. The deficit remained 13 points, Seattle was down a timeout, and Tennessee milked away more clock before finally punting it back to the Seahawks.
Again the ‘Hawks offense took the field and again they punched their way down the gridiron. With Baldwin on the bench nursing a groin strain, Tyler Lockett out with cramps, and an OL almost falling over from exhaustion, Wilson led his boys 72 yards in 12 plays, finding Richardson for a short score with just under two minutes to go and bringing the score to 33-27. It was an incredible drive, all things considered, but cramps to an OL (Rees Odhiambo?) with a running clock cost Seattle their second timeout- a development that ended up keeping the Seahawks from getting one more drive after stuffing three straight Titans runs. For as incredible as the offense was down the stretch, a few miscalculations along the way ended up keeping them from a shot to steal a miracle win.
*Russell Wilson overcame one of the worst starts of his life to absolutely pour it on in the second half. After only completing three of his first ten passes for 22 yards, Russ scorched his way to 26 on his final 39 for 351 yards and four TDs. It was nothing short of incredible and a major encouragement for an offense that had been pitiful up ‘til then. His 373 yards were a regular-season career high and the four TDs were stunning, especially since he never turned it over. If that Russell Wilson is here to stay, this team can still have a great season.
*Doug Baldwin open all day. Hell, he’s been open all season. 10 catches on 15 targets for 105 yards and the touchdown- numbers would be even more stratospheric had Russ not missed him three different times when he had separation. He’s been the best player on the team so far this season and if this offense ever does find a sustainable groove (and assuming his injury isn’t serious), his production is gonna be bananas.
*After entering the game with nine yards on ten targets, Jimmy Graham made an impact for the first time this season despite finishing the first half with one yard on three targets. He had a beastly reception early in the 3rd quarter, and eventually turned 11 targets into an impressive 7 catches for 72 yards. When Russ is feeling himself, everyone has room to eat. Hope this continues.
*The running game was a complete non-factor today, a bit of a disappointment after the way Chris Carson finished the game last week. Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy didn’t sniff the ball today, with the team’s 15 designed runs being split between Carson (11) and Prosise (4). Neither of them ever got going, with Carson turning his carries into 34 yards and Prosise netting just 9. Their impacts were both felt in the passing game, however, as Carson had two catches for 18 yards and a score while Prosise spun his three catches into 65. It may just be time for everyone to admit that this is a passing team now.
*The defense looked totally gassed by the end of the game, as evidenced by the litany of big plays and chain-moving runs they gave up in the second half. They ended up allowing 195 rushing yards at 5.6 per carry, shocking numbers against a team that has spent half a decade essentially leading the NFL in fewest yards per carry. The lapses were individual and collective. Richard Sherman nearly lost his damn mind after being flagged (dubiously) on a Kam Chancellor interception, taking off his helmet and stalking the referee down the field. Shortly afterward, he tried to end Mariota’s life after he’d been dragged out of bounds, earning yet another flag and nearly inciting a brawl. On the other side of the field, Jeremy Lane got worn out like a kid’s only pair of shoes. Kam Chancellor got wiped out by a few blocks, Earl Thomas looked out of position on a couple of the big plays, and their pursuit angles looked miscalculated at best. They never got a sack nor did they force a turnover. Just bizarre to watch them get carved up like that.
*11 penalties for 98 yards. Good luck overcoming that.
For the third straight week, this team did not look like a Super Bowl contender. That’s the bar now, and just as the offense started to look up to the task, the defense completely regressed. One of these days, both units will collaborate and the result will be a very encouraging performance. Until then, we’re left hoping that this team will eke out close wins and that’s a very uncomfortable place to be.
Next up is a home game against the Colts on Sunday night. With any luck, it’ll be the palate cleanser this season so desperately needs. Onward, my friends, and upward.
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