The Seattle Seahawks came into this game fashionably late to the playoff conversation. After an uninspiring 0-2 start, Seattle had won four of their last five and found themselves on more analysts’ lips than chapstick. The Chargers, for their part, came in equally hot (and off their bye), and the winner of this game would enter the second half firmly entrenched among their respective conferences’ contenders.
The Seahawks received the opening kick and their first drive was tremendous. There’s no secret to their approach anymore, especially out of the gate. But what Seattle’s play calling has lacked in run/pass unpredictability, it’s more than made up for with creativity and old school gumption. If you look at the play-by-play, the drive seems drab enough, with its series of runs and mid-level completions. What the ledger won’t show, however, is the pre-snap motion and committed play-action that created the necessary space for Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, and others.
The result was a slow, symphonic build towards ecstasy: 13 plays (9 rushes) for 75 yards, and taking up more than 8 minutes in the process. It culminated with Wilson buying time in the pocket before firing a high spiral to the back of the end zone. That’s where Jaron Brown elevated over two defenders, snagged it out of the air, and tapped his toes inside the baseline for the score. The teeder was followed by a divine dance number* from the WR corps that was every bit as inspired as the play itself.
*As an aside, the two best things the NFL has done recently are adding common sense to the catch rule and allowing coordinated celebrations. I mean, imagine thinking THIS is bad for the sport.
The TD was awesome, as TDs tend too be, but it’s further indication of a development we’ve never really seen with this team before; namely, Wilson explicitly trusting his receivers to win in contested environments. He’s no longer waiting for guys to get separation before pulling the trigger. Instead, he’s anticipating timing advantages and delivering passes into tight windows with conviction. For all that’s been made about this team’s improved execution and commitment to the run, it’s their consistent victories on 50/50 balls that really stands out to me.
The Chargers were not to be outdone, however, and their answer was exactly what concerned me most coming into this game: Philip Rivers. It is almost impossible to overstate how good Rivers has been against the Carroll-era Seahawks in his career, and this drive was merely a continuation of that fact.
After a bobbled kickoff return pinned the Bolts at their own 6, Rivers and Co went to work with a series of misdirections, play-action, and surgical accuracy. The result was a 10-play drive of their own that covered 94 yards and gobbled up the remainder of the first quarter. It ended with a 12-yard TD pass to Tyrell Williams, giving Rivers an opening line of 5-5 for 45 yards and the touchdown. The only redeeming moment for the ‘Hawks was Caleb Sturgis missing the extra point.
Seattle then gave up a debilitating sack on their next possession and ended up kicking the ball back to LA after a three-and-out. On the Chargers’ next drive, Rivers hit Keenan Allen over the top for 55 yards then Melvin Gordon went practically untouched for the remaining 34 yards on the very next play. Fortunately, LA’s gaffe on the previous extra point induced them to go for two after their second score, an attempt that also came up empty and kept their lead to 5 points.
Things finally slowed down a little after that, with the two teams exchanging punts on the following couple of drives. That’s when Wilson got back on track, as he dialed up Baldwin for a big 42-yard gain right off the bat on Seattle’s fourth drive. It was a pretty little wheel route down the left sideline and the placement of Russ’ pass was pristine. Two good Carson runs later, the Seahawks had a 3rd & 1 inside of field goal range. From there, they ran a perfect combo route to free Baldwin for an easy first down, but it was called back by a (dubious at best, horseshit at worst) offensive pass interference call against David Moore. I don’t know what it is about the Seahawks but I’m pretty sure they’ve been penalized for every route that’s come within screaming difference of a “pick” play for the last eight years. Ridiculous.
Anyhow, the flag knocked Seattle back and a few moments later, Sebastian Janikowski was chubbily banging a 51-yard field goal attempt off the right upright. A couple of punts later, the Chargers got the ball back with three minutes left in the half and got back to business. On the fifth play of that drive, Rivers found his other Williams on a pass to the left sideline; Mike turned upfield against Tre Flowers and briefly stepped out of bounds after a nice gain. Undeterred by a conspicuous lack of whistle, Williams sprinted down the field and into the end zone. Fortunately, the replay clearly showed the incriminating heel on the sideline. Unfortunately, the officials either didn’t see what everyone else could or simply didn’t care to overturn the initial ruling. Regardless of why, they let the play stand and the Chargers extended their lead to 19-7.
Seattle was able to work their way back down the field for a field goal before the half, however, as LA’s defensive coordinator Gus Bradley played picket-fence defense while Wilson repeatedly dumped it off underneath. We all remember those days.
The third quarter was scoreless, but it shouldn’t have been. Don’t get me wrong, the defense was pretty good on both sides, but each team had their chances. Well, a chance. The Chargers had a promising drive end deep in Seattle territory when Flowers made a heroic diving break-up on a 3rd down corner route to the endzone. That brought Sturgis out for a short-ish field goal but he pulled it to the left, just like his first XP. Thank God for Caleb Sturgis.
The Seahawks, for their part, had an amazing opportunity of their own, as Jaron Brown earned phenomenal separation on a post route. Tragically, Wilson sort of bobbled the play-action fake then rushed his throw to the wide open Brown. The pass was tentative or something but either way, it was underthrown and seven points evaporated into another punt.
After two Chargers drives, it looked like maybe Seattle’s vaunted defensive rankings were the result of smoke, mirrors, and underwhelming opponent QB play. But you know what? They bowed their backs and clamped down on LA for the game’s final 40 minutes or so. Seattle’s D held again, keeping their offense within 9 and giving them a chance to cut it to a one-score game early in the fourth. So, uh... about that.
You could make an argument that Russell Wilson is among the best fourth quarter QBs in the history of football. It sounds like hyperbole, but anyone who’s watched Seattle over the last 6+ seasons has seen him rescue wins in dozens of situations ranging from improbable to impossible. And this isn’t just some googly-eyed homer masturbating to a shrine of his team’s quarterback. Wilson’s career numbers in the fourth quarter are staggering, and the result has been more wins this far into a career than any other signal caller in history. Today, sadly, was not one of them.
After two runs netted 13 yards, Wilson took the snap and looked to his left. Seeing David Moore breaking towards the left sideline, Wilson cocked back and threw. All of this would have been fine, had Desmond King the Second not been standing directly between Wilson and Moore. King snagged the most gilded opportunity of his young career and cruised unencumbered into the end zone. You’ll never guess what happened next. That’s right- wide left. Thank God for Caleb Sturgis.
Nevertheless*, the Seahawks would finally break through late in the fourth. The drive itself was a thing of fuckin’ beauty. Somehow, despite breaking all the accepted rules of football math, Seattle put together a 54-yard drive that took 14 plays. The possession included a 4th & 4 conversion on a screw-you-I’m-doing-this-anyway run play for 8. Three downs later, the ‘Hawks were facing 4th down again, this time needing a touchdown. What followed next was the Seahawks play of the game.
*always nevertheless with these guys
With less than two minutes left, Wilson took a shotgun snap and scanned the field. No one was open and when I say that I mean that literally no one is open. That didn’t stop Wilson from identifying a football-shaped opening between three defenders over the middle of the field. The wall somehow navigated the forest of extended arms and slammed into the soft, tender hands of Nick Vannett. Somehow, and I’m still not quite sure, Vannett corralled the high-velocity pass for the hope-inflating score.
Uncharacteristically, Seattle still had all three timeouts at this point. Even so, they attempted an onside kick, which I support. What I support less is the same vanilla, missionary-with-the-lights-off bouncing attempt that hasn’t worked since 1998*. If it were up to me, I’d have my kicker pick some poor sap on the front line and launch it at him as hard as they could. Worst case scenario is you miss the fella and get a net 35-50 yard kick. Best case is you hit him and mayhem ensues without bringing the second wave of returners into play.
*if your response to this is to holler “what about the 2014 NFCCG against the Packers?!” then you and I will just have to agree to disagree about counting on someone letting the ball go through their hands and off their head in order to have a chance to succeed
The Seahawks opted for the boring choice, and the harmless attempt was easily recovered by the Chargers. Even so, Seattle came up with a huge defensive stop highlighted by an impressive Jarran Reed sack on third down. LA punted it back to Seattle with 1:24 left, and the Seahawks offense took the field with no timeouts and 82 yards to glory.
They got 81 of them.
We’ve been here a thousand times since Russell Wilson took over the city of Seattle, and on 500 of those occasions, Wilson has delivered a game-tying/winning drive against the odds. This had all the hallmarks of another thrilling come-through, as the Seahawks set about their desperate agenda right quick. After an incomplete pass to Vannett, it went:
-Wilson back over the middle to Vannett for 10.
-Wilson short left to Tyler Lockett for 9 that became 24 on a roughing penalty.
-Wilson scrambling out of a crumbling pocket for 16.
-Fumbled snap, recovered and thrown away by Wilson.
-Wilson on a check down to Mike Davis for 8.
-4TH & 2! Wilson puts it all on Lockett in the back corner of the end zone, lobbing a jump ball that fell incomplete. BUT WAIT: pass interference on the Bolts gives Seattle one last shot!
-You gotta be kidding me. False start on JR Sweezy.
-Wilson takes the shotgun snap and rolls right. Letting the routes unfold before him, Wilson picked a target and whipped a short-range rocket towards David Moore. A nanosecond’s still-unborn baby’s width before the pass found Moore’s waiting hands, the Chargers’ Jahleel Addai got a hangnail on the spiral. The deflection changed the ball’s spin and, ever-so-slightly, its trajectory and it clanged off Moore’s chest for the LA victory.
~Russell Wilson got off to a fantastic start, completing 3 of 4 passes for 30 yards and a score on Seattle’s opening drive. After that, it got kinda rough, with no less than four blatant misses. It was so odd; almost like he didn’t have a good feel on the ball. His final line is acceptable on its face — 26-39, 235 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT with 41 rush yards — but it could and should have been so much better. I don’t think it was indicative of anything worrisome, but despite the late heroics, it was Wilson’s missed opportunities that put this team in trouble as much as anything else.
~Every week, I find myself interested in the snap / touch distribution among Seattle’s running backs. There’s no doubt that Carson has established himself as the man in this group, but even so, I find myself feeling pretty confident in Davis and Rashaad Penny as well. Midway through the game, Carson got hurt, and the bulk of the work fell to Davis, who performed admirably. Penny looked good when given the opportunity as well, but at this point it’s clear that he’s behind Davis in the proverbial pecking order. Today, the production looked like this:
Carson: 8 touches, 40 yards
Davis: 22 touches, 107 yards
Penny: 7 touches, 24 yards
~Mike Davis ended up leading the team in catches in this one, with 7 for 45 yards. Some of that is due to his abilities as a receiver, but I think it was mostly because LA was committed to not getting beaten over the top. They seemed content to let Wilson check down and, as a result, 16 of his 26 completions were to RBs and TEs. Vannett had a career-high 6 grabs for 52 yards and a score, while Baldwin led the team in receiving yards with 77 on 4 catches.
It was a utilitarian effort from Seattle’s receivers, with the 39 targets divvied up among 8 players. All told, the Chargers’ gamble paid off, as the Seahawks’ 43 pass plays netted a measly 202 total yards (4 sacks cost 33).
~Despite the rough start, I actually thought Seattle’s defense played pretty damn well. The. Chargers came into this game averaging more yards per play (6.9 (giggidy)) than any other team in the NFL. Rivers has been as good against the ‘Hawks as anyone and after completing 6 of his first 8 for 100 yards and a touchdown, he went just 7-18 for 128 yards and a TD that should have been ruled out of bounds. Seattle’s defense really was excellent for the game’s final 40 minutes, allowing only 7 points after LA’s first two drives.
~The Seahawks were a disappointing 4-15 on third downs today, hampered by sacks and penalties the way they used to be. This was somewhat mitigated by Seattle’s impressive 3-3 performance on 4th down but overall, they made things harder on themselves than they needed to. Defensively, they only let the Chargers convert 2 of 9 third down attempts, so a well-earned tip of the cap to the ‘Hawks in that regard.
~There were a ton of penalties in this game (12 on LA, 10 on Seattle) and naturally both teams were hurt by the refs’ eagerness to throw laundry. In addition to the questionable pick penalty on Moore, there was a personal foul on DJ Fluker that jammed Seattle up deep in their own territory and turned a 2nd & short into 2nd & run-game-don’t-matter. A false start in the hurry-up offense caused a 10-second runoff and neutered a potential TD drive right before the half. Justin Britt got hit with a debilitating personal foul in the third quarter, and Seattle was complicit in an illegal shift while driving with six minutes left. The Sweezy false start on the final untimed down invited an unnecessary level of difficulty to the game deciding play as well.
The Seahawks now find themselves in NFL purgatory, stuck waist-deep in the mud with half the other teams in the NFC. At 4-4 they’re technically 8th in the conference (pending the result of SNF) and a full game behind the Minnesota Viking for the final playoff spot. Today’s loss doesn’t kill Seattle’s postseason hopes — far from it — but it does dampen them quite a bit.
Up next is a continuation of their midseason gauntlet, as the Seahawks head to LA to take on the Rams juggernaut for the second time. After that it’s the Packers at home followed by a trip to currently 6-2 Carolina. We’re gonna learn a lot about this team in November and I, for one, can’t wait to see what we’ve got. Onward, my friends, and ever upward.
Today’s article was fueled by Bulleit bourbon and a meaty Graycliff G2 Gordo. Just a bold, straightforward combo. The 2018 season of Cigar Thoughts is proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners.