I’ll be honest, I didn’t see 4-1 coming with this team and, while I haven’t forgotten that a few plays the other way has these guys at 1-4, wins beget belief. The Seahawks came in flying high after an insane win over the Rams last week while the Browns limped home after a national embarrassment against the Niners. It was the type of game that screamed “it’s a trap!” and despite Seattle’s superior play this year, the betting line reflected that with Cleveland closing as a one-point favorite. Add to that a swirling wind destined to play havoc with kicks, and this looked a lot less predictable than you might think based on their records.
All of that was manifested on the game’s opening a kick-off- a fluttering wobbler into the wind that Dontrell Hilliard ran back for 74 unencumbered yards to set the struggling Browns up with a big-time confidence booster. Three plays later, Nick Chubb was jogging into the the endzone for a lightning-quick 7-0 lead. Woof. Now, as has been heavily discussed here, Seattle has a troubling history with their opening drives, consistently ranking at or near the very bottom in points on their first drives for the past number of years. Finding themselves immediately in the hole, that’s an unpleasant reality to face.
Fortunately, today was the exception. Coming out with a refreshing pass-forward approach, the ‘Hawks answered with a serious of successful passes to Luke Willson, Nick Bellore(?), and, encouragingly, a quick-hitter to DK Metcalf on 3rd & 2. On that one, DK absolutely beasted his way for 30 yards, dragging discarded Browns like so many cans behind a newlywed’s car. The quick-hitting passes spread the Cleveland defense out and Russell Wilson used that to his advantage. From the 16 yard line, Wilson let the defenders follow his receivers to the corners of the field before tucking the ball under that most valuable of right arms and sprinting into the endzone to presumably tie it up. Sadly, the wind slingshat the extra point wide right and the score remained 7-6.
The Browns’ next drive looked like summer practice. 9 plays to carve Seattle’s one-step-too-slow defense into a 69-yard TD drive. The score came on a Baker Mayfield scramble up the middle that looked like a mirror-image of Russ’. Seattle would have to punt on their next drive and immediately gave Cleveland permission to score again. This time the touchdown came on an easy 31-yard toss to Ricky Seals-Jones right after Chubb gashed them up the middle for 52. On the TD, it looked like Michael Kendricks failed to get deep enough and Seals-Jones ran right past him. A missed XP into the wind kept the lead at 14 but it was looking dire for the good guys.
At 20-6, and with precisely zero resistance from the D, it looked like Seattle was gonna have to put up a lot of points in order to win. Fortunately for them, they have arguably the best QB in the league and, as of the last few weeks, haven’t been afraid to unleash him. They answered with a 9-play drive of their own, covering 55 yards with a few choice passes from Russ and a smattering of Chris Carson. The drive fizzled in the red zone, but the Seahawks were able to get a field goal to make it 20-9 and keep their hosts on a tether. Still, they were gonna need a defensive or special teams play if they were gonna turn the tide and keep this one from getting away from them.
That's when, for the first time all game, those units answered the bell. Finally forcing a three-and-out, Seattle forced the Browns to punt. Now, special teams are a funny thing, as very few players in the NFL are specialists in that regard. Instead, you typically have a bunch of guys at or near the bottom of their position groups trying to keep their roster spots by leveraging raw athleticism into useful play on kicks and punts. One of those guys is David Moore, an athletic specimen reduced to sporadic reps at WR. On this play, however, he made the most of his opportunity. Knifing through the line, Moore launched his large frame horizontally across the ascending foot of the Browns punter. He timed it perfectly, smothering the punt and giving the Seahawks much needed field position.
Seattle was unable to convert it to a touchdown, but they did add on another field goal to cut the lead to 8 and switch the entire vibe. The Browns re-took the field looking to turn the momentum and for a moment, it looked like they would. Seals-Jones for 11 was followed by a completion to Odell Beckham Jr for 18 more. Then Mayfield went back to the OBJ well, except this time his bucket came up empty. His throw, affected by the wind or not, was behind Beckham and fell straight into the waiting arms of Tre Flowers. It was the second straight great series from the defense and it kept the Seahawks charge on track.
Seattle would go three-and-out on their next possession giving the Browns an opportunity to get their shit back together. And for the most part, they did. On the back of an insane 41-yard catch by Beckham over the top of Tedric Thompson, Cleveland moved the ball down to Seattle’s 10 over the course of 8 steady plays. On the next one, Baker sat in the pocket before whipping a pass into the endzone to Jarvis Landry, who was covered brilliantly by Shaquill Griffin. Griffin snaked a hand in-between Landry’s and popped the ball up and out of the receiver’s grasp. As it fell to the ground, it was intercepted by a sprawling Thompson for Seattle’s second pick of the game and just a huge play overall. It also marked the third straight drive essentially ended by turnover and gave Seattle the ball back with just over 3 minutes to play in the half.
With one more chance to cut into the lead before the break, the Seahawks unleashed a gorgeous drive. Starting at their own 12, Wilson swung a quick pass out to Carson for 4 yards, then hit Moore on the left side for another 14. With the defense retreating, Wilson snuck around the left side and hustled for 11 yards and another first down. Rolling now.
Then it was a pass to CJ Prosise(!) for 15 yards followed by a dart to Tyler Lockett over the middle for 22 more. After an offsides and a couple of incompletions, Wilson dropped back three steps and lobbed a pass towards what appeared to be an empty endzone near the right sideline. But, like so many of Wilson’s other throws, the final reveal wouldn’t happen until late in the plot. As the spiral turned its tip back towards the ground, Jaron Brown coasted underneath it and tapped his toes for a touchdown to make it 20-18. The two-point conversion was a draw to Prosise(!) up the middle but the Browns were ready for it, preserving a small lead as the teams headed to the locker room.
Seattle started the third quarter by going all kinds of backwards and punted it away to Cleveland. The Browns responded with a promising start to their next drive, picking up a couple of first downs before drawing up a delayed screen to Chubb. On that play, new addition Ezekiel Ansah sniffed it out like a narcotics dog and almost broke up the pass. The ball barely eluded his fingers and Chubb caught it with intentions of getting downfield. Most DLs would be out of the play after missing the deflection, but Ansah turned like a speedboat and caught Chubb before he could get going. In one swift move, Ansah punched the ball out of Chubb’s grip and ripped it into his own lap for yet another turnover.
Then it was Wilson on a short keeper, followed by a slick little leak-out pass to Willson for the first down. Then Carson slammed his way off the right guard’s butt and deflected off tacklers downfield until he was finally corralled after 25 yards. Then it was back to Moore for 11 more yards and, after a pass interference call against Cleveland and a negative run from Carson, Wilson went right back to Brown for a short TD on the left side. All of a sudden, a 20-6 deficit was a 25-20 lead and the new-look Browns were on the verge of folding up shop like all the iterations before them.
Their next drive was cut short by two huge penalties (one legit, one not) and Cleveland punted it right back to the ‘Hawks after just three plays. With that, the Seahawks went right back to work, moving into scoring range again and looking ready to put some distance between them and Cleveland while they still had the wind at their back. But because we’re not allowed to have nice things, and because we’re all gonna die someday anyway, Russell Wilson checked out of a shotgun formation on 3rd & 1 with Prosise(!) in the backfield. Instead, he moved under center and handed it to CJ up the middle. As he fought for the first down, the ball was stripped from his hands and pounced on by the Browns for a life-giving turnover.
The next drive was an exercise in grit and fatigue. After a roughing penalty against Jadaveon Clowney, it was just a long series of short plays that led to a few high-leverage downs. One of them came on 4th & 3 from Seattle’s 23- a quick crossing pass to Hilliard with KJ Wright in tow. Wright hacked Hilliard to the ground right at the marker and the measurement gave the Browns a first down by literally less than an inch.
That led to an eventual 1st and goal, which became 2nd & goal, then 3rd & goal and then, with Seattle’s suddenly stalwart defense refusing to give in, 4th & goal. That’s when the circus started. On that play, the Seahawks got caught with 12 guys on the field, granting the Browns a free play. They used it to pitch it out to Landry behind a gaggle of blockers and he tried to wiggle into the endzone amidst the mass of men in front of him. As Landry reached for glory, the ball popped out and was recovered in the endzone by his teammate Chubb. The official ruled it a touchdown until his colleague reminded him that a fumble can’t be advanced on a 4th down unless it’s recovered by the fumbler.
It would have been a touchback and given the Seahawks ball on their own 20, but there’s that whole 12 men thing. The flag erased the play and gave the Browns another try a couple feet closer. With that second chance, Mayfield turned and handed it to Chubb who plunged in for the go-ahead score. But wait! The previous play was challenged by Browns coach Freddie Kitchens. The replay was inconclusive, and Cleveland found themselves minus a timeout and a touchdown. They went back to Chubb on the very next play but Wright, Bobby Wagner, and the interior of Seattle’s DL swallowed him up for no gain and a preservation of their slim lead.
It was an absolutely monumental turn of events and the type of effort that can galvanize an entire defense. On the Browns’ side, it must have been totally demoralizing and I imagine it became nearly impossible not to allow the “I guess that’s just who we are” thoughts from creeping in. In reality, it ended up just being a delaying of the inevitable. Seattle was unable to move the ball forward and Michael Dickson shanked his abbreviated punt out of bounds at their own 25. Chubb went for 21 off the left side on the first play then thundered in for the score on the next one. A completed 2-point pass made it 28-25 and put the pressure back on Russell Wilson to deliver.
On the first play, Carson hammered ahead for 5 yards. Then Wilson rolled right with nothing developing. Running out of options, he whipped it at the sideline where Metcalf stood, 12 yards downfield with toes in the green and leaning over the white paint. The throw hit him right in the hands and, as he was shoved to the turf, he transferred the ball to his right hand and curled his body underneath it with both feet still in bounds. Just a man’s game reception in a big moment.
After an incompletion was wiped out by a horse collar penalty, and another one by an illegal use of hands, the Seahawks were in serious business. Carson got two more on first down then Wilson tucked and ran for 8 more and another first down. Then it was Lockett for 5 before going right back to him for what was initially ruled a 17-yard touchdown on the seam. The replay showed he was down just shy of the endzone so Chris Carson did the honors on the next play instead.
With the game now 32-28, Cleveland had one shot to avoid a devastating loss and Mayfield trotted back out with decades suck weighing heavily on his shoulders. The drive started with a hold, was sustained by a short completion, and ended by KJ Wright. On 2nd & 15, Mayfield felt pressure coming up the middle. Leaning to his left, he threw the ball towards Hilliard but the pass drifted behind him, right where Wright was. KJ was crashing down on Hilliard but maintained the presence of mind to stop short and crouch down for the game-sealing pick.
Well, not totally game-sealing. Seattle needed one more first down and after two predictable runs left them with 3rd & 8 on the plus side of two minutes, you wondered what the call would be. Thankfully, they trusted Wilson to make a throw and hoo boy, did he ever. Without hesitation, he zipped a laser to the sticks on the left sideline where it was caught and hugged by Metcalf for the first down and the final rose on the grave.
After the kneeling was done, the Seahawks emerged from the wreckage of a terrible first quarter with a shimmering 5-1 record and no ceiling on their season.
~Russell Wilson continues to sizzle. He came into this game with absolutely absurd numbers and continued the trend this morning. His actual stat line was really impressive, completing 23 of 33 passes for 295 yards and 2 TDs. He added 33 more and another TD on 7 non-kneeling carries, giving him an outstanding 17 scores on the season. His metrics remain remarkable, as he completed a nice 69.69% of his passes for 8.9 yards per attempt and a rating of 117.6 and somehow all of those numbers were below his season average.
He is just so damn good, and it’s more than just the highlight-reel throws. He is making adjustments at the line, using his feet decisively and dangerously and, instead of spinning backwards and away from pressure, he is stepping up and through the pocket to create space, open up the scramble, and keep his receivers’ routes on schedule. There’s no such thing as perfect but Wilson is playing as closely to it as anyone we’ve ever seen.
~Ever since the Saints game, I’ve been really impressed with the Seahawks’ play-calling. Instead of relying on a game script that was etched into the Dead Sea scrolls, they’ve leveraged Wilson’s incredible efficiency into open running lanes and Chris Carson has completely delivered. He had 24 rushes for 124 yards and a touchdown today, adding 4 grabs for another 35 for an impressive 159 overall.
In fact, since his disastrous effort against New Orleans, Carson has averaged 142.3 yards per game and has looked really, really good doing so. He, like any other running back, just looks so much better when the defense is concerned with the pass and kudos to the coaching staff for using Russ to set Chris up for even more success.
~DK Metcalf is really coming into his own. Until now, he’s mostly been an all-or-nothing go-route guy which has led to boom-or-bust production. Today, however, we saw a lot of nuance in his game that is very exciting. His 30-yarder on the opening drive was a thing of savage beauty, as he beat his man inside on 3rd & short, made the catch, shed the tackler like an old coat and then carried 4 more down the field on his back like an rhino with a pack of baby hyenas trying to take it down (they never did). His second catch was on a crossing route, something we haven’t really seen from him yet, and he left his man in the dust as he zoomed for 19. Then he had the two chain-moving toe-tappers. All four of his catches went for first downs.
Tyler Lockett kept making big catches when they needed him to, too. His volume numbers are good, his efficiency is elite, but what doesn't’t get talked about enough is when he makes his contributions. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but it feels like almost every time he touches the ball, its a huge first down in a big moment. Lockett caught all 5 of his targets (big surprise) for 75 yards and just missed another touchdown. His tremendous year continues.
Jaron Brown’s TD rate in Seattle is bonkers. Last year, he only had 14 catches but 5 of them went for scores. Today, he only caught 3 but 2 of them were TDs. It’s almost comical but I certainly won’t complain if all my #3 WR does is catch touchdowns.
Will Dissly got hurt early in this one and the early returns ain’t good. If he’s out for a long time, and it sounds like he will be, this offense has suffered a monumental loss. It is hard to adequately describe just how important Dissly has been to this offense this year and as much as I love Luke Willson, Seattle likely just lost a huge weapon in their arsenal. Prayers up for Uncle Will, but I think Seattle’s gonna have to plan on adjusting their attack moving forward. A terrible development in an otherwise awesome season.
~I was really curious how the OL was gonna look today as they dealt with a couple of big injuries. Duane Brown and DJ Fluker became George Fant and Jamarco Jones and Cleveland’s pass rush is no joke. All told, I think they did quite well. It’s hard to notice how well individual linemen are playing during a broadcast but my overall impression is that they held up really well. Sure, there were 3 sacks on Wilson but the vast majority of Seattle’s plays came behind a well-set line. Seattle passed for 284 and rushed for 170 on 74 total plays which is gonna win you a lot of games.
~Seattle’s defense looked rough early. I don’t know if they weren’t mentally ready or what but they were almost useless as they allowed TDs on Cleveland’s first three drives. After that, though? Lights freakin’ out. Here’s how the rest of the Browns drives ended:
End of half
Turnover on downs
TD (24 yard drive)
We got so accustomed to this defense creating a lot of fumbles and interceptions from 2012-2015 but as the top players left or retired, and opposing offenses evolved to shorter, safer passes, we’ve seen Seattle go long stretches without forcing turnovers of any kind. This year, however, they’ve been absolute ball-hawks. They picked off 3 passes in this one, recovered a fumble, and blocked a punt. Another game with no sacks, but they’re creating enough pressure to cause some mayhem on a lot of opponents’ throws.
Shaquille Griffin has been nothing short of sensational this season. I keep waiting for some sort of regression to the sometimes-hot, sometimes-cold player we saw last year but he just refuses to give an inch. Teams are hardly throwing his way and when they do, he’s been on his man like lint on a sweatshirt that accidentally got washed with the towels. Even the few completions he has allowed have been in tight coverage. He was excellent again today, breaking up two passes including the Tedric pick and chipping in 5 tackles. He has become such a complete player.
Jadaveon Clowney’s impact goes way beyond what’s reflected in his box scores. He is beating his blocker at a terrific rate and forcing QBs and RBs off their mark. He was very disruptive again today and while Seattle needs to start generating some sacks, there’s no doubt in my mind that Clowney has been a huge net positive so far.
Still waiting on that definitive Bobby Wagner game but he remains steady as ever in Seattle’s new two-deep defensive scheme. He came into this ranked third in the NFL in tackles and added a team-leading 7 more today. This is not a knock on Wagner at all- I think he is still the best middle linebacker in the game- I’m just impressed the Seahawks have won as much as they have without him having one of those take-over games.
At 5-1, there’s really nothing that’s out of reach for this team. The playoffs, the division, a bye, home field advantage- all well within reach for what is shaping up to be a pretty special group of guys. I had tepid hopes of a 9-win season from this young squad but it’s definitely time to re-evaluate those expectations. This looks like a team that can beat just about anybody and a deep playoff run just might be a lot closer than I was anticipating.
You guys, this is shaping up to be a magical season. Here’s to enjoying everything it has to offer. Onward, upward, go ‘Hawks.
Broke out the big gun for this one- the Anniversario No. 3 from Davidoff. Light-bodied and completely effortless to smoke. Didn’t want to drink anything too heavy with it so I made up a hefty Manhattan with some Eagle Rare.
Once again, I am STOKED about our cigar partnership this year. One of our readers has the plug on some insane stogies has offered them to Cigar Thoughts readers for 20% off. These are high-end sticks, and among the most enjoyable I’ve ever smoked. To get the hookup, just email SeattleCigarConcierge@gmail.com. They are carrying over 70 cigar brands with many rare releases, including Davidoff, OpusX, and Padron. You can also hit him up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars