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Cigar Thoughts, Game 16: One Inch

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The NFC West was decided by one of the wildest endings to one of the wildest games all year, as the San Francisco 49ers edged out the Seattle Seahawks by literally the slimmest margin imaginable.

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

32 teams playing 16 games each. That makes 256 matchups in an NFL season, each of them an exercise in barely controlled chaos. And no team, not a single one of ‘em, has been more chaotic than the Seattle Seahawks. So it was fitting that game #256 would take place in the Emerald City against their biggest rival, with the division and, in the case of the San Francisco 49ers, the #1 seed, on the line.

All of it added up to arguably the biggest regular season game in Seahawks franchise history; and that was before Marshawn Lynch came back. Now under any other circumstances, Marshawn’s return would be one of the most fun developments we’ve ever seen in Seattle. For him to come back now, for this, was nothing short of sublime.

Adding extra spice to an already hot recipe, the first matchup between these two teams was one of the wildest game of the entire year, with the Seahawks stealing an overtime victory down in San Fran. That game, however, featured Duane Brown, Quandre Diggs, and not George Kittle. With Brown and Diggs out, and Kittle in, the scales had tipped back the other way a bit. Despite the hype, home field, and Seattle's incredible record in primetime, it felt like it was gonna take everything the Seahawks had to win this one. I spent all day trying not to think about the game. I went golfing, cleaned the house, walked around the block like eight times. Anything to keep my nerves from electrifying their way out of my skin like Dr Manhattan. And still, there it was. An anticipation that seared through me, exacerbated by the dozens of texts from friends who were going through the same thing. When game time finally came around, I was as calm and prepared as was humanly possible which is to say not at all. Still, fate cares not for our readiness.

Seattle received the kickoff, resplendent in head-to-toe college navy with piercing action green accents. They benefitted from a defensive holding call on the first play but were unable to do anything else with it, as two Russell Wilson incompletions and a short Travis Homer run led to a punt. An anticlimactic ending to an opening drive that carried with it such tremendous build-up. The 49ers answered with a nice long drive that included a big Raheem Mostert run and a handful of completions from Jimmy Garoppolo to Kittle. The only saving grace for Seattle was a pair of sacks, one from Quinton Jefferson and and one from Tre Flowers on a pretty corner blitz, the second of which essentially forced the Niners to settle for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. It was the last we’d see of their pass rush.

The Seahawks did get a first down on their next drive, thanks to a delightful toe-tapping catch from DK Metcalf. It also featured a 6-yard hurdling run from Lynch that elicited an old school roar from the crowd. Sadly, that’s as exciting as things would get for most of the first half, as Seattle would summarily punt again, with Ugo Amadi downing the ball at the 6. All that did, however, was set up another excruciating Niners drive. It took them 8 plays, and nearly every single one of them seemed easy. After a 3rd down catch by Emmanuel Sanders was barely enough for a first down, SF kicked it into high gear. First it was a 30-yard completion to Deebo Samuel followed by another one to Kittle for 15, then a spiffy reverse to Samuel where he sliced up every damn defender on the field* en route to a 30-yard TD run to make it 10-0.

*His sideline spin move on Tre Flowers almost defies reality. Samuel is a special player and he’s gonna be an issue in this division for years.

The next Seahawks drive meant the next Seahawks punt, and the Niners went out and did it again, moving the ball all the way down the field with insulting ease. The drive would cover 71 yards on 11 plays, ending with the Niners letting Seattle off the hook by settling for a short field goal on 4th & 2 from inside the 10. Phew.

Seattle finally got some things going on their next drive, picking up three first downs in a row. Eventually, they faced 4th & 1 on the 49ers’ 31 after a dubious spot on a Tyler Lockett catch left them short. On the play, Nick Bona easily dispatched Tyrone Swoopes and swallowed Lynch up like some kind of giant, prehistoric snake eating a rhinoceros. I love that they went for it and love that they gave it to Lynch, but maybe don’t have your 3rd string TE try to block a DPOY candidate one-on-one. I dunno. That marked 16 consecutive touchdown-less drives since Pete Carroll opted to punt from the Cardinals’ 34 on 4th & 1* last week, a stretch that saw a grand total of 6 points scored in nearly 6 quarters.

*Punted on 4th & 1 from the opponents’ 34. A sentence I still can’t believe is real.

The teams headed to halftime at 13-0 and an all-time gamely atmosphere had been reduced to low-pitched grumbles, grousing, and murmurs of disgust. To make matters worse for the good guys, the Niners got the ball to start the second half but this time the Seahawks came out swinging 4x4s. They clubbed the 49ers’ drive into submission and used a nice David Moore punt return as leverage to begin their best drive of the night. After a short run from Lynch, Wilson scrambled twice for 5 yards each. That’s when it got fun.

Lynch took a toss on the Seahawks’ first snap of the next drive and trucked around the right end for 8 yards. On the next play they gave it right back to him and he gored ahead for 15 more, titillating the crowd and firing up the sideline. After consecutive carries, he looked the way I do after 10 minutes of pickup basketball and had to head to the sidelines for oxygen. No matter, the Seahawks ran a play-action on the ensuing play and Wilson ducked under a sack, standing strong in the pocket. He popped a deep pass to the back left corner of the endzone where it was hauled in by David Moore for the Seahawks first score. But wait!

Turns out Wilson avoided the sack because Mike Iupati blocked Arik Armstead the way revolving doors block hotel guests. Iupati saved his QB’s life with a flying tackle on Armstead but the play was still rightly called back on a hold. No matter, Homer carried the ball for 11 yards on 1st & 20, then Wilson scrambled for 4 on 2nd down. Then the two of them connected for an 8-yard gain and a first down to keep things moving. Three plays later, Wilson evaded pressure and began running towards the line of scrimmage. He passed it as he threw, whipping a pass into Tyler Lockett’s arms in the back of the endzone for Seattle’s first score. As the play happened live, I was sure that Russ was too far forward and that a review would show as much, nullifying the score again. Not so— Wilson, who has a half-dozen throws each year that stretch the imagination, managed to drag his back foot behind the line of scrimmage as he threw, much like a receiver does as he goes out of bounds, keeping his throw legal and putting the Seahawks on the board. 13-7.

It felt like maybe the game would turn, then. A stop, a score, crowd back in it; now was the time. Instead, the 49ers calmly took the field and immediately hit on a big pass play to their fullback. Couple snaps later, Samuel put a devastating juke on Shaquill Griffin and received a slant down to the 1. Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright combined for a huge stop on the next play but it only delayed the inevitable. Mostert waltzed in on 2nd down to make it 19-7 and force a two-point attempt from the Niners. On that one, Garoppolo hit his receiver over the middle, maybe three inches from the goal line. He was thumped immediately by Wagner, who sent him springing backwards like he’d hit a vertical trampoline. That stop kept the lead at 12, giving Seattle a chance to respond to San Fran’s answer. And respond they did.

The drive that Seattle unleashed was the type that keeps Pete Carroll’s gnarled, elderly feet warm at night. It featured 8 runs, 6 passes, and three 3rd down conversions. They ran the ball on the drive’s first three snaps, handing it to Homer for 11, then Wilson for 2, then Lynch for 1. On 3rd & 7, Wilson hit Jacob Hollister in the flat and he tumbled forward for exactly the distance he needed to gain. Then a handoff to Homer for 5 off left guard. After Lynch was stuffed again, Wilson converted another 3rd down when he hit Lockett on a shortie to the left for 8 yards.

With the offense finally in rhythm, Wilson fired it over the middle to David Moore for 17, as the receiver registered what felt like the team’s first yards-after-the-catch. Homer got 2 yards on the next play, then Swoopes caught one for 5, setting up another 3rd down. And they converted again, this time to Lockett for 6 yards down to the 11. Lynch would get 2, then Metcalf got 8 on a great route to the 1. Standing on the threshold, Seattle faked the handoff to Lynch and slipped him into the left flat. Wilson rolled his way then pivoted and fired it to an open Metcalf in the endzone. It was an easy TD pass but Wilson rushed it and threw it too high. He’s missed a handful of those this year. Fortunately, the Niners were called for holding Lynch and that set up the drive’s final play.

That’s right, baby. Turning handing the ball off to Lynch, Wilson got out of the way and let Marshawn soar through the air like the beautiful exotic bird he is. He flew over the woeful pile of human limitation at the goal line and landed in glory as Skittles from 67,000 packages adorned him like tiny fruity angels in the heaven of his own design. A series of solemn handshakes later, Jason Myers was jamming the extra point through to make it 19-14.

14 plays, 75 yards, 7 points, one Marshawn. Perfect.

Not that the 49ers cared. It only took them half as many plays to go the same number of yards and score the same number of points, using a 13-yard scamper from Mostert to cap yet another seemingly effortless scoring drive. 26-14. Sigh.

No way the Seahawks score again, right? They’d just gone a game and a half without a TD then scored two in a row so maybe they just settle down a bit on this one. Wrong, pal. No time for that.

Wilson to Moore for 13.
Incomplete to Hollister.
Homer off left guard for 13
Incomplete deep shot to Metcalf.
Wilson scramble for 4.
Defensive pass interference for 14.
Wilson scramble for 2.
Wilson with an absolute dart to Metcalf for the score from 14 yards out.

That score, the 7th of Metcalf’s remarkable rookie season, made it five consecutive drives in this game that ended with a touchdown. A game that was sluggish, one-sided and frankly boring was all of a sudden swinging from the banana trees. That made it 26-21 with three and a half minutes left in the game and somehow, the Seahawks still had hope. Now they just needed a stop.

It seemed unlikely, given that SF had scored on 5 of their first 6 drives, but there was still a chance. Just needed a big play. The Niners turned to Mostert on 1st down and he picked up 3. Then they ran another misdirected reverse sweep to Samuel with a convoy of blockers out in front. With three oxen bearing down on two farmers, it appeared inevitable that Samuel would coast to another first down and put Seattle up against the ropes. Instead, Griffin juked the pulling guard and got underneath the other blocker. As he came up, he found Deebo’s knees and upended him for a 3-yard gain. It was a play of remarkable acumen and was the second time tonight he’d done it. Nothing short of a phenomenal effort in the run game from a cornerback who was struggling in coverage.

An unintended payout from Shaquill’s incredible tackle was that 49ers OL Ben Garland was trundling downfield looking for some legs to take out. He dove at Delano Hill, assuredly thinking that Samuel was still running, and hit Hill awkwardly and low. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness because the play was over and the 15-yard penalty turned 3rd & 4 into 3rd & 19. A dump off to Mostert got 16 of them back and while that was enough to scare the shit out of me, it wasn’t sufficient for a first down. A David Moore fair catch later and the Seahawks were taking the field with 2:34 left, two timeouts, a crowd that was losing their got damn minds, and a division title on the line. What more could you ask for as a football fan, honestly?

Bang, Wilson to Homer for 5. Bang, Wilson to Metcalf for 10. Bang, Wilson to Homer for 11. Bang, Wilson to Metcalf for 24. Bang, Wilson to Lockett for 11. Here we fucking go. 1st and 10 from the 12, 55 seconds left. I’m blessed/cursed to have a bunch of good friends who are Niners fans and all of their PTSD was kicking in. It felt inevitable to them. I mean, how many times can Russell Wilson rip your heart out before you just give in to your fate? But holy freaking cow...

This is where everything bogged down. With 36’ separating these teams from the NFC West championship, they fought for every damn fraction of it. An incomplete attempt to DK was followed by a rushed lob that missed Hollister in the endzone. Then, Metcalf scorched his man off the line on a slant route but Wilson was a hair late on the throw and the CB made an impressive recovery to bat it away before DK could score the game-winner. 4th & 10.

Y’all remember John Ursua? The shifty little guy from the preseason that reminded us all of Doug Baldwin kinda but hasn’t really seen the field all year? Well, thanks to Malik Turner’s injury, he found himself out there for the biggest play of the year and one of the most consequential non-playoff snaps in franchise history. All he did with his moment is shake free at the 3 and snatch a pass before rolling to the 1. Incredible, and an awesome job of trusting him from Russ.

That reset everything. Now it was 1st & goal from the 1 with 23 seconds left and no timeouts. The Seahawks hustled to the line to spike the ball and here. came. Marshawn. Perhaps the moment was too perfect for this sinful world to handle. Lynch trotting onto the field to score the game-winning, division-winning touchdown; sending the Seahawks to a home playoff game with a miraculous comeback and delivering a soul-crushing loss to their rivals in the process. Maybe it’s like the sun, perfect from 93 million miles away but get any closer and poof, you’re space dust. Either way, the 2019 Seattle Seahawks were certainly not prepared to handle destiny’s burden. A baffling delay of game penalty pushed the ball out to the 6 and sent Marshawn back to the sidelines, a tragedy in and of itself.

On 2nd down, Wilson lobbed one towards Lockett, who was double-covered. The pass was broken up and nearly intercepted. On 3rd down, Wilson zipped one into Hollister, who was two busy being Greco-Roman’d by a linebacker to catch the ball. No pass interference was called, which is horse shit and, since the NFL has only paid lip service to reviewing PI calls this year, they didn’t even go back to look at it. And make no mistake, that was as pass-interferencey as pass-interference gets. No matter, the NFL doesn’t really care about getting those ones right. 4th down.

For the second time in 20 seconds, the biggest play imaginable faced both teams. On this one, Hollister lined up in the slot to the left and ran a short crossing route. Wilson stepped up into the pocket and delivered a strike, hitting Hollister in stride at the 1 with only Dre Greenlaw between him and glory. It was the same play they ran on the last snap of the Saints game and the same one they used to beat the Bucs. Except this time, the Niners were ready.

Greenlaw hit Hollister inside the 1 knowing he had literally zero room to give. He stuck the receiver hard and drove him into the turf. As he did, Hollister twisted towards the goal line, landing right on top of it. The only question now: where was the ball when he hit the ground? Only two weeks earlier, the Niners had lost a game on this exact same situation and I was hopping around my living room praying they’d suffer the same heartbreak here.

With a stadium ready to riot, the officials reviewed the play and concluded (correctly, I think), that Hollister came up one blade of grass short. That ruling gave the game, the division, and home-field advantage to the 49ers, while handing the Seahawks their 4th home loss of the year.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson looked hesitant tonight. Again. At least in the first half. Was almost impossible to tell on TV if his receivers were getting open or not but even so, he was skittish and quick to turtle up. The majority of his early throws were checkdowns and even those we're well-covered and ineffective. Then, as we’ve seen so many times, he went off in the second half.

Back against the wall, Russell Wilson took this game over. He led three consecutive touchdown drives and came as close as humanly possible to four. For the final two quarters he carved up the field, running when necessary and hitting his receivers on the money when he was able. His final line won’t set anyone on fire but given that he was 5/11 for 45 yards in the first half, a final tally of 25/40, 233 yards, 2 TDs, and no turnovers is pretty damn good. His second half was remarkable, as he completed 20 of 29 passes for 188 yards and both scores and honestly should’ve had a third TD had he not air-mailed DK from the 1.

It was yet another reminded how good this offense can be when you get out of your philosophy’s way and let Russell Wilson cook. Once he had the skillet out, the entire complexion of the game changed. I just wish they’d start with that, then continue with it, instead of waiting until the house is on fire to realize that maybe your best player should do more stuff.

~All eyes were on Marshawn Lynch tonight, and for good reason. The story was too good, the timing too perfect. It was exactly what this team, city, and franchise needed coming off of a horrific crunch-time loss. All in all, his performance was more excitement than production, as his team-leading 12 carries netted just 34 yards and he failed to record a catch. His two consecutive runs for 23 yards were sweet and his touchdown was one of the highlights of the season but aside from those, he had just 9 carries for 10 scoreless yards. Still, he moved well and I’m totally fine with him leading the charge next week in Philly.

That said, Travis Homer was the best back on the field tonight. His 10 carries picked up 62 yards and he added 30 more on 5 receptions. He runs with a suddenness that reminds me a little of pre-injury Thomas Rawls and he never wastes any time getting upfield once he has the rock in his hands. He and Lynch can form a pretty impressive combo moving forward, and that’s a pretty cool thing to say given that literally all of Seattle’s running backs got hurt in the last month. Never saw Robert Turbin.

~DK Metcalf had a hell of a game. Couple of passes he could’ve caught and didn’t, but none of them were easy and he was guarded extremely closely all evening. Nevertheless, he capped off a fantastic first year by recording 6 catches on 12 targets for 81 yards and a score. Had Wilson not glitched at the 1, he would’ve had a monster line of 7-82-2.

Metcalf finishes his rookie season with 58 catches for exactly 900 yards and 7 TDs, all of which rank in the top 3 of a really freaking impressive class of first-year WRs. His ceiling doesn’t exist and as he sharpens up the fine points of his game, combined with Wilson as his QB, his trajectory goes straight to the fucking moon. There isn’t a single player I’m more excited about next year than DK Metcalf.

Tyler Lockett was good today, which is great because he’s been really spotty down the stretch. Like everyone else, it took him a while to get going but he finished with 6 catches for 51 yards and a TD on 7 targets. It’s the type of efficiency we’re used to seeing from him and it’s exactly what this team will require if they’re going to make any kind of run this postseason.

Jacob Hollister keeps racking up catches, adding 4 more for 25 yards on 8 targets. He did everything he could on that last play and I don’t fault him for not getting into the promised land because the play Greenlaw made was amazing. That said, what happens if you line Metcalf up there and run the same play to him instead? I think one of the things that gnaws at me about this offense every week is that in addition to not drawing up that many cool plays, they often don’t put it in the hands of their best players even when they run something rad. It’s not Hollister’s fault that he’s not DK Metcalf, it’s Carroll’s and Brain Schottenheimer’s.

~We saw yet another different starting OL combo as this unit limps towards the postseason. Tonight saw it go like this from left to right:

George Fant / Mike Iupati / Joey Hunt / DJ Fluker / Germain Ifedi

Honestly, I thought they did alright. Better than alright, if we’re being real. They got beat a few teams, but every OL does— especially against this front. They only allowed one sack and the team ran for 125 yards at a 4.2 clip. Pretty damn good. Fant was especially impressive, I thought. LT is obviously Brown’s job if/when he comes back this year but it was a hell of an audition for Fant as the team faces a decision on Ifedi this offseason.

~This defense kinda sucks. Quandre Diggs does a lot to make them look good but without him, they’re just so damn loose in coverage. And their maniacal insistence on keeping three LBs on the field at almost all times makes it so freaking easy for opposing teams to find openings up the seams and over the middle. So frustrating to watch. The Niners averaged 5.3 yards per carry and only threw 4 incompletions— two of which were drops.

Jadeveon Clowney was double-teamed a lot tonight, which should come as no surprise when there’s literally no other pass rushing threat on the DL. That’s how you end up being one of the three most double-teamed players in the NFL, I guess. Doesn’t help that the team basically never blitzes, either.

Bobby Wagner was good but this shitty new defense means he has to drop in coverage a ton and it seems like he’s constantly scrambling to cover deficiencies elsewhere. His 7 tackles tonight will make him NFL’s leading tackler this year. His mate KJ Wright had three or four really great plays tonight but he’s absolutely hopeless in coverage. Don’t know what else to say about that.

Shaquill Griffin has had a great season and I think the Seahawks should make him a part of their long-term future but he got carved up like a pizza by Deebo Samuel in this one. Now, I really believe Samuel is going to be one of the better receivers in this league (57-802-3 on the year plus 14-159-3 rushing), and that right soon, but it would’ve been nice to see ‘Quill stay in the same zip code. Not nearly the same threat next week against the Eagles, thank God. No one else really did anything, except I think Tre Flowers must’ve had a really good game because he stayed against Emmanuel Sanders for a lot of the night and dude only had 3 catches for 25 yards.

Look, the outcome of tonight’s game sucked and losing three of your last four sucks, and going 4-4 at home sucks, having a defense that looks slow and lost sucks and watching your team waste an entire half against a good opponent sucks. But, there is a lot to like as this team heads to the playoffs.

Russell Wilson looked really good in the second half, which was just so damn good to say given how mercurial the second half of his season has been. I say this every game, every year, but I really hope they just get out of his way and let him take this team as far as possible. Also, the running game looked pretty good, especially with Travis Homer, and I feel like maybe this team can run the ball in the playoffs when necessary. But only when necessary. Pete. Plus, the OL was awesome.

And besides, this team still won 11 games, which is pretty rad. Even if they did while only outscoring their opponents by 7 points on the year. It’s hard to believe that just three weeks ago, this team was the #1 seed in the NFC. Still, they’re in the dance and are drawing the most favorable opponent they could hope for in the NFC East champion Eagles. The 5-seed is not glamorous, and the road to the Super Bowl from here is steep, muddy, and exhausting. But the path exists.

Beat a middling Philadelphia team (who they already beat on the road this year), and you get a likely rematch with these same 49ers. The one thing I do know for sure is that the Seattle Seahawks have at least one more game ahead of them, so rest up and get ready. I’ll catch y’all next weekend. May we all be celebrating then. Onward, upward.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

———

A game of this magnitude deserved a cigar to match, so I pulled out the 1844 Club Selection from H. Upmann, a stick that delivers on every level. Smooth, tasty, a little spicy. Paired that sucker up with some Yamazki 12, courtesy of my buddy Kale, to really set it all off.

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

The 2019 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.