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Cigar Thoughts, Divisional Round: Seahawks spot Packers huge lead, fall short in comeback attempt

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The Seattle Seahawks forfeited the first half of the most important game of their season, and a desperate comeback attempt fell short.

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Here we are, once again. It seems no matter how well or poorly the Seahawks play, the Divisional Round beckons. One of the big storylines coming into this game was Seattle’s historical inability to win at Lambeau Field, as it had been 8 games and 20 years since they had gone into Wisconsin and won a game. Combine that with the Packers’ incredible history of home success in the postseason and their week off, and the Seahawks found themselves with a steep hill to climb to get to the NFC Championship Game. Tonight’s showdown (spoiler alert) would be no different.

The Packers started the game with the ball and immediately began ripping off big plays, following a 23-yard Aaron Jones run on the opening play with a crosser to Davante Adams for 14. Three snaps later, Jimmy Graham beat Bradley McDougald for a 3rd down conversion to keep things rolling for the hosts. The one bright spot on the drive for Seattle was an explosive Jadeveon Clowney tackle for loss on Jones but Aaron Rodgers hit Adams immediately afterward on a surgical double-move for a 20-yard score to put the home team up 7-0.

Travis Homer took the ensuing kick and sprinted out to the 30, giving the visitors a little advantage for their first possession. To their credit, the ‘Hawks came out passing, with Russell Wilson hitting Jacob Hollister for 11 yards and a first down on their initial play. Problem was, Hollister fumbled as he went to the turf, even though the officials ruled him down in real time. Packers HC Aaron LaFleur challenged the call, and replay showed that the ball was indeed loose but with no clear recovery. That kept the ball with the ‘Hawks and cost the Packers a timeout. It wouldn’t amount to anything, as a nowhere run from Marshawn Lynch was followed by two collapsed pockets resulting in a sack and an incompletion. Michael Dickson came on to boot a 54-yard bomb that pinned Green Bay at their own 10.

Tremendous D-line play snuffed out the next Packers drive, as a 1-yard run was sandwiched between two hurried throwaways from Rodgers and the following punt set Seattle up at their own 33. The Seahawks answered with three straight handoffs and a punt of their own, which was maddening. Just a forfeited drive in a game that defines your season. Fortunately, the Seahawks defense would hold with an assist from an offensive pass interference, and the Green Bay punt set them up with good field position outside their own 30.

On the first play of the next drive, Wilson overthrew Malik Turner and narrowly avoided an interception. He made the near-miss hurt by hitting Tyler Lockett on a gorgeous sideline floater for 28 yards to the Packers 30 on the very next snap. It was a beautiful play that put Seattle in scoring range, wherein Wilson immediately diagnosed press coverage and lobbed a pass while Lockett was still coming out of his break on the double move. The overmatched CB flailed while Lockett sprinted under what initially looked like another deep miss, snagging the perfectly thrown ball for a huge first down. Two plays and three yards later, Wilson dropped back and hit Hollister in the left flat for what very well could’ve been a first down. Unfortunately, Hollister dropped it and Seattle settled for a 45-yard field goal attempt from Jason Myers. The good news is that Myers, who recovered from a shaky start to the season to go 24-29 on the year, banged it through to make it 7-3. Still, the drop stole a potential 4 points from the team that would loom large later.

On the next drive, Davante Adams got downright sinister. He strapped the Seahawks defense to a bed and sawed off pieces of them to eat while his victims screamed in horror, their own blood dripping from Adams’ lips as he tore them apart and grinned through red-stained teeth at his hapless victims. He caught three passes for 50 yards on the first three plays of the drive then drew the first pass interference call against Shaquill Griffin all season. Seattle’s philosophical refusal to shadow opponents’ best receivers left Tre Flowers on an island against him for most of GB’s snaps and if you do that, you may as well be trying to cover a puma with a pug. The Packers would leverage Davante’s greatness into a 1-yard Jones TD to make it 14-3 and the Seahawks found themselves against the wall just 20 minutes into the game. Standard procedure against good teams, I guess.

On the following possession, Seattle would put together a nice drive that included big completions to Lockett and DK Metcalf that got them back into scoring range. After incessant pressure forced Seattle to try a 50-yard FG, Myers shoved his kick to the right and the Packers took over at the 40 up 11. The Seahawks only had two good drives in the first half, which was not only on brand but worthy of its own conversation, and missing out on any kind of points with this one was devastating.

The Packers would use almost all of the remaining time in the second quarter to score another touchdown, with Jones stretching the foreskin of the football across the goal line on a 3rd & goal that replay simply could not overturn. It was the culmination of a drive that continued the first half trend of the Packers doing whatever the fuck they wanted to the Seahawks’ defense.

That left Seattle without enough time to do anything meaningful and a last-gasp, batted down Hail Mary from Wilson sent the teams to the half with the hosts up 21-3. Yikes. Of the four quadrants of first half outcomes (Seahawks big lead, Seahawks close lead, Packers close lead, Packers big lead), this was objectively the worst, and it appeared at this point like Seattle was simply underprepared for the stage they were one. Now, I’m gonna shoot straight with you, I was pissed. And, despite my in-the-moment frustration and an 18-point deficit to a 13-win team, I still believed that this team could pull off the upset comeback. Not should, but could. Because of Russell Wilson. The problem was that starts like this, which have become all too common in Seahawks postseason losses, leave the team with virtually no margin for error during their torrid comeback attempts.

Fortunately, the Seahawks came out in the 3rd quarter letting Russ cook and he rewarded them with a quick score by running a rhythm, hurry-up offense that eschewed boring 2-yard handoffs in favor of putting the all-world QB in space. Wilson responded to finally being let off the leash by scrambling for 22 yards on 3rd & 6 then hitting Metcalf for 24, followed by completions to Hollister and Lockett for two more first downs all the way down to the 1. From there, Lynch pounded it up the middle to make it 21-10. Handshakes all around. I don’t know if Marshawn will ever play another down beyond today, but the sheer tonnage of touchdowns he’s accumulated during his reunion tour is enough to sustain me until 2030.

Furthermore, it was awesome to see the offense finally click. Again, and I can't stress this enough, I really wish the Seahawks started this (and every) game with the same level of urgency on offense but I guess 10+ wins every regular season buys you the leeway to be stubbornly simplistic in the playoffs.

Not that it mattered. The Packers responded with a lightning quick touchdown drive capped by Adams planting Flowers in the dirt with an in-route that he turned into a 40-yard TD making it 28-10. On that play, like so many others tonight, Adams used his superior quickness and ability to identify coverages and seek open space in the defense. Rodgers, despite being a shadow of his former self, is still plenty adept at finding receivers in advantageous positions and his timely pass gave Adams all the spacing he needed to do the rest. The only good thing about the Seahawks being blown out is that it forces Seattle to turn the game over to Russell Wilson.

Now, Russell Wilson is a god and every gameplan that doesn’t maximize that is deeply flawed. He absolutely took over in the second half. He followed up his 10-pay, 69-yard TD drive with a 12-play, 84-yarder. This possession saw him scramble 4 times for 21 yards while going 4-5 for 35 yards and a TD through the air. The final pass of the possession came on a roll-out to the right where he found Lockett in the endzone for a 7-yard score. It was one of those plays that we’ve seen so many times before; Wilson’s feet creating so much potential danger that defenders are forced to leave their assignments to account for him. And when the walls finally close in, he whips a pass to the guy who’s been left alone by those very same defenders. Beautiful football, really, and the score made it 28-17.

With new life breathed into Seattle, they came up with a defensive stop. The Packers would gain just 6 yards on their next three plays and the resulting punt gave Seattle a real shot at making this a game. The possession started with Wilson hitting Lockett in tight coverage from Kevin King. King tackled Lockett the moment Russ’ 19-yard laser hit his hands, but the minuscule receiver held on despite a hit so hard it knocked the defender out of the game. First down. That was followed by a 14-yarder to Metcalf, an 11-yarder to Hollister, and a 16-yarder to Homer. Cookin’! It all led to another short TD run from Lynch to make it 28-23 and it set up a two-point attempt to bring it within 3. Unfortunately, a CB blitz went undiagnosed and Wilson got pummeled to keep the Packers lead at 5. NOT THAT I BET * HEAVILY * THAT THE SEAHAWKS WOULD COVER 4.5 POINTS OR ANYTHING. Anyhow...

Those would be the last points we saw tonight. Three straight touchdown drives from Seattle was too little, too late. The Packers would punt on their next drive but not before they ate up valuable clock with a couple of 3rd down conversions. By the time they did kick, Seattle had 5 minutes and Russell Wilson to save the season. It was the most important drive of the year and it was time to find out off this team was really up to the task.

Honestly, it seemed like they were. Wilson hit Lockett over the middle for 14 yards on the first play, with Tyler making an impressive sliding catch just inches above the grass. On the next play Wilson escaped pressure to his right and whipped a 15-yard strike to Malik Turner. The pass hit Turner between the numbers but wasn’t caught for some reason that Malik will have to live with for the rest of his life. So, instead of 1st & 10 from the Packers’ 48, it was 2nd & 10 from their own 37. Wilson dumped it off to Hollister for 5 on the next snap then ate a monumental sack on the next one. Facing 4th & 11 in their own territory, the ‘Hawks elected to punt. It’s hard to look at that drive and come away with any other feeling than Malik Turner’s drop costing them the last shot at saving their season.

A 64-yard Dickson boomer went to the endzone and the Pack got the ball needing two first downs to win it. Seattle would get stops on the first two plays, forcing a 3rd & 6. That’s when Rodgers lobbed a picture-perfect pass to Adams for 32 spine-snapping yards. Two Seahawks stops later, Rodgers ended their season with a dubious 9-yard 3rd down completion to Jimmy Graham on a shallow cross. Now, it appeared to the naked eye, and on replay, that Delano Hill tackled Graham short of the line to gain but the officials gave him generous spot and replay was unable to overturn it. Game over. Season over.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson was really good once the handcuffs came off. To Seattle’s credit, they put the game in his hands early but did so with training wheels firmly attached. Simplistic routes were easily identified and covered early on and it wasn’t until Seattle was down 21-3 that he really started to rock. He finished with an impressive line of 21-31 for 227 yards and a TD while adding a team-high 64 yards on 7 scrambles.

He did take 5 sacks, which muddied up some of the shine on his performance, and all but one of them came after he was unable to find someone open after substantial time in the pocket. Look, if guys aren't open, you can’t force it, but Russ made the most of what was available. Even with the sacks, he ended up tallying 329 of Seattle’s 374 total yards. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance but he played well enough to win. Turner catches that ball with 4 minutes left and maybe this is a very different article. All I know is that Wilson was very good tonight, in a very big moment, when he didn’t get a ton of help.

~I know you can’t pass the ball every single play but if there was ever a game to try it, this was it. To Seattle’s credit, they threw the ball on 71% of their snaps, but they gave away an entire drive in the first half by trying to establish body blows with Year 17 Ken Griffey Jr and by then it was too late. The defense just isn’t good enough to allow you to throw away possessions.

The chaffing frustration from this game doesn’t come from the run/pass split like it has in many games over the last three years; instead, it emanates from the striking blandness of the game plan in general. When you have a team that can’t run the ball — and make no mistake, the Seahawks have been atrocious at that for the last month — running vanilla routes that rely on Wilson being excellent is extremely frustrating.

Watching the Chiefs receivers run complex combination paths en route to TDs on 7 straight drives this morning threw Seattle’s spice-less pass formula into stark relief. The Packers consistently rushed just 4 players or fewer, justifiably content to sit back and hunker down on Seattle’s elementary portfolio of pass plays. Where were the hurry-ups, crosses, screens, quick passes, and moving pockets? Oh there they are! Once they’re down by three scores, let’s start running the plays that actually have a chance of leading to points. We saw it last year against the Cowboys, when the team insisted on slamming the ball up the middle until they were down by two scores with half a quarter left. Then they turned the game over to Russ and actually moved the ball and scored, but it was too late.

All I’m saying, and have been saying for years, is just one time, with a historically effective QB, the one who is most statistically likely of all QBs in NFL history to overcome a late deficit, I want to see the Seahawks spend a whole season approaching the 1st quarter the way they do when they’re down two scores in the 4th quarter. It’s like they’re allergic to creating an early lead.

If you built the whole game plan out of having your back to the wall, I truly believe Wilson could lead this team to one of the most effective and productive seasons in NFL history. Instead, we keep waiting until the win probability drops below 20% or, in this case, below 4% before they turn the most dangerous player in franchise history loose. I honestly wouldn’t give a shit if they missed the playoffs by just letting Wilson play in desperation mode for an entire season. The thing is, they wouldn’t. And their chances of making the Super Bowl, which by the way they’ve never done without a first round bye, would be much higher.

Instead, we’re stuck spending every postseason waiting for Wilson to bail us out of a 1980s game plan. In the meantime, the Packers did all the shit I’m complaining about Seattle not doing and scored three touchdowns in the first half. Unlike last year’s travesty against Dallas, Seattle at least came out with a pass-forward approach. Progress! But against a defense that can get home with 4 rushers, the refusal to run rub routes and crosses made defending them very easy, relatively speaking.

I guess it all comes down to expectations. At any point during the first 35 years of Seahawks football, we would be overjoyed with 11+1 wins. Now that we know what Super Bowl quality play looks like, it becomes harder and harder to justify a conservative approach and nondescript player assignments. Especially from a head coach that was known for letting his nuts hang during those championship runs! Where is that Pete and what have you done with him??

Ultimately, nothing about this roster justifies making it to the Divisional Round. Everything about Russell Wilson justifies going further. Both statements are consequences of this team’s coaching philosophy.

~Marshawn Lynch got 80% of the RB gives in this one, turning 12 carries into 26 yards and 2 TDs. Gone are the days of Lynch breaking free and getting a big runs, but his two scores were impressive displays of power and grit. He wiggled through numerous tacklers on both touchdowns, allowing him to continue cloaking his stunning lack of yardage in a multitude of recent TDs.

Travis Homer got just 3 carries and turned them into 13 yards. Not sure what else to tell ya.

~Tyler Lockett was very good today. 10 of Wilson’s 31 pass attempts went to Lockett and he snagged 9 of them for 136 yards and a TD. In all honesty it was one of the best games of his season and a solid third of his grabs were of the extremely impressive type. There are a lot of things, coaches, and players you can pin this loss on but Tyler ain’t one of ‘em. He balled out.

His bodacious partner in crime, rookie DK Metcalf, received half the targets that Lockett did but he translated them into 4 catches for 59 yards. The only incompletion came on a desperation heave from Wilson but other than that, Metcalf continued his hot streak of efficiency sealed with alien athleticism. There isn’t a player on this team I’m more excited to watch next year.

Jacob Hollister was stargeted 6 times and caught 5 of them for 47 yards. The one incompletion was a devastating drop in the open field on 3rd down, so that sucked and he got away with the early fumble but overall he was... okay. I still can’t wait for a full season of Will Dissly.

Malik Turner. Buddy. I feel so bad for you. He was targeted 3 times and failed to haul any of them in, with that late drop contributing heavily to Seattle’s inability to complete their heroic comeback. I can’t imagine having to sit on that drop all offseason when you’re already on the roster bubble. Man.

~The defense struggled today, there’s just no way around it. They were out-schemed and out-executed by a team that runs really well and passes very quickly. Bobby Wagner was awesome even though his 5 tackles undersells his contributions. The problem is that he can’t play all 11 positions, and with the Packers trusting Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, they were able to take Wagner more or less out of the picture.

Tre Flowers played the worst game of his life in the biggest game of his life, getting completely owned by Adams and missing a bushelful of tackles. Davante finished with 8 catches for 160 yards and 2 scores, almost all of which came against Flowers. The youngster just had no chance.

Jadeveon Clowney was insanely disruptive in this game, consistently beating whatever poor sap that was charged with blocking him. Clowney, like Michael Bennett in his day, created a bunch of great plays by guessing and anticipating. He harassed the ever-living fuck out of Aaron Rodgers and chased down Aaron Jones in the backfield a number of time. That production comes at a cost, however, as he was flagged thrice but honestly, I’ll take it. Risk the 5 yards to be great. Fine with it, as he finished with a team-high 7 tackles including half a sack and 2 TFLs.

There were some other good performances — KJ Wright also had 7 tackles, Shaquem Griffin had a sack, and his two-handed bro Shaquill played excellent defense. Still, it just wasn’t enough to overcome Rodgers’ legendary precision in big moments.

How you feel about tonight’s outcome comes down to your expectations for this season. On one hand, you’ve got one of the most injured teams in the league gutting their way to the divisional round, respectfully bowing out in a close game vs a 13-win team. On the other, you have arguably the best, scariest quarterback on the planet hamstrung by a paint-by-numbers offense and panicked, reactionary in-game coaching that lowers the ceiling of his greatness. The defense never really adjusted to address its own shortcomings either. 10 years ago I would be thrilled with a close loss in the second round of the playoffs. Now that I know what Super Bowl football looks like, however — I.e. aggressive 4th down play, attacking defense, and a willingness to turn exceptional offensive talent loose before you’re down multiple scores in the second half — it’s tough to justify tonight’s loss.

Every NFL city in the country would kill to have someone like Russell Wilson manning the most important position in sports. We will never cheer for a better QB in Seattle than him. It is my fervent belief that every season that isn’t 100% invested in letting him determine the outcome of games is a waste of the most precious asset in all of competition.

If you told me before the season that the Seahawks would make the Divisional Round and lose, I’d probably call it successful. After watching the season we saw from maybe the most talented, polished QB on the planet, I would honestly call it a disappointment. There is no excuse for forfeiting drives without putting the ball in his hands. There is no excuse for repeatedly kicking or punting on 4th & short in opponents’ territory, or for not being prepared a play in advance to take advantage of defenses scrambling to sub in new personnel.

Super Bowls don’t happen by accident and the 2019 Seahawks left way too much to chance in one of Russell Wilson’s prime seasons. At some point in our future, we will be banking on a much worse QB to win games. The goal, now that we know what we know, is to get everything possible out of the arc of the bell curve of the best player in franchise history and frankly, this year’s team kinda sucked at it.

I know a lot of y’all will be mad about this and wish that I appreciated an 11-win season with a playoff victory more than that. And I get it. I really do. But I also can’t help but look at what Russ did once they turned him loose tonight, much like he did in Dallas last year once the game was out of reach, and not say that they wasted another year of him.

It was an objectively good season. The Seahawks, as a 44-year-old franchise, have had very few years as good as this one. But almost every season that has been this good has come with Wilson at the helm and tonight’s outcome was a disservice to his abilities.

Overall, and despite my in-the-moment frustration, this was a successful year. No one expected 11 wins and a playoff run from this roster and Seattle should have $70+ million in cap space next year. They played some really fun, really cool games this year and almost won the division. Besides, all their best players are are under contract next seasons and beyond, with the exception of Clowney, and they’ve got plenty of money for him. This was also one of the most injured teams in the NFL so, assuming some regression to the mean in that regard, they should look pretty formidable in 2020. The trajectory is still a positive one with this team, here’s hoping they reach they peak of it.

It was a great ride. Perhaps it ended too quickly, perhaps my expectations are too large. Either way, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it with y’all and I can’t wait to connect with you next year. In the meantime... onward, upward, and go muhfuggin’ ‘Hawks.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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