You’ll never catch me complaining about cheering for a 5-1 team. Full stop. THAT BEING SAID, to say that this Seahawks team has played as well as its record would be a stretch. A defense on pace to set almost every record for points and yards allowed has put what might be the best offense in franchise history in a position where it’s had to play almost perfectly to in order to eke out wins against juggernauts like the Falcons, Cowboys, Patriots, Dolphins, and Vikings. They’ve made it so even the greatest receiving performance in team history (Tyler Lockett’s ridiculous 15-200-3 line) isn’t enough to beat the Cardinals, and so that even in his best season ever, MVP favorite Russell Wilson has virtually no margin for error.
Thinking about things that way, however accurate and tempting as it may be, is still doing this team a disservice. NFL wins are hard, no matter who the opponent, and regardless of how you get them, they all count the same when they divvy out playoff seeds. Because even though spirits were down after last week’s heartbreaker, this is still a team that is scoring almost at will, relentlessly aiming for the head on offense and capitalizing on clutch defensive stops. They’ve performed almost perfectly in high-leverage situations and are absolutely never out of the game, no matter the flow.
All of that meant that this game, against a bitter rival, would be something of a litmus test for this team. The records say that the Seahawks are a short-list Super Bowl contender but they’d yet to hang their hat on a win against a good team.
Enter the 4-3 San Francisco 49ers. Beat up though they may be, so are the ‘Hawks, and the outcome of this particular game would have an outsized effect on the race for the NFL’s most competitive division. The contest got off to a sluggish start, but after the first few nowhere drives, the only slugging came from the Wilson-led Seahawks offense and their suddenly dynamic defense.
The fun started when Tre Flowers forced a fumble that was initially ruled a recovery by Seattle, only to be overturned when replay showed that Ryan Neal’s knee was out of bounds when he touched the loose ball. No matter, 49ers defector DJ Reed jumped an in route on the very next play for an interception in his first quarter as a Seahawk. An inconsequential number of plays later, Wilson hit DK Metcalf on an innocent-looking crossing pattern. For most receivers in the NFL, that reception would’ve been a useful chain-moving catch. For Metcalf, the banner-carrier for the evolution of human ability, it was merely a table-setting for greatness.
DK caught the pass in stride, took one step upfield, then planted his foot so hard the broadcast glitched. As the entire defense stuttered on the turf’s reverberations, Metcalf darted to the outside, curled up the sideline, and outran the plebeian masses into the endzone for the game’s opening score. The only downside to such a remarkable event was Jason Myers missing his first kick of the season, but it wouldn't end up mattering.
Now, because it’s a Seahawks game, a successful possession was followed up by a 14-play, 75-yard TD drive by their opponent but even as I watched it happen, even with the Niners taking a 7-6 lead, it just didn’t seem like it was gonna matter much. And it didn’t! Cuz of DK! And Russ!
It wasn’t much later that Wilson and his bionic best friend moved the ball all the way down to San Fran’s 2. On 2nd & goal, Wilson took the snap, backpedaled, and laughed as he lobbed it into double coverage. As the ball floated into the endzone, two defenders clambered all over DK like 5-year-olds trying to wrestle their dad in the pool. Honestly, the flags flying for defensive pass interference were probably a bigger distraction to Metcalf than the hapless defensive backs, and he calmly corralled the pass into his massive chest for his second TD to make it 13-7.
That was the score as the teams went to the break, and it would be the closest the 49ers would get the rest of the day. At halftime, the Seahawks rolled up a handful of snow and tossed it down a powdered embankment. Seattle forced a three-and-out on the third quarter’s opening possession and switched gears, leaning on tantalizing rookie DeeJay Dallas in lieu of injured stalwarts Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde. It started with a 9-yard Dallas run and was followed a couple plays later with 4- and 3-yard dump-offs to the same. After a quick-hitter to Metcalf, Dallas got them to the three then caught a swing pass for a walk-in touchdown in his first NFL start. 20-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, the snowball became a rolling, ice-packed boulder. The 49ers fumbled the return, with Damontre Moore* and Cody Barton converging to jar the ball loose, where it was recovered by the latter to put Seattle in go position. That’s when the boulder became a full-fledged avalanche, as Wilson would hit Metcalf on a slant and then find David Moore over the middle for his fourth touchdown pass of the game, giving him an outrageous 26 on the year. 27-7, and the rest is just footnotes.
*how crazy is it that Seattle has D-linemen on kickoff coverage?
At some point in all of this, Jimmy Garoppolo turned his ankle and George Kittle did the same. Nick Mullen would come in and get a couple of garbage TDs to make the score closer than the game flow indicated, but the Seahawks refused to relent. Dallas would add a rushing TD, and the Seahawks got blitz-happy for better or worse* until the game clock expired.
When the mountainside finished crumbling, and while the rescue crew dug for survivors, the Seahawks sat comfortably in the ski lodge, sipping hot cocoa and celebrating a 37-27 win. It was the rare dominating Seattle victory in a half-decade stretch full of cuticle-threatening nail-biters.
For arguably the first time all season, Seattle leveraged their lead and ran downhill the rest of the way. They played like favorites, stacking their mountain of chips and leaning on the short stack from Northern California. At no point did the Niners appear to be even a credible threat and, to Seattle’s credit, they kept the foot on the gas on both sides of the ball as they iced this one away.
~Russell Wilson responded to last week’s wildly variant performance with a calm, decisive re-establishment of his dominance. Normally, when Russ packs the stat sheet, it’s on the back of a handful of backyard wizardry plays, scooting around like the fastest kid at recess until an opportunity presents itself downfield. In this one, he stayed on schedule the whole time, confidently planting his back foot at the top of his drop-backs and delivering throws that spiraled with the efficiency of a sniper’s bullet.
He hit his receivers in stride and on schedule, completing 27 of 37 passes for 261 yards, 4 TDs, and no turnovers. And while DeeJay Dallas did about as well as anyone has against the Niners’ league-best run defense, it still wasn’t the type of performance that you’d instinctively assume would set up an all-time play-action performance. And yet there Russ was, going 13/13 for 101 yards and 2 TDs on play-action, adding further weight to the statistically-backed argument that effective rushing isn’t necessary for effective PA passing.
When you have a great QB, even the half-second delay caused by a fake handoff opens a world of possibilities, and Wilson sampled the menu like a crasher at a wedding buffet. Again— and I can’t state this strongly enough— Wilson was absolutely perfect after feinting run, furthering what we’ve all known for years about his game. Whatever you can do as an offense to create even a modicum of chaos for the defense has monumental impact on the already incredible skillset that this all-world QB has. Russ put his stamp back on the MVP envelope today; he was the main reason for Seattle’s disemboweling of the 49ers defense and is the A-#1 cause of Seattle’s position atop the NFC eight weeks into the season.
~Still, no matter how good your quarterback is, you still need playmakers on the receiving end and today, that playmaker was DK Metcalf. The thing about Metcalf is, as you all know, his ability to translate incredible per-opportunity production on a limited target basis. We’re all aware that DK registers among the league leaders in yards and touchdowns, but he came into this game relatively buried on the league’s target leaderboard.
For the last two years, I’ve been salivating over what a funnel game for Metcalf would look like— one where Wilson says “fuck you” to a defense and just relentlessly feeds one of the best athletes the NFL has ever seen. Well, today we finally got to witness what that means. Wilson targeted Metcalf a career-high 15 times, and DK turned that into also-career-highs in catches (12), yards (161), and TDs (2).
DK Metcalf’s 3-cone drill is gonna go down as one of the five greatest things ever to happen to the Seahawks.
~Last week was Tyler Lockett’s game, as he put up the aforementioned historic line against the Cardinals. He was much quieter in this one, registering 4 catches for just 33 yards on 5 targets. I don't get the feeling that this subpar production is the result of a subpar performance, it’s just that sometimes defenses set up to allow more opportunity for one receiver than another, and when one guy hauls in almost 2⁄3 of the passing yards, there’s just not that much left to go around. In fact, there were only 100 non-DK yards available today, and they were distributed pretty evenly between the other eligible receivers.
~With Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde being game-time scratches, the question hung in the air which Miami Hurricane would carry the load. Travis Homer had a one-year head start, and has been decent with the opportunities given, considering his draft capital and place on the depth chart. Still, DeeJay Dallas was very productive in college and what he’s shown in practice was obviously enough to earn the coaching staff’s trust to handle a full workload in this all-important divisional showdown.
Homer got all of one carry and nary a target, with the rest of the business being deposited in Dallas’ account. To be honest, it was nothing special, as he converted 18 carries and 5 catches into just 58 total yards, but his two touchdowns were enough to help push this team over the top. I really don’t think that there are very many running backs in the NFL who #matter but Chris Carson might be one of them. With him gone, today’s effort from Dallas is about as good as you can hope for, a couple of missed assignments aside. Ultimately, it’s 2020 and the Seahawks have the best quarterback in the world. What they do in the passing game is just tremendously more relevant than who is taking the handoffs.
~I thought the O-line was excellent today. They gave up a couple of sacks but honestly, that’s just gonna happen in a league where defensive lineman continue to evolve at a rate a full standard of deviation ahead of the guys trying to block them. For the most part, Wilson had plenty of time to throw— so much so that the paltry 3.6 yards per carry didn’t end up mattering. Duane Brown just refuses to slow down, and what he’s done to anchor this line should not be lost in any conversation surrounding Russell Wilson’s MVP campaign.
~The Seahawks defense has been softer that ice cream left on the counter for an hour in summertime. The result has been an incredibly forgiving ledger against every offense they’ve faced, allowing long drive after long drive to buoy hopes against their juggernaut offense. It has been the product of a scheme content to rush four guys without a single scary prospect on the D-line, letting linebackers drift back and then rally in hopes of containing short completions.
That’s why today was so refreshing. Seeing the Seahawks dial up the myriad of blitzes that Seattle’s offense has had to face all season. They rushed from all angles, using linebackers, corners, and safeties to harass the SF QBs. Bobby Wagner was especially indignant when asked about the defense’s YTD performance this week and his play today showed the degree to which he has had enough of the bullshit.
Wagner turned in one of the best performances we’ve seen from him, which is really saying something, given his Hall of Fame track. He recorded a game-high 11 tackles, 3 of which were for a loss, with 2 sacks. He played like John Wick, using every tool at his disposal to MacGuyver his way through every blocking scheme designed to eliminate him. Beyond that, he was incredibly vocal, the lack of fans highlighting his constant communication, admonishment, and encouragement throughout the game. Just another notch on a belt that’s rapidly running out of space for notches.
~The secondary, missing Jamal Adams and Shaquill Griffin, played its best game of the year anyway. Quandre Diggs was absolutely everywhere, breaking up passes and eliminating runs with heat-seeking efficiency. Tre Flowers was as sticky as tree sap in coverage and DJ Reed made his presence felt against his former team. This defense is without a lot of its key contributors right now, but they played excellently today.
~The Seahawks have been unusually disciplined with regards to penalties this year, and they continued that with just 30 flagged yards against them today. Half of those were on a BS roughing the passer call that, you guessed it, allowed a drive to continue that ended up in a SF TD. It didn’t hurt them in the end, but frustrating nonetheless. The overarching theme, however, is a not-debilitating level of penalties. A nice change of pace, honestly.
~The Seahawks were 9 of 15 on third down. Hell yeah.
The Seattle Seahawks are 6-1 and you’re either lying to yourself or defending an unreasonable prior conviction if you’re in any way disappointed with that. Teams that go 6-1 have a disproportionately good chance at a deep playoff run and in the first ever year where only one team from each conference gets a first round bye, Seattle’s free-and-clear position atop the NFC is blessed.
This season has gone as well as any reasonable expectation could hope for, and their destiny rests firmly in their own hands. There’s really not much more you could hope for as you enter the halfway point of the season. This is a good team; maybe a great team. There are a lot of plot twists ahead, and every team will suffer trajectory-altering injuries between now and the playoffs, so positioning is ultra important. And if that’s the case (it is), then you can’t ask for a much better spot for our boys to be in.
Onward, and ever upward, my friends— this team has a shot at greatness.
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Great rivalries deserve great cigars, and I was thrilled to unwrap an Ashton Classic Churchill for this one. The Seahawks and 49ers have always played very straightforward football games, at least in the Pete Carroll / Russell Wilson era, and this cigar matched the feel. It’s hard to highlight a specific attribute from this stogie but in no way should that be interpreted as a slight. This cigar simply does everything well, covering the palate and making for a considerate placate for the clean, even taste that Makers 46 offers.
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The 2020 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.