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Cigar Thoughts, Game 3: The Redemption of DeKaylin Metcalf

The Seattle Seahawks continued their insane run of wild, high-scoring nail-biting wins to open the season, beating the Dallas Cowboys 38-31 and moving to 3-0 in the process.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I love game day. Especially when the Seahawks play in the afternoon. The whole feeling of waking up, going through the morning routine, and then settling in for three hours of RedZone while my anxiety slowly and insidiously builds in my intestines is an experience unique to NFL fandom. This game in particular, as I had the Dallas Cowboys pegged as one of the shortlist contenders for the NFC crown this season. Most of the scuttlebutt regarding this one centered around the assumption that there would be a metric shit-ton of offense and I, for one, was all for it. So much so that I predicted 70 points and 900 yards; I was ready, baby. And boy, did this one deliver*...

*69 points, 935 yards

Both the Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks came into this one having scored, gained, and allowed just a staggering amount of points and yards, and with injuries mounting on both sides, there was no reason to think that wouldn’t continue. And continue it did. Mercy.

The Seahawks tried their best to govern the impending score-fest by going three-and-out to open the game, punting it back to Dallas a couple minutes in. The Cowboys’ opening drive, by contrast, was annoying as hell, as they converted three straight third downs en route to a 13-play possession that ate up half the first quarter. It was more of what we’ve all been forced to get used to, which is to say a long series of mid-range completions against a pass rush that consistently got thisclose to the quarterback but never quite quick enough. Dak Prescott sampled from the entirety of his scrumptious menu on the opening possession, dropping passes into Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and Dalton Schultz. It looked like there would be no end to it, until Prescott’s third down laser over the middle towards Schultz was broken up impressively by Ugo Amadi, who started this game in place of the injured Marquise Blair. The Cowboys settled for a field goal to make it 3-0, and the scoring was off and running.

It took Russell Wilson almost no time at all to add to his MVP candidacy. After a a few plays gained a few yards, Wilson dropped back and, with enough protection to let his receivers create mayhem underneath, fired the ball deep down the seam. While half the other guys crissed and the rest crossed, Tyler Lockett sprinted past a biting safety and coasted beneath the perfectly thrown pass for a walk-in 43-yard TD. Just like that it was 7-3 and the brakes on this car were officially cut.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tony Pollard fumbled the ball and had to pounce on it at his own 1. On the next play, much like the final one against New England, Seattle accurately diagnosed the call pre-snap and slanted the whole defense to the right as Prescott handed it off to Ezekiel Elliott. It’s hard to pinpoint who officially made the tackle (box score credits practice-squad call-up Ryan Neal — more on him later) but it was the entire front line that collapsed the Dallas OL and cut Zeke down in his own endzone for the safety. 9-3.

Dallas, undeterred, went right back down the field, covering 66 yards on 8 plays and capping it with a short Elliott plunge to tie the game. It should have given them the lead but Greg Zeurlein boinked his extra point off the upright to keep it at 9-9. This would matter.

The next drive ended when Wilson, always insatiable for more, dialed long distance again and found DK Metcalf sprinting away from the defense. The pass floated perfectly, as they always seem to, into Metcalf’s hands five yards behind the closest defender. DK, who had perhaps grown used to creating an unreal amount of separation, or maybe had a complete brain-melt, or maybe just maybe got caught up in his own ever-growing hype. Either way, he slowed up to saunter into the endzone and the beaten defender closed the gap to punch the ball out Don Beebe-style at the 1. The ball caromed out of the endzone and the Seahawks, instead of going up 16-9, gave the ball back to the Cowboys after the touchback.

Now anyone who has spent even three seconds in my presence in the last two years knows that DK Metcalf is my favorite person on the planet*, and my phone nearly disintegrated from all the texts I got right after that play. Even I have to admit that was nothing other than a complete bonehead moment from one of the most promising young players in the NFL, but what we do beyond that is something of a Rorshach test for us as fans.

*sorry mom, sorry Paulina

A lot of us saw that and thought some variation of “what a diva/idiot/showboat” or “that’s gonna cost us the game” and look, I get it. For me, and this can be verified by any of the guys who reached out in the aftermath of that mistake, it was but a single raisin in the otherwise delicious gourmet salad of his career to-date. Even with that play, and even disregarding what he’d do later, the DK Metcalf experience has been a 98% net positive and I guess it just doesn't make sense to me to hyper-focus on the on the outlying negative, especially when it’s awash in a sea of superlative performance.

But that’s enough soapboxing from me*, there was still most of the game to be played and, at this point, the Seahawks were still up by 6.

*for now

That Madden glitch seemed to stunt the flow of the game for a little bit, as the teams traded three straight three-and-outs after that baffling turn of events. The brief dalliance with monotony was finally interrupted by a gorgeous 11-play touchdown drive, courtesy of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. It started with a short check down to Lockett and was followed by an 11-yard Chris Carson scamper. After an incompletion, Wilson went right back to Metcalf for 10 on a stick route, then threw a couple more errant passes forcing 3rd & 10. On this snap, Wilson took a coverage sack, but only because Lockett was held on a double-move and the resulting penalty gave the ‘Hawks drive new life. A few plays later, Wilson’s pass down the left seam was picked off but again, only because Lockett was held. That flag set up a slip route to Lockett in the back left quadrant of the endzone to give Seattle a 7-point lead.

Dallas responded the way you knew they would, with Prescott hitting Cooper on consecutive passes for a combined 35 yards down to Seattle’s 40. On the next play, some guy named Cedrick Wilson (?) found himself lined up against KJ Wright in the slot on the left. Now Wright plays football like a giant tree. His branches are long, making him one of the league’s surest tacklers but he covers receivers like his feet are rooted five feet deep in the ground. Wilson blew right by him and Prescott hit him in stride over the middle of the field for a darting 40-yard score to almost tie the game again. However, like last time, the extra point was no good— this time because Tre Flowers crashed off the left end and deflected the kick. 16-15.

Seattle would need seven plays to drive down to Dallas’ 47 before facing a 4th & 4. To my delight, they kept the offense on the field but to my disdain, they tried the lame let-the-clock-drain-down-while-trying-to-draw-the-defense-offsides bullshit. The D knew exactly what was up, happy to let the Seahawks take the delay of game and punt it back to them.

Two plays later, however, the Seattle defense vindicated their coach when Shaquill Griffin jumped a route for his first interception of the season. After a quick-hitter to Metcalf, a couple short gains, and another contact penalty against the Dallas secondary, Wilson slipped a shorty in to Lockett for their third scoring hookup of the first half with just four seconds left, sending the teams to the locker room with the hosts up 8. Just a marvelous continuation of the connection those two have forged.

Dallas got the ball to start the second half, but only officially. On their first play from scrimmage, Jarran Reed bullied his man to the inside and hit Prescott’s throwing arm in the pocket. The ball flopped into the air from whence it ws plucked by Benson Mayowa. Two plays later, Wilson was slinging the ball in to Jacob Hollister for his fourth TD of the day on the play-action option they ran a billion times last year. 30-15.

After the two teams swapped punts, the “fun” started. On first down, Dak dropped back and went deep to Cooper for 52 yards over the top of Griffin. Two snaps later, it was Wilson smoking Griffin on a mid-range crossing route for the final 43 to make it 30-22. Now, it looked like perhaps Griffin thought he was going to get some help so maybe some grace can be extended his way in that regard, but even after realizing he was on his own he took a bad angle as the pass reached its target and it kept him from cutting Wilson off after the catch. This defense might not be #good but they are definitely #exciting!

The Seahawks would punt again, as their offensive momentum, as far as that matters, began to wane. The Cowboys’ response was to, you guessed it, keep throwing. This drive would take 9 plays to go 89 yards and was much more methodical than the last one. The longest play was the first one— a 20-yard completion to uber-rookie Lamb. After that, it was just chunks of flesh being carved off of Seattle’s bones three-to-ten yards at a time. The meandering possession finally ended when Prescott kept a shotgun snap from three yards out to cut the lead to 30-28. That brought up an enormous two-point conversion attempt necessitated by the two missed extra points earlier. Prescott’s pass to tie it up sailed incomplete and the Seahawks found themselves clinging to a 30-28 lead like that one lady did to the driftwood at the end of that movie about a boat sinking.

Seattle still had a chance to extend their lead but their next drive ended when a well-covered jump ball to Metcalf got batted away on 3rd & 4, giving Dallas a chance to close the gap once again. I’ll admit I did not learn my lesson from last week, as I was still feeling pretty good about things at this point. Maybe I’ll never learn. Firmly entrenched in the 4th quarter, the Cowboys went to work the with the same late-game blood-letting that we as Seahawks fans have been subjected to for the better part of the last decade.

10 plays, 70 yards, and six minutes. I’m weirdly calm during these moments— call it faith in this team or pure pathology— but even I was squirming at this point. Especially after Prescott accidentally threw the ball straight into Flowers’ chest, only to watch Tre bobble it up into the waiting arms of Gallup for an improbable first down. It wasn’t until a good 10 seconds after Dak’s third down heave into the endzone fell incomplete, as I breathlessly awaited the FLAG icon popping up on the screen, that I finally exhaled. Even so, Zeurlein partially redeemed himself by banging the 42-yard field goal through the uprights to give Dallas a 31-30 lead with just four minutes left.

I keep mentioning how I spent all offseason crowing about how this would be a special season for the Seahawks, and now the stage was set to prove it. We saw it last week against a good team, but it’s something else entirely to do it two weeks in a row. The reason for the confidence? Russell Carrington Wilson.

With the game on the line and one possession to do something about it, the best player in the world led his team back onto the field. He started the drive with a shot to Greg Olsen for 21, then chased it with a 5-yard out to Lockett. On the next play, Carson would gain just two yards but that would spell the end of his game, as the Cowboys defender maliciously twisted his leg after the tackle, spraining Carson’s knee.

That brought up 3rd & 3 and Wilson, under duress, whipped a 4-yard fastball off Metcalf’s fingers bringing up 4th & the game. With everything on the line, Wilson dropped back again and, with the pass rush closing in, fired a beam across the middle to Olsen for a game-saving 11-yard play. A 7-yard Travis Homer run brought us to the two-minute warning with the Seahawks in field goal range. One of my biggest frustrations in the past has been that, in similar situations, this team would be content to play for the field goal, putting the outcome of the contest on the foot of a kicker. This year is, for many reasons but not the least of which this, different. Wilson was forced to throw the ball away on the next snap but all that did was set up a moment saturated in meaning and significance.

Make no mistake— if the Seahawks lost this game, all we’d hear about for the next week (at least) would be the Metcalf fumble. Instead, Wilson put the game back in the hands of his chastened WR, lobbing his next pass deep towards the endzone. We have become almost numbed to the inevitability of a pinpoint Russell Wilson deep ball but this was not one of those. His ball hung precariously in the air, his trademark spiral replaced by a wobbly spirograph as it fought its way through the air. On the other side, DK had created the remarkable separation he has become known for, creating a gap just barely within the margin of error created by Wilson’s pass. With an undefeated start, and a not-meaningless chunk of his legacy, hanging in the balance, Metcalf went up and got it, securing the ball in both hands and tumbling into the endzone for the go-ahead TD. Sports elicit a lot of different emotions but the most satisfying of those is redemption, and maybe no play in recent memory exemplified that feeling more than DK’s game-winning touchdown.

Every season offers a handful of moments that are an order of magnitude happier than the rest and for me, this was #1. The Seahawks sideline exploded as the team retook the lead at 36-31. It was such an exonerating development for a player on the brink of superstardom, and you could feel it in the reaction of all his teammates. As the exuberance settled, Seattle still needed the two-point conversion in order to fully let go of the air that had been trapped in their collective lungs for the last hour+.

The first attempt at itfell incomplete, but a roughing-the-passer penalty against the same goon that twisted Carson up gave them a second chance. This time, Seattle delivered when Wilson hit Hollister on that identical slip play as before. 38-31 with 1:47 to go.

Once again it came down to the Seahawks defense needing a stop against an offense that had been dicing them up all game and once again, they let their opponent matriculate. A 10-yard dump to Elliott was followed by the exact same thing for 6 more. Then it was Schultz for 2, Cooper for 4, and Schultz again for 8. 1st & 10 on Seattle’s 39 with 43 seconds left.

After a timeout, Prescott found Wilson for 14 then left a pass to him short. 2nd & 10, 26 seconds left. Now the stat sheet won’t show it but Dak was under an undue amount of pressure on nearly every snap of this possession, and the main driver of that was none other than Shaquem Griffin, who was released last week only to make it through waivers and back to Seattle’s practice squad. A late call-up in the wake of injuries, Griffin single-handedly created consistent harassment of Prescott, and the next play was no different. Beating his man to the outside, Griffin forced Prescott to step into a collapsing pocket where he was wrestled to the ground by another PS call-up Alton Robinson. It was the first sack of Robinson’s career and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time*.

*It’s a funny thing about stats— they only show you what happened, not when; and when matters just as much as what.

The Cowboys used a timeout to reset, down to their final opportunity. It was the second consecutive week in which an overmatched defense would after to answer the call in defense of a lucrative offense and it was the second consecutive week in which they delivered. Their exhausted pass rush would find one more push, with Mayowa breaking free to wrap up Prescott for what appeared to be a backbreaking sack. Dak, however, wasn’t about to let the dream die— at least not for another five seconds. He inexplicably twirled out of the defender’s grasp and steadied himself for one final chuck to the endzone.

As the ball cut through the Seattle air, everyone even remotely invested in this game held their breath. As the endzone came into view, the camera revealed a gaggle of players on both teams ready to leap for glory. As the cluster of all-world athletes jumped into the air, one pair of hands got there first— those belonging to yet another practice squader: Ryan Neal. Neal, making his NFL debut, caught the ball for a game-sealing interception, sending him and his new teammates to 3-0 in the latest exhilarating chapter of a uniquely promising season.

SMOKE RINGS

~What we’re seeing is the greatest start to a season by a quarterback in NFL history. Russell Wilson’s 14 touchdowns are the most in league history through three games and the rest of his numbers are just as absurd. After going 27/40, 315, 5/0 in this one, Wilson has now:

Completed 79 of 103 passes (77.2%) for 925 yards (9.1 Y?A) and 14 TDs against just 1 interception for a ridiculous passer rating of 139.0.

It was the type of game that 95% of QBs in history would hang their hat on as the best performance of their lives and yet it somehow lowered Wilson’s passer rating on the year. That’s how good he’s been. They’re the type of numbers that make you up the difficulty level on the CPU of the video game you’re playing, because it’s not supposed to be that easy. The MVP talk may have sounded merely hopeful when the season began but Wilson’s performance to date has been equal to or greater than that of any QB in history to start a season.

In addition to his box score dominance, Wilson also created a ton of hidden yards by extending plays today, as his wiggling wide receivers ended up getting held a bunch on plays while Russ danced away from trouble. The Dallas secondary was flagged an enormous 5 times for just a bonkers amount of free yards, almost all of which can be credited at least indirectly to Wilson’s refusal to let a broken play die. To have that level of imaginative production on top of his in-pocket chops makes Russell Wilson a nigh-impossible player to defend. Can’t imagine how infuriating it must be to root against him. Glad I never have to.

~As per the yoozh, Wilson’s receivers were top notch again today. Tyler Lockett continued his career-long stretch of almost unimaginable efficiency, catching 9 of his 13 targets for 100 yards and 3 TDs. He has now been targeted 29 times on the year, translating those opportunities into 24 catches (82.8%) for 259 yards (10.6 YPC) and and 4 TDs. Wilson’s passer rating when throwing to Lockett is a sterling 143.4. He is a true WR1 in this league, and nobody is getting more productivity per pound than this dude.

As I mentioned earlier, how we feel about DK Metcalf after that stupid play at the 1 is an interesting case study for our individual fandom. Is he the type of guy who will be so chastened by such a high-profile mistake that it never happens again, or is this the beginning of the type of diva behavior that has plagued so many emerging superstar WRs over the years? Again, for me, all it is right now is one data point and, unless this type of stuff happens more frequently, it is simply a passing car that has driven long down the road. Now, that won’t keep the radio honks from honking about it all week and if that’s your thing, god bless. It just won’t be mine.

Despite THE PLAY, this is still a guy that turned in 4 catches for a team-leading 110 yards and the game-winning TD. Through three games, DK Metcalf now has 12 catches for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns. And if your initial response to that is some variation of “yeah but it could’ve been 4 TDs”, I invite you to go look in the mirror for 30 seconds and ask yourself if this is really who you want to be in this life.

He is on pace for the greatest season in Seahawks receiver history and there is a significant non-zero chance that today’s gaffe accelerates his ascension even more.

~The running game was mostly an afterthought today, as Seattle wisely chose to continue leaning into their pass-first approach. The Seahawks called 49 pass plays against just 20 rushes, and the emphasis on the pass allowed Carson, Carlos Hyde, and Travis Homer to turn those 20 opportunities into 95 yards. It’s all they needed, to be honest, and I’m totally okay with it.

Now it’s sounding like Carson avoided major injury, thank god, and he led the way with 14 carries for 64 yards while adding 12 on 3 catches. Hyde got 4 carries for 12 yards and 1 catch for 11 while Homer received just 2 carries and spun them into 19 useful yards. As much as Pete Carroll and the Seahawks ethos wants to establish the run, they are being very shrewd and opportunistic by not falling into the same predictable pattern that has haunted their offense for the past few years.

~Okay okay, I’ll finally admit it— this defense sucks. They sucked less before Jamal Adams got tragically groined, because at least then they could blitz relentlessly. After he went out midway through, however, Dak Prescott was mostly able to sit back and pick them apart. Until the last drive, at least, when sparkplug Shaquem Griffin came off the bench to raise hell. He’s so good when you just give him the single-minded goal of pissing the opposing QB off, and his aggravation created the mayhem necessary for Seattle to seal the deal on Dallas’ final two plays.

The biggest plays made by the defense today came, for the most part, from their least-heralded parts. Alton Robinson came out of nowhere for the biggest sack of the season and Ryan Neal did the same for the year’s most important turnover. Additionally, Ugo Amadi played fantastically, breaking up a number of plays and making two huge open field tackles. It was all just marginally enough to overcome the third straight week of getting absolutely shredded, as the Seahawks are allowing over 400 passing yards per game. Comical.

Games where the opponent throws it all the time tend to lessen the obvious impact of Bobby Wagner, but make no mistake, he was big-time today. His 9 tackles and exemplary pre-snap reads are the main reason that Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the NFL’s best and most complete running back, had just 34 yards on 14 carries. He also took the mantle of lead blitzer after the Adams injury.

I was extremely excited to see how first round pick Jordyn Brooks would do today, which makes it even more of a bummer that he sprained his knee early on. I think he has the makings of a remarkable linebacker in this league so I hope his recovery is a quick one. In his stead, KJ Wright amassed an impressive 10 tackles but his stagnation in coverage remains a major liability for this team.

I think that by the time this season is over, I will have spent more words talking about Shaquill Griffin than any other player. It’s tough, because Seattle has started off their season against three very good QBs who all have very good WRs and all have been put in extremely pass-forward game scripts. That leads to an awful lot of targeted coverage snaps against guys like Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. It’s been a gauntlet for Griffin and while he has made a number of really nice plays, he’s also shown that he can be beaten. As of right now, opposing QBs are absolutely not scared of him and the complete and utter lack of a consistent pass rush is doing neither him nor the equally struggling Tre Flowers any favors. Gonna be something to watch.

Listen, when it comes right down to it, the Seahawks are now 3-0 and the odds-on favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. NFL wins are hard, full stop. Getting one is to be appreciated and celebrated regardless of the road taken to get there and the Seahawks have done exactly that on all three occasions this season. Is this team perfect? No. Hell no, man. Not at all. Are they good enough, though? Yeah, probably.

We’d all love to see our boys go out there and play perfectly and perhaps we were spoiled by how frequently we saw that from them during that gilded run between 2012-2014. But the NFL is a fast-learning, quickly-adapting organism and staying on top is ruthlessly difficult. Even so, the Seahawks find themselves atop the heap on this, the 27th day of September in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty. It’s exactly where we hoped they would be, and the road to greatness is laid out scenically before them.

Onward, upward, and go muhfuggin’ ‘Hawks.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

———

I knew this game was gonna be spectacular so I reached up to the highest of my shelves. What I pulled down was the 1964 Private Reserve from Padron, an elite cigar by any estimation. It is unflinchingly smooth and absolutely packed with flavor. It’s on my short list for “you can only smoke one cigar for one minute” list and, paired with Dalmore’s Cigar Malt scotch, it’s a nearly unbeatable combo.

For the second straight year, I am STOKED about our partnership with Seattle Cigar Concierge. They have the plug on some of the most insane stogies on the market and they’re has offering 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 2020 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.