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Cigar Thoughts, Game 16: Seahawks tease 49ers for three quarters, explode to beat them in the 4th

The Seattle Seahawks sucked their own elbows for three quarters before exploding in the 4th en route to a 26-23 win over the San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Last season we were treated to absolute classics in both of the matchups between the Seahawks and the 49ers, with Seattle stealing an overtime thriller and San Francisco returning the favor by 6” in the season finale. It injected some much-needed vigor back into what was once the NFL’s best rivalry, and seemed to set the stage for a vicious battle for the NFC West crown this year. A Super Bowl collapse and a trillion injuries later, the Niners have regressed back to a losing record while the ‘Hawks rallied to reclaim the division. That being said, we all knew that wouldn’t matter much in this game.

At home and close to full health, Seattle showed up to the table with a lot more chips than San Fran, but they played them tentatively and the Niners were able to keep things close in a game that, on paper, had no business being this tight. After clinching the NFC West last week, the Seahawks were locked into a top-3 seed, but they still had a chance to move up with a win and a little help. Not that they played like it.

Seattle got the ball to start and quickly picked up a first down on two short completions to Tyler Lockett. But after Chris Carson got dropped for a loss, Wilson didn’t see DK Metcalf on a 2nd down throwaway and and then visually missed Lockett over the middle before trying to force one into a well-covered Jacob Hollister. It was the beginning of the latest in a series of uncomfortable performances from Wilson, where his aversion to even moderate-risk passes has put the clamps on the offense’s explosiveness.

Fortunately, the defense was up to the task early, totally obliterating everything the Niners tried to do on offense in the first quarter with a mix of tight coverage, penetration, and rallying to tackles like a swarm of gnats— but like, big gnats. Cool ones. With muscles. They snuffed out the Niners’ first drive with a huge stop on 3rd & 1, where Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks blew through their blockers like yellow lights when you’re late for work.

After that, it was a whole bunch of nothin’ from both offenses. Look, I’ll be honest with you— the whole first half was boring as hell, and we didn’t get any scoring in the opening quarter. The game’s first four possessions ended in punts, and the needle didn’t even move until Seattle’s third drive.

That opportunity ended in three points, but those came after 10 plays gained 51 yards with a couple more shorties to Lockett and a handful of decent runs from Carson. It could’ve been more, but Metcalf dropped a slant that was a touch behind him in the redzone. It was just one of many little paper cuts the Seahawks gave themselves today. Still, Jason Myers came in and blasted his 33rd consecutive field goal through the uprights to give the home team the lead.

Seattle would get another one on their next drive, this time using 12 plays to cover 58 yards, but it was what happened during the possession that was most noteworthy. In one of the coolest sequences of the season, Wilson hit Metcalf on a couple short passes. They only gained a total of 9 yards, but it was enough to pass Steve Largent for the most receiving yards in a single season in Seahawks history. And if that wasn’t enough, Wilson’s very next pass found Lockett again, breaking Bobby Engram’s franchise record for catches in a season. Just an awesome thing to witness for Seattle’s lovable odd couple. The ‘Hawks would get down to the 17 before stalling out and Myers calmly booted another one through to make it 6-0.

At this point, it was starting to feel a lot like the Giants game. A couple of long, promising drives that went unfinished, allowing a backup QB time to find his footing. And that’s exactly what happened, as the Niners added a field goal before the end of the second quarter when CJ Beathard finally found Richie James Jr for a 46-yard bomb to set up the score. Seattle had a chance to bury an inferior opponent early but neglected to pick up the shovel, and San Francisco would make them pay.

The first half ended 6-3, and the Niners got the ball to start the third quarter. They picked up right where they left off, using motion and empty sets to create confusion in the Seattle secondary, opening up gaps for ins and outs that kept moving the chains. Toss in an 18-yard gasher from Jeff Wilson Jr and just like that, the game was tied.

If there was any hope that the back-to-back scores would wake the Seahawks offense up, they were quickly dashed. Seattle’s answer was to go two yards on their next drive, and punt it back to the 49ers. San Fran used that opportunity to flex a little, continuing to mix up their play-calling effectively, converting a couple third downs and keeping the Seattle defense leaning back instead of forward. Then Beathard dropped back and launched a pass deep down the right hash. The throw was high, and looked for all the world like it would sail over George Kittle’s head.

That’s certainly what Quandre Diggs thought, as he took his eyes off SF’s all-world TE to leap for the seemingly errant pass. Just as he got ready to clasp this hands around the ball, Kittle snaked one hand up like 11’ in the air to snag the pass and pin it to his side as he hit the turf for a spectacular 41-yard gain. That should have led to a touchdown, but Beathard forced a 2nd down throw into double-coverage instead of hitting a wide-open Kittle in the back of the endzone. That was followed by a hilarious 3rd down sack when Beathard backpedalled out of the pocket and then just... continued backpedaling. That allowed Benson Mayowa to wrap him up and force San Fran’s third field goal in as many drives.

Surely this would jolt the Seahawks out of their slumber, yeah? No. Not even close. Instead, Seattle followed up their 3-play, 2-yard drive with a 3-play, 1-yard drive. This time, San Fransisco made them pay. Seattle’s defense looked completely exhausted and the 49ers took advantage, driving 73 yards on 11 plays before Wilson Jr ran it in unbothered from seven yards out. All of a sudden, this game was 16-6 and on the verge of getting out of control.

With just 14 minutes left, the margin for error was completely gone. You started to wonder, with Seattle now likely locked into the 3-seed, whether they’d even leave the starters in the rest of the way. I certainly would have understood if that’s what they did, but I really wanted to see the offense put some positivity on the field before that happened. And thank God— cuz that’s exactly what happened.

Up to this point, Seattle had just a paltry 109 yards of total offense— their worst performance of the year. Then Russell Wilson remembered just who the fuck he is. The drive started with Wilson checking down to Carson— something he hadn’t done all game— for 10 yards. That was followed by a quick out to Lockett for 9, helped along by a late-hit penalty. Then Carson jetted up the middle for 9 more, delivering 32 CCs of pain straight to the chest of some poor defender.

After that, it was Lockett for 5 followed by Will Dissly for the slowest 20 yard gain since the days of Zach Miller. That gave Seattle a 1st & goal from the 7, and a 1-yard Rashaad Penny plunge left them with 6 to go. After an incompletion, Wilson took a shotgun snap and effortlessly evaded pressure from his left. He scrambled right and, feinting like he would keep it, pulled up short of the line of scrimmage and unquivered an arrow. Drawing back his bow, he fired a shot inches past a defender’s outstretched hands and through the back of the endzone. Except! Tyler Lockett!

Seattle’s friendly little honor student dove horizontally behind the DB, snagging the pass with his tiny baby hands and cradling it to his football-sized body as he crashed to the ground. Touchdown, and just like that, the Seahawks had life. Oddly, Myers pulled the extra point left to keep it 16-12, but the Seahawks had a heartbeat. More importantly, Russell Wilson looked like Russell Wilson again.

After getting their first stop in five drives, the Seahawks got the ball back with a chance to take the lead. At this point, Russ was fully engaged, and he continued unleashing his pent-up greatness on his foes. Metcalf on a stick route for 12, Carson up the gut for 9, and then Carson for 5 more. Then Wilson looked for all the world like he’d take a momentous sack, but he struggled free and turned upfield for 11. Then it was Lockett on the left side for 9 more, Penny for 3, then Wilson on another keeper for 16. Carson picked up 9 on his next carry, and Alex Collins converted on the next snap. Boom, 1st & goal.

Collins would get 6 yards on 1st down, but Wilson forced a bailout throw to a well-covered Hollister to create 3rd down. Fortunately, Wilson remembered that DK Metcalf was on his team, and he used the next play to attempt a back-shoulder pass his way in the endzone. Sadly, one of the Niners’ linemen got a paw up to tip the pass and suddenly the Seahawks were facing a huge 4th & goal. On this all important play, Wilson received the hike and drifted to his right while most of his receivers rolled with him. While all of that was going on, Lockett, who was lined up to the right, darted underneath them and shot for the left sideline in the endzone.

Wilson planted his back foot, spun his head around, and launched a ball all the way back across the field. The pass had to travel nearly 40 yards despite being thrown from the 10, and he couldn’t have placed it any more perfectly. As the ball zoomed over the defender’s head, Lockett snagged it and tapped his feet for the go-ahead score. Incredible.

At that point, the mood had officially shifted, and it was the Niners who were suddenly desperate. Seattle seized on the opportunity, forcing a hurried incompletion before collapsing the pocket on the very next play. Mayowa crashed down from the right side, folding the right tackle like a beach chair and swatting at Beathard’s arm as he cocked back to throw. Mayowa’s hand hit Beathard’s and the ball popped loose, where it was pounced on by Rasheem Green for the game’s only turnover.

With just over two minutes left, the contest was all but over, yet somehow there was still time for two more touchdowns. Unable to simply kneel out the clock, the Seahawks turned the offense over to Collins, who ran like his NFL future depended on it. Displaying inspiring urgency and sensational wiggle, Collins used the next three carries to cover 12 yards and punch the ball across to put the game out of reach.

It was amazing, really; the Seahawks had just 6 points and 109 yards through three quarters, then exploded for 20 points and 171 yards in the 4th. The Niners would go on to notch a garbage-time score to make it 26-23, but Seattle had done it. They overcame an uninspired performance to get their 12th win— the first time they’d done that since 2014. It’s funny, for much of the year this didn’t feel like a 12-win team but it also doesn’t not feel like it, ya know?

One of the coolest parts of the game came after Seattle recovered the onside kick at the end. Someone must’ve gotten in Wilson’s ear about David Moore, who had been blanked to that point, needing just one catch to hit a $100,000 receptions incentive. Instead of kneeling it out, Wilson ran an easy pitch pass to Moore for 5 yards, getting his receiver paid and pissing off a bunch of 49ers fans in the process. Win-win. It’s stuff like that that unites a locker room, and you can go ahead and spare me the manufactured outrage about running a real play in that situation.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson absolutely balled out in the fourth quarter, which was awesome to see, but it only happened after playing pretty poorly for the first three. Ever since that stretch of turnovers he had in the middle of the season, he’s looked completely averse to any throw that has even a microscopic chance of getting picked off. I’m all for avoiding interceptions, obviously, but not at the cost of rhythm and gusto. In a blink of an eye, Wilson has gone from the best deep ball passer in the NFL to a total buffoon on any pass that travels 20+ yards in the air. In fact, he was 0-9 on passes that traveled just 10+ yards yards, which is downright dreadful. It really sucks to see, and they’re certainly not going to maximize their playoff run without him getting right.

That being said, what we saw at the end of the game was vintage Russ; and if he can tap back into the earth-scorching version of himself that gives nary a fuck, then this team— with this defense— can go all the way. That’s a big if, though. What’s encouraging was seeing Russ remind us (and maybe himself) that he can just turn it loose and go.

His two TDs to Lockett were such incredible, pinpoint passes— the type that leave no room for tightness, hesitation, or doubt. On those drives, he looked synchronized and free. He worked up through the pocket instead of doing the bail-and-turtle, evaded tackles with speed and fluidity, and threw his passes with conviction. He was, in short, scary again. And scary Russ can win a Super Bowl.

His line today was, again, uninspiring on its face: 20-36 for 181 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs for a rating of 87.9, but the bulk of that production came in the game’s final stanza. I can’t tell you how much it means to see him go off like that down the stretch, and it was a reminder of the explosive abilities that he’s kept hidden for too long.

This year really was a tale of two seasons, and the recency of his struggles makes it a little tough to be overly opportunistic, but it also hasn’t been that long since he was burning the entire league to the ground. When you put it all together, you still have one of the best seasons in Wilson’s career. On the year, Russell set career highs in completion %, TDs, and total yards while coming just 24 feet short of a career high in passing yards.

His final season line is sterling, completing 68.8% of his throws (6th in the NFL) for 4,212 yards (9th), 40 TDs (2nd), and 13 INTs (3rd most) for a passer rating of 105.1 (7th) and added 503 yards (4th) and 2 scores on the ground. That is, objectively, a monster season and offered a glimpse into the actual potential we’ve long wondered about.

~At the beginning of last season, DK Metcalf showed up to his first NFL game wearing a Steve Largent jersey. Not two years later, he was breaking Largent’s franchise record for single-season receiving yards. He didn’t do much in this one (3 catches for 21 yards on 9 targets) but he didn’t need to in order to take the crown from the most decorated Seahawk of all time.

DeKaylin Metcalf finished his second NFL season with 83 catches for 1303 yards and 10 TDs. Only 6 players had more receiving yards than DK this year, and only 7 had more touchdowns. It’s a monstrous level of production from a guy who has quickly shown that he has the highest ceiling of any Seattle skill player in history; and he just turned 23. I never thought I’d love any Seahawk again the way that I loved Earl, Kam, and Marshawn, but this kid showed up out of nowhere and completely stole my heart. He is perfect*, and he is ours.

*no, hey— shut up. yes he is.

~Metcalf wasn’t the only receiver etching his name into the Seahawks record books today. Tyler Lockett went off in this one, snagging a remarkable 12 of 14 targets for 90 yards and two huge scores. He looked like early-season Lockett again, showcasing silly slipperiness and next-level suddenness. On a day where not much worked for the offense, he consistently provided Wilson with check downs and first downs. His two scores were sensational, too, with absolutely no room for error. For him to make those plays, in those situations, was the biggest determining factor in the outcome of this game.

On the season, Lockett finished with exactly 100 catches— the most in Seahawks history— as well as 1,054 yards and 10 TDs. With so much focus on Metcalf’s ascent towards greatness, it’s easy to overlook that Lockett may very well be one of the most productive receivers in franchise history when it’s all said and done. At the close of the regular season, Lockett sits 7th in catches, 17th in yards, and 8th in TDs. The future of the Seattle passing game— with Wilson, Metcalf, and Lockett— is too bright to look at without those weird eclipse pinhole glasses.

~The running game didn’t do a whole lot for most of today, but they had some big runs when it counted, and the final tally ain’t bad. They had 121 yards on 27 carries and they were spread out pretty evenly. Chris Carson led the way with 11 carries and 44 yards, while Alex Collins added 19 on 5 carries with a score. Rashaad Penny continues to work his way back from that devastating knee injury, and chipped in 19 yards on 6 rushes before leaving the game with cramps.

Make no mistake, this is Chris Carson’s backfield, but the supplemental production will be important in the postseason. On the year, Carson finished with 141 carries for 683 yards (4.8 YPC) and 5 TDs. The volume isn’t spectacular but the efficiency was excellent. He’s running at full speed now and will be a huge part of this team’s playoff journey.

~The defense was real good again in this one. They gave up a couple of long drives in the middle of the game, and played a little too soft on San Fran’s final drive, but they still managed to hold the Niners to just 328 yards on 64 plays, which is excellent. Additionally, they laid three massive hits (two from Wright, one from Diggs) and forced a big turnover when they needed it most.

They were led by the linebackers in this one— perhaps the most talented trio of such in the NFL. Jordyn Brooks topped the team with 9 tackles, including the big one on 3rd down in the first quarter, and is quickly establishing himself as a leader on a defense that has led the league in points allowed over the last half of the season. In fact, in the 9 games since he joined the starting lineup, Brooks is 2nd on the team in tackles. Baller.

The man he’s emulating, Bobby Wagner, notched 6 tackles of his own, finishing the season with 138 for the second straight year, good enough 7th in the NFL. He is still the man of the house and the one most visibly bothered by the team’s early season defensive struggles. To see them all turn it around to the phenomenal degree they have has a lot to do with #54. KJ Wright chipped in 3 tackles, including one for a loss when he expertly blew up a screen pass in the left flat and a nuclear hit to Kyle Juszczyk on a little circle route. His ability to undermine lead blockers is an under appreciated skill— one that rarely shows up in the box score— and one that allows Bobby and Jordyn to make a lot of the tackles they do.

~The pass rush was effective today, generating a fair deal of pressure, including three sacks, without needing to blitz much at all. I love the creativity of sending the occasional extra rusher, but blitzes are like ice cream— an exciting treat but a poor basis for an entire diet. To be able to keep everyone back in coverage while still wreaking havoc is such a valuable asset, and the Seahawks were pretty good at it today. Benson Mayowa recorded two of the three, continuing his late-season onslaught, and Rasheem Green gobbled up the other one.

~The secondary was fine overall, despite a handful of miscommunications when SF switched to their empty sets. DJ Reed, who’s been awesome since taking over on the right side, got picked on a little bit. And not because he played poorly, but because Shaquill Griffin was locking everything down to the left. With most of the 49ers’ playmakers out of this one, the opportunities were funneled towards one of the best football players on the planet: George Kittle. And aside from that absurd one-handed catch over Quandre Diggs, they did an alright job of bottling him up. Jamal Adams flew around like a falcon with ADHD, missing as many plays as he made, before leaving the game with what appears to be a not-too-serious shoulder injury. Love that dude.

~I don’t normally give a shit about this stuff but Jason Myers not making the Pro Bowl is lunacy. And honestly, same for Michael Dickson. These two were absolutely stupendous this year. Despite yanking one of his extra points today, Myers made every single field goal attempt for the entire season— an insane feat— and Dickson hammered his way to 53.6 yards/punt, including a 63-yard moonshot in the second quarter.

~We haven’t talked about it here much, if at all, but I’d be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that the Seahawks went the entire season without a single positive COVID test. They were the only team in the NFL to pull that off and deserve a tremendous amount of respect. It’s a marvelous reflection of institutional discipline and top-to-bottom buy-in. As remarkable a feat as anything they did on the field this year.

12-4, 1st place in the division, and the #3 seed in the NFC. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty fuckin’ awesome. Like I mentioned last week, there have been some frustrations this season, but there always are— for every team. If I offered you 12 wins and a division title before the year started, you would’ve taken it. Yes, you would have. That said, this offense has to get better in order to make a run, but the defense is playing at a Super Bowl contender level.

Up next is a home playoff game against the Rams. Seattle did what they had to do to give themselves a real shot at a playoff run, and the journey begins, but hopefully doesn’t end, next Saturday afternoon . The best version of this team can raise the Lombardi at the end of it all, but it will take exactly that. Too much less, and the postseason can end as quickly as it starts. One thing is for sure, they can’t play like they did today. They’re gonna have to come out of the gates playing with the same urgency they found at the end of today’s game, and continue that for a full month to realize their full potential.

Whether they do obviously remains to be seen; in the meantime, enjoy the fruits of a really successful regular season. I’ll see you next weekend but until then, onward, upward, and go ‘Hawks.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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Smoked one of the best cigars of my life during this one— the Year of the Rooster from Davidoff. An extremely rare, hard-to-find stick that I honestly never would have even known about without Seattle Cigar Concierge. I don’t know what else there is to say about this stogie— it’s just simply unmatched in my experience. I had the double pleasure of enjoying it alongside a tumbler of Highland Park Cask Strength single malt.

And while I’m here, I want to shout out my guys Scott, Matt, Bill, Rob, and Jason for setting up a dope-ass mancave in which we get to watch the ‘Hawks drink whiskey, and smoke cigars in excellent company. Love and appreciate you boys.

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 plug, just email SeattleCigarConcierge@gmail.com. They are carrying over 70 cigar brands with many rare releases, including Davidoff, Opus X, and Padron. You can also hit him up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars.

Seattle Cigar Concierge is also offering a special promotion from Caldwell One, the proceeds of which are going to support first responders. Bundles of 10 going for the deeply discounted rate of $120 for 10 of these beauties.

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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.