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Cigar Thoughts, Game 4: The Seahawks are back, baby. I think??

The Seattle Seahawks rebounded from two terrible losses to strangle the San Fransisco 49ers late, moving to 2-2 and salvaging their season in the process.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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This fucking team.

The Seattle Seahawks were in a coffin, being lowered into the ground 168 hours ago. A team clinging to an identity that no longer existed— a wanderer lost in the desert, chasing a vision of fresh water that was naught more than another valley of sand. A team of once-wases, pursuing visions of greatness that existed in the past like wonderful dreams that vanish upon waking.

When you looked at this matchup on paper, it wasn’t even close. On one hand you have a young, upwardly-mobile squad of killers with a forward-thinking head coach, dynamic play-makers, exciting QB-of-the-future, and veritable lifetime of potential ahead of them. On the other, you have the Seahawks. And yet.

And yet.

God bless these boys. I was hard on Seattle last week, and I won’t apologize for that. They looked like absolute shit down the stretch against Tennessee and Minnesota. Hell, they looked like absolute shit for the first five possessions in this one. The pallbearers were shoveling dirt on this squad, tears in their eyes, the ghosts of Marshawn, Kam, Earl, and Richard watching solemnly as everything we’ve known about Seahawks football began decomposing.

Suddenly, a twitch. The lid of the coffin making an almost-imperceptible shift as the soil descended upon it. The parson hesitates mid-dirge, unsure of what he saw. The tears freeze halfway down the cheeks of the mourners. A cloud of dust, the gasp of those in attendance. A frail hand reaching skyward from the cedar box hand-picked by the family as the forever resting place of a loved one. The gasps. The fainting. The inevitability.

The goddamn fucking Seahawks.

One win, two losses. A road game against a rival on the rise. The impotent start to the contest. The sheer dominance of every other team in the division. Every reason to believe that Seattle’s run was at an end. And fucking yet.

I hate this team almost as much as I love them. The Seahawks were three-point dogs to a 49ers team that was objectively better on the betting sheet. Literally no reason to believe, based on what we’ve seen so far, that our heroes stood a chance in this one. Call me blind, call me an idiot— I’ve been called worse— but your beloved author placed a $500 bet on Seattle winning this game. Because say what you will about the talent and / or schematic deficiencies of this team, one thing they don’t do is fold.

It’s so easy to get pulled into the analytical reasons that this team is toast. And those arguments are not without merit. You’d be hard-pressed to find a column more willing to be critical of the coaching / philosophy surrounding a franchise that has won the second most games in the NFL over the last decade than the one penned by yours truly— but there just isn’t a spreadsheet yet created that adequately compensates for pure, unrelenting heart.

And when I say that, I don’t mean that the Seahawks players care more than other teams— I imagine most teams approach the game with a fairly equal amount of desire. You just don’t make it to the peak arena of American football without it. What I mean is that in the absence of cutting-edge strategy, there remains an incredibly focused, siloed approach to success that, despite all evidence to the contrary, continues to win out more often than not.

This team sucks. This team rules. So it goes in Seattle.

The Seahawks received the opening kick and took the field with all the confidence in the world. And why not? There is no offense in the NFL this year that has performed more admirably at the beginning of games than the ‘Hawks. Now, to be fair, it seems like everything the Seahawks do is at one end of the spectrum or another. The most first half points in the NFL, the fewest second half points in the NFL. If nothing else this season, we as fans could count on Shane Waldron, Russell Wilson, and the rest pressing the issue with some early points.

Sadly, today was not that day. The Seahawks sucked goat ass on their first five possessions, going three-and-out every time, with sacks ending three of those drives. 22 minutes into the game, the good guys had amassed a grand total of -13 yards; for a team that has counted on early offensive success to remain competitive, you couldn’t draw up a worse start.

For their part, the 49ers went out and pressed Seattle. The Seahawks defense came into this game allowing the most yards and fewest turnovers of all 32 teams in the NFL, and nothing about the first quarter refuted that claim. San Francisco moved the ball at will early, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive and recording a ludicrous 167 yards in the first quarter. Everything about how the game started portended a blowout victory for the home team, with the Niners out-gaining Seattle like a sponsored gamer playing Madden on rookie.

It didn’t get better early in the second, but Quandre Diggs shifted things by notching Seattle’s first interception of the season on an errant throw from Jimmy Garappolo. And honestly, that initial field-tilting play from a beleaguered defense set the tone for the rest of this game. The effect wasn’t immediate, as each offense traded punts for the next four drives, but it showed, for the first time all year, that this defense was capable of halting an opposing offense mid-drive with something other than a misfire on third down.

Still, it was 7-0 San Francisco early, and stayed 7-0 for a long time. The Seahawks defense bared their teeth for the first time in three weeks, blitzing aggressively and jumping routes with an attack-first mentality that has been missing for years. For all the (deserved) heat that the Seahawks defense has taken over the last few games, they got their shit together in this one and put the onus on their offense to get it done. Everything we’ve asked for, if we’re being honest.

Listen, I could parse the particulars on the first third of this contest but that would be waste of my time and yours. This game began in earnest when the Seahawks finally remembered who they were in 2021— an up-tempo, misdirection-focused offense that relied on forcing the defense to adjust to them instead of the other way around. After an impotent first 20+ minutes of this game devoid of play-action and motion, they eventually started dictating terms at the behest of their Hall of Fame quarterback.

With five minutes left in an uninspiring half, Seattle’s offense finally got to work. Eschewing the toddling approach to the line of scrimmage that had manifested itself in slow huddle-breaks thus far, the ‘Hawks O got to the snap early in the play clock, under center, and ran some god damn play-action. Faking a handoff to Alex Collins on the first play of their sixth possession, Wilson dropped back and surveyed the field. Granted previously unseen time in the pocket, Wilson scanned the secondary and, finding nothing satisfactory, dumped it back off to Collins for 28 yards, putting Seattle in the black offensively for the first time all game.

That big gain was backed up by two handoffs to Collins for nine more yards and then, on 3rd & 1, a beautiful faked run that opened DK Metcalf up for 15 yards on his first catch of the game. Smelling blood, Seattle went no-huddle for, inexplicably, the first time all game— and the results were beautiful. Selling a run for the second time, Wilson pulled the ball out of Collins’ chest and hit Metcalf for 28 yards over the middle and a first down. Easy money; a win we all were grateful for but one that called into question the lack of a similar approach earlier in the contest.

No matter, the Seahawks weren’t done. After a three-yard run from Collins, Wilson sold another handoff and fired it down the left seam to Metcalf, who corralled the pass and bullied two defenders to the goal line for Seattle’s first score. A lot of NFL football comes down to which coach schemes better. Sometimes, however, it’s all about who the baddest ass on the field is. In this particular case, that was DeKaylin Metcalf. 7-7.

That would be the score at halftime, but the tide had officially shifted. To hear San Francisco’s PR tell it, Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a “calf injury” at some point, and they handed the keys to face-of-the-future Trey Lance in the second half. The result was not what head coach Kyle Shanahan, nor any of their fans, hoped for.

Lance trotted out to start the second half, with the home crowd cheering the QB switch. If this was a Niners article, we’d be spilling a thousand words on the change. Thank god this isn’t a Niners article— that’s their battle to fight. All that matters, as far as today is concerned, is that SF went three-and-out to start the third quarter, punting the ball back to the school of sharks known as the Seattle Seahawks offense. After getting their first taste of blood at the end of the second quarter, the ‘Hawks fed their addiction with an aggressive third quarter approach. Wilson hit Tyler Lockett on an out-and-up for 19. That was followed by consecutive Chris Carson runs for 14 yards and a quick out to Metcalf for nine more. Then it was Collins for six followed by a quick-hitter to Tyler Lockett for two.

Seattle had, at this point, a 2nd & 8 at San Fran’s 16. Wilson took a shotgun snap and, seeing no one open, turned hisself back into the old Russ. It’s been maddening over the last few years, watching a QB as slippery as Wilson consistently disregard running opportunities in favor of meaningless handoffs or throwaways but in this moment, he fucking seized it.

With no one breaking open, Wilson looked off the coverage, tucked the ball, and sprinted left. One of the great things about having two really talented wide receivers is that those dudes dictate defensive philosophy. Unwilling to bail on coverage of either Metcalf or Lockett, the Niners defense left the left side of the field wide open and Rusell identified a path to Nirvana and bounded towards it. He sprinted around Duane Brown’s block and scooted into the end zone to make it 14-7— a reminder of what his legs are still capable of.

On the following kickoff, 49ers’ return man Trenton Cannon muffed the ball, scrambled to pick up the loose pigskin, and charged upfield. As he did, special teams extraordinaire Deejay Dallas shot a hand through Cannon’s grasp and forced the ball loose for the second time on the play. Cannon, pinned to the ground, had no chance to recover it but Dallas did. Pouncing on the opportunity, Deejay (whose name I can never type without hearing DJ Khaled’s voice) secured the ball and set his offense up for their third consecutive score.

It would only take Seattle two plays to extend their lead to 21-7. After Carson got stuffed on a first down run, Wilson took a shotgun snap and looked like he’d succumb to a momentum-killing sack. Instead, he shrugged it off, spun out of another tackle and drifted to his right. Before stepping out of bounds, he flung the ball towards paydirt and his offering was received by Freddie Swain, who snagged the ball and tapped both feet in-bounds to give Seattle a two-score lead they’d never relinquish. It was vintage Russ, turning disaster into glory.

Now the Niners, to their credit, would not go quietly into that good night. After three consecutive runs net them a much-needed first down, an out-and-up route bewitched the Seahawks defense and left Deebo Samuel open up the right sideline. While the Seahawks defense yelled and pointed fingers, Samuel caught the easiest pass of his career and translated his 4.4 speed into a 76-yard TD. It was Lance’s second career completion and second career TD pass. That man is gonna be a problem down the road but he just wasn’t up to the task today. More on that to follow.

Despite the defensive breakdown. Seattle responded with the sort of drive that opponents have used to bedevil them all September. 10 plays, 81 yards, 7 points. Wilson to Metcalf for 16, Collins for six, Collins for four— first down. An incompletion was followed by a pass interference defending Metcalf that gave Seattle another first down. Then it was handoffs to Carson and Collins, followed by a short completion to Will Dissly and yet another pass interference on a deep out intended for Lockett. After a short run gained two, Seattle went no huddle, telegraphing pass to everyone watching. Such is the hallmark of Waldron’s offense— Greg Maddux once said that the key to his success was making balls look like strikes and strikes look like balls— and one of the missing keys to a perfectly optimized offense that has been so sorely lacking from Seattle’s formula for years was the ability to disguise intention at the line of scrimmage.

With the defense scrambling, Wilson sold pass on his drop back before handing it off to Collins. San Francisco’s pass rush sprinted headlong upfield while Alex followed his blocks until he saw a sliver of daylight and then careened through it for the game-clinching score. 28-14— lights out. The 49ers would get one more touchdown before the game was over, but it was far too little, far too late.

One week ago, we were all staring at the abyss, shouting into oblivion waiting for something— some encouraging echo to show us that life was still worth living. Those screams evaporated into the darkness, leaving us hopeless, until the inevitable refractions of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson echoed back— “we got this”— for the umpteenth time.

2-2. A heartbeat. A Rams loss. A reason indeed, because of course. This fuckin’ team.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson looked like a rookie for the first third of this game and a Hall of Famer for the rest of it. 16-23 for 149 yards and 2 TDs will hardly advance the MVP cause but it also obscures how good he was after an awful start. Great quarterbacks find a way even on their worst days and, after succumbing to SF’s pass rush for the first part of the afternoon, he rebounded to make the right throws, the right runs— the right decisions the rest of the way to secure a season-saving victory. It was a quintessential win-when-you-don’t-have-your-best-stuff performance. A pitching ace gritting out a win. He became the fastest QB ever to win 100 games and if you think the best way forward involves a Wilson trade / release, I encourage you to stare at your reflection in the mirror and ask yourself sincerely what caused you to end up the way that you are.

~Seattle tried so hard to run the ball today but that just wasn’t the ticket. And credit to them for pivoting when that became clear. Chris Carson simply didn’t have it in this one, turning 13 carries into 30 yards and I’m not sure he broke a tackle. He did what he could but it is was it is.

Alex Collins, however, brought the juice. A multiple-team castoff, he made the 1st-round pick of Rashaad Penny look even worse by turning 12 touches into 78 yards and score. He absolutely crushed it today and, I think, secured his spot as the RB2 on this team.

~DK Metcalf was the best part of the offense in this one. He was absent from the box score for nearly 25 minutes to start but he made his limited opportunities count. Even with the Niners’ defense keyed in on him, he turned eight targets into four catches for 65 yards and a much-needed score. He remains the skeleton key for this offense, the best hope for unlocking potential stifled by whatever*

*gestures towards Pete Caroll

That being said, the physical skills are all there for Metcalf to be the best wide receiver on the planet— something I say with all sincerity— but the biggest weakness in his game is the contested catch. Early in the third quarter, Wilson put a perfect pass on his hands in tight coverage. The cornerback will be officially credited with a breakup because he did swipe the ball out but replay showed that the football was already rattling around in Metcalf’s grip. Tyreek Hill is the only receiver with the athletic chops to match DK but for as far as Metcalf has come with his route running, he needs to become a more natural receiver of the ball in order to join the echelon of Hill, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and DeAndre Hopkins at the pinnacle of the position. Still, he’s 23 years old. The ceiling for his career remains Jupiter.

Tyler Lockett is so fucking good at this sport that it makes his disappearing acts frustrating. After being arguably the most productive receiver in the game through two weeks, he was nigh-invisible for the second straight contest. Five targets, four catches, 24 yards. Meh. Need more.

~Trey Lance is absolutely going to be an issue in the future— I’m talking Josh Allen 2.0 type of issue— but Seattle did a great job against him today. For all of the limitations that Garoppolo has, he provides a high floor that was forfeited by the switch to Lance. It was a trade-the-floor-for-the-ceiling move at halftime and Seattle’s defense made certain they kept him in the lower level of the parking garage.

All in all, I feel like this was Seattle’s best defensive performance of the season. One of the most disconcerting aspects of Seattle’s 1-2 start was how toothless the ‘Hawks defense has been and after the first quarter, it looked pretty hopeless in general. The really scary part of that is that Seattle’s head coach has reached his pinnacle on the back of his defensive philosophy and the Seahawks’ struggles in that regard has been a striking indictment against the status quo. Their delivery today, however, especially during the game’s final 45 minutes, was a massive encouragement as it relates to this team’s potential.

~Bobby Wagner continues to lead this defense, regardless of how the rest of the defense is playing. It doesn’t matter whether the other 10 guys are balling or flailing, Wagner handles his. He led the team with 10 tackles and broke up two passes in addition to gluing a defense together that has splintered so far this year. He is worth every penny he’s paid, even as he gallops into the twilight of his career,

Jamal Adams showed why Seattle traded what they did for him. The thing about a weapon like Adams is that when everything else is clicking, he is free to be a game-changing force of nature. When things fray, he is often the one that looks exposed. That said, he had six tackles, broke up two passes (including a dynamic recovery on a flea-flicker) and harassed everything San Fran tried to do. I saw some mis-aligned hand-wringing about his post-play joviality online today, but you can’t trade for Jamal Adams and then ask him not to be Jamal Adams, ya know? A truly disruptive force, peacocking be damned.

Jordyn Brooks shined today, bouncing back from his worst game as a pro to record seven tackles and his first career sack on a perfectly executed blitz. He looked so lost just seven days ago but this afternoon he was locked back into the shutdown defender this team drafted him to be. In addition to the sack, he had a huge 4th down stop on a Trey Lance keeper, squaring up a dynamic runner to swing the win probability heavily in favor of his teammates. A super encouraging bounce-back game.

~The pass rush was a step slow for most of today but they did get home a couple of times, with Darrell Taylor notching yet another sack in addition to Brooks’. Jimmy Garoppolo was sharp against the blitz in the first quarter but succumbed to the pressure after that and that harassment knocked his replacement Trey Lance off his spot the whole second half. A very positive development.

~Sidney Jones took over for Tre Flowers at left corner today, and I thought he was excellent compared to what we’ve seen so far. After playing hesitantly early, Jones found his footing late, jumping a number of routes, providing sticky coverage that has been notoriously absent and breaking up a couple of big passes.

~In addition to Adams’ best game of the season, Quandre Diggs added legitimacy to Seattle’s claim of having one of the best defensive back ends in the league. He claimed the team’s first interception on a Garoppolo overthrow but also shut down a number of stretch plays that has made SF’s offense so potent against other teams.

The Seahawks leave their second straight road game 2-2 and 1-0 in the NFL’s toughest division. It’s tough to say that a season is on the line with 13 games left after this one but the fact remains that our feelings regarding this team swayed wildly with today’s outcome. 1-3 has us looking to the future, 2-2 has us calculating playoff matchups. There is so much season left, but this afternoon’s result still moves the needle substantially.

Personally, I needed today. I needed to see the resilience that I’ve counted on for the last decade; and while this team still seems a long ways away from the elite squads in the conference, wins are wins and this game keeps the Seahawks right in the thick of things.

I’m extremely curious to see how well this team carries the vibes from today’s victory into a short week against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday, but the outcome this afternoon provides a margin of error that would have been entirely inaccessible had the ‘Hawks lost today.

Look, I don’t know what to make of this team— and I say that as a blessing. Had they lost, I’d know exactly what to make of them. Instead, they stay right in the hunt, which is all we can ask for. A credit to Russell Wilson, Shane Waldron, and yes, Pete Carroll. For all the criticism leveled at this franchise over the last few weeks, Seattle showed us the type of grit that we’ve become accustomed to.

I honestly don’t know what awaits this roster moving forward but that’s a statement I’m happy to make coming off of last week’s atrocity. Today’s result doesn’t cement the Seahawks as true contenders but, most importantly, it doesn’t eliminate them from the conversation. If nothing else, it invites chaos into the house and for that I am grateful— because what is the point of cheering for an NFL team if you’re not at least at the table for mayhem going your way?

I quite literally can’t tell you whether I think this team is good or not, but I can tell you they remain very much in the mix. And four games into an 18-week agoge, I guess that’s all you can ask for. Go ‘Hawks. Go us.

As far as the Cigar Thoughts podcast goes, I’m stoked to be bringing Seattle sports medias legend Danny O’Neil on board for this week’s episode, so make sure you’re subscribing (link at top of the article) to ensure you won't miss it.

Rivalry games deserve cigars worthy of the occasion, and I’d been saving the last of my Davidoff Royal Releases for just such an occasion. Combined with two (okay three) heavy pours of WL Weller 12-year, the imbibing experience was a perfect match for today’s victory

This is the 3rd year of our incredible partnership with Seattle Cigar Concierge. They have the plug on some of the most insane stogies on the market and they’re offering them to Cigar Thoughts readers for 20% off. These are extremely special sticks, and among the most enjoyable I’ve ever smoked. To get the hook-up, 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. Many of you have taken advantage of this incredible opportunity and for those who have always wondered what elite cigars are like, this is the best opportunity you’ll get to step into that world.

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