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Cigar Thoughts, Game 11: Welp

The Seattle Seahawks lost for the sixth time in their last seven games, falling 17-15 at Washington and bidding their slim playoff hopes adieu.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

***As many of you know, Cigar Thoughts is now a podcast in addition to an article. And, as part of the package, you can now listen to this column on the go. This article can be found in audio form wherever you get your podcasts, and you can listen to it right here:

Our last guest was Seahawks beat reporter Michael-Shawn Dugar and this week, radio host Paul Gallant joins us— coming to your ears in the next few days!

A week off from covering this lovably stupid team did wonders for me, both as a fan and as someone who writes about them. For the first time in years, I got to sit back and just watch the game and man, that was nice. I mean, the game itself sucked giant donkey sac, but it was still pleasant to just let the game come and then let it go again as soon as it was over.

That, combined with some much-needed family time, acted as a great reset for me in the midst of the most frustrating Seahawks season in a very long time. I’ve really prided myself in always trying to take the long view on this team, keeping in mind the totality of what makes up a franchise beyond what happens in one particular game. But when what happens in one particular game persists for weeks on end, it’s hard not to have criticisms harden in place.

That being said, I resolved to start anew with this team, beginning tonight. To set aside my prior convictions and, while not ignoring the concerns that have led me here, simply judge this team moving forward. As clean a slate as someone who has written about them for 10 years can give. So, let’s see what this team has to offer in primetime against a bad team...

Seattle won the toss and deferred to Washington, who quickly went three-and-out so that Seattle could do the same. With the pesky first two drives out of the way, Washington went to work in earnest. My buddy asked me what I was looking for in this game and my first answer was that Seattle would avoid giving up the 10+ play, 8+ minute drives on defense that have dogged them all season.

Instead of doing that, however, the Seahawks doubled down and gave up a 15-play, 9-minute drive that ate up almost the remaining entirety of the quarter. With the Football Team sitting on a 1st & goal from the Seahawks’ 6, a touchdown looked inevitable. But Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks teamed up to tackle Antonio Gibson after a gain of one, then Brooks forced Gibson out at the line of scrimmage on the next play. 3rd down saw Seattle generate a little bit of pressure, forcing a bail-out throw to JD McKissic that went nowhere thanks to Sidney Jones. WFT would take the short field goal and an early lead, but Seattle found themselves on the ass-end of a torturous drive yet again— one that ate up valuable defensive effort that would be sorely needed later.

To the Seahawks’ credit, they answered quickly and with resolution. After consecutive Alex Collins runs gained 9 total yards, Russell Wilson faked a handoff and dropped back. One of Wilson’s favorite proclivities is to go deep on and-short situations while it hasn’t worked out much recently, it did here. Washington had a breakdown in coverage and Tyler Lockett slipped behind it. Seeing it, Wilson lobbed the ball towards Lockett, who caught it and turned up field for 55 yards. Perhaps most importantly, Seattle started working quickly, going no-huddle. Three plays later, Wilson dotted up Gerald Everett for a score and a 7-3 lead. It was such a lovely thing to see after such a barren stretch of offensive struggle, and I hoped they’d continue with their newfound rhythm.

Alas. Seattle’s defense would hold and give the ball back to the offense with a lead, but the ‘Hawks sputtered after a 13-yard catch by Will Dissly on the first play. The way this drive ended was a bit frustrating, as on 2nd & 10, Wilson found Dee Eskridge along the left sideline. Seattle’s second-round rookie caught the ball and turned upfield, but stepped out short of the sticks despite not being touched. The play should have been a first down but instead, they were forced to try and convert another 3rd down— something they’ve been atrocious at all season. This particular iteration saw Deejay Dallas take a handoff towards the right edge before getting swallowed up at the line of scrimmage by a pack of rallying defenders. Bummer. Michael Dickson came out and did what he does, crushing a punt 60 yards in the air to the WFT 4, spinning it back to the 9 with some Australian voodoo.

Washington would then embark on another belabored journey up the field, gaining yards in small but effective chunks, gathering up first downs and draining the clock. After 10 plays had net them 50 yards, Taylor Heinicke took his shot. Dropping back on 2nd & 9 from Seattle’s 41, Heinicke fired a ball up the right seam intended for Logan Thomas. Right before the ball reached its target, Seattle’s three best defenders converged like biblical plagues. Bobby Wagner leapt in front of Thomas and tipped the ball right as Quandre Diggs hit the receiver with legal malice. That confluence of events put Thomas in the dirt and the football in the air.

Have you ever played outfield in baseball or softball? If so, you know the dizzying, almost paralyzing feeling of having a high fly ball hit right to you. It’s hard not to let your mind race as the ball descends upon you, and I wonder if any of those thoughts went through Jamal Adams’ brain as the pigskin fluttered towards his waiting hands. Despite his reputation for dropping interceptions, Adams corralled this one (albeit not super gracefully) for his career-high second interception of the year. Just a phenomenal collective effort from three great defenders.

With the ball at their own 11, Wilson immediately went play-action again and dialed up Lockett at midfield for 39 yards. Tyler actually got really, really open on this one, selling a go route that sent the safety up the middle of the field while Lockett crossed to the left. Wilson’s throw hung up in the air, letting the safety recover, but it reached its destination just in time. On the very next play, the Seahawks finally ran a successful screen— until it wasn’t. On this one, Wilson found Collins in the left flat with a pasture in front of him. As Collins accelerated, you could see him setting up a move on a closing defender. While that was happening, Landon Collins chased him down from behind and punched the ball free, where it was recovered by Washington. A very promising drive was snuffed out and with it, all of Seattle’s offensive productivity for the next 30 minutes.

Now, I’m really reticent to blame officials for outcomes because I think that on the whole, bad calls even themselves out and we are all naturally inclined to notice the slights against our favorite team than we are to notice the ones that hurt the opponent. That all being said, what happened on the next possession was officiating malpractice.

After picking up a couple first downs, WFT found themselves with a 3rd & 9 at Seattle’s 48. Heinicke’s pass would fall incomplete and it looked like Seattle would get one more chance to extend their lead before the half. Instead, a flag came in seemingly eons after the play, and a hold was called against Ugo Amadi. Replay did little to support the call, as Amadi made some initial contact around the five-yard area (as he’s allowed to do) and then immediately disengaged. Just a gross call that was outside the spirit of football. On the next play, both teams were accused of holding, offsetting a short Heinicke scramble. There hadn’t been many penalties until this point but now the flags were flying.

Seattle brought some heat on the ensuing snap, but the WFTQB found a receiver over the middle for 16, right before collapsing under Rasheem Green. Another flag, because what football fan doesn’t love that? This time, the officials deemed that Green roughed the passer by... tackling him, I guess? Green made contact with Heinicke right as the quarterback released the ball, hitting him in the midsection and going to the ground with him sans any mal-intent, head contact, or any other misdeed. No matter, let’s go ahead and add 15 yards.

Two hikes later, McKissic was catching a pass in the right flat and scooting into the end zone to make it 10-7. Except!

In one of the truly great “ball don’t lie” events in recent memory, Green would break through the line on the extra point attempt and swat away the kick. Unsatisfied with that, he scooped up the ball, stiff-armed the holder’s hilarious attempt at a tackle, and sprinted into the end zone for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 9. Just bananas. Making matters weirder, placekicker Joey Slye got hurt trying to chase Green down, removing field goals and extra points from the menu for the remainder of the game.

This wild turn of events gave Seattle 56 seconds with which to try and reclaim the lead before the break. They got off to a fine start, with Wilson checking it down to Everett for 8 yards. After an incompletion left them with 3rd & 2 and 30 seconds left, Seattle annoyingly gave the ball to Dallas, who got stuffed. Then on 4th & 1, the Seahawks tried the uber-predictable hard-count thing that never works and punted away.

Unlike the majority of Pete Carroll’s 4th down decisions, this one was technically the right call— analytically speaking. Punting there had a WPA of 2% higher than going for it did, but it still leaves a bitter film on the tongue to see a team wave the white flag at the end of a half when their playoff hopes are fraying. At 3-7, I wouldn’t have minded them saying “fuck it” and going for it. More than that, though, I was sad to see them call a draw on 3rd & 2 with so little time left.

Seattle got the ball back to start the 3rd quarter and immediately went three-and-out. Instead of returning the favor like gracious hosts, Washington put together another long drive. This one covered 73 yards on 11 plays, eating up five minutes including two 3rd down conversions and ending with a 10-yard McKissic scamper to break the tie. With no kicker available, they were forced to go for two— a situation WFT had failed to convert for an NFL-record 12 consecutive attempts. You’ll never guess what they did, though. Yep, that’s right— Gibson took an inside draw and ran relatively unfettered into the end zone to make it 17-9.

There it would stay, as both offenses curdled like room-temperature milk for the longest time. Seattle went three-and-out then Washington went three-and-out then Seattle did then Washington did then Seattle did then Washington did before the Seahawks finally switched things up and punted after five plays instead of three. During all of this, Wilson egregiously missed some open receivers while the Seahawks defense shut down three consecutive 3rd & shorts from WFT. Oh, did I mention that DK Metcalf still didn’t have a catch?

This gave the Football Team possession with 11 minutes left, and they’d proceed to use up nine of them on an insufferably long drive. 16 plays it took— about as many as the Seahawks ran in the entire first half— for WFT to go 84 yards. It was more of the same from them— gashing runs and safe passes, keeping the ball moving forward and bleeding the clock like so many leeches.

At this point, just like so many other times this season, the sheer tonnage of playing time forced upon the defense began to take its toll. The ‘Hawks had, to this point done a fantastic job of getting off blocks and beating ballcarriers to their points of attack. On this drive, however, the fatigue was palpable. Alternating between Gibson and McKissic, Washington painstakingly pushed the ball across the field.

That led them to a 1st & goal from Seattle’s 7 and, with a healthy kicker, an easy decision to let the clock leak before knocking in a game-sealing FG. With that option removed, however, Washington found themselves in the unique position of needing to try for a touchdown despite being up eight with barely two minutes to go. The first play was a give to Gibson, who was chopped down at the line by Bobby Wagner and Benson Mayowa. On 2nd down, Heinicke scrambled for two and on 3rd, gave it back to Gibson. The Washington RB was bottled up at the line but spun free and looked for the edge on the left side. Despite an incredible snap count and 13 tackles, Brooks chased him down and pushed him out of bounds for no gain. It was a huge play from a player having possibly the best game of his young career. That forced 4th & goal, and with it a pass play. On the game’s highest-leverage snap up to that point, Washington decided to put the ball in the hands of their scrappy quarterback and, for a moment, it appeared the decision would be rewarded.

Hanging in as players swirled around him, Heinicke whipped the ball over the middle, where it was snagged at the goal line by Thomas with Adams draped all over him. The play was ruled a touchdown, but replay showed the ball hit the ground briefly and was overturned. Incredible.

With one last chance, Russell Wilson took the field with miracles on his mind. It was a bizarre set of circumstances that led to this point, so why the fuck not? Needing to go 95 yards in two minutes, Wilson quickly hit Everett for 12 yards then dumped it off twice in a row to Dallas for a total of five. On 3rd down, Wilson’s pass fell incomplete but the official said Lockett was interfered with and Seattle kept moving.

On the next snap, Wilson dropped back and scanned the field. For whatever reason— maybe immaculate coverage, maybe missing a read— Wilson held the ball for seconds on end. He was finally forced to drift right but he never gave up on the potential of someone breaking free. Part of me loves that about Russ, but a slightly bigger part of me wants to see better situational awareness. Wilson’s refusal to throw the ball away allowed him to get dragged down from behind, taking a terrible nine-yard sack and keeping the clock moving. It was one of the worst sacks I’ve seen him take.

No matter, Russ was undeterred. On this, his 33rd birthday, he kept it going. Dallas over the middle for 13, then Metcalf on a slick toe-tapper for 13 more along the left sideline. Only took 59 minutes to get their best weapon the ball for the first time. Wilson’s next pass was incomplete but then shorties to Everett and Dallas moved the chains one last time. On Seattle’s final offensive play— a 1st & 10 from Washington’s 32— Wilson struck.

Taking the shotgun snap and bouncing in the pocket, Russell looked right then swung his vision back to the middle. there he saw Freddie Swain, bounding up the seam like a newborn deer in a sunny meadow. Wilson cocked his arm back and unleashed his best throw since his return, a piercing spiral that hit Swaim in stride for an easy score. Incredibly, Seattle was a two-point conversion away from tying this circus up.

So there it stood— one snap to keep the season alive. I was happy to see them put the outcome in Wilson’s hand on this play, letting him drop back and see what’s what. It’s all you can ask for. As Russ stood in the pocket, his receivers crissed and crossed in the end zone. Finally, Swaim broke free to the left as DK got loose along the back right. Unfortunately, Wilson had already locked into Everett and tried to force a pass into a keyhole between defenders. To our collective chagrin, Kyle Fuller got to the ball before the ball could get to Everett, picking it off to seal the game. I know what joke you want to make here but I urge you to demonstrate some restraint.

All Washington had to do to make their victory official was recover an onside kick, but Jason Myers feinted right then spun around and put some stank on a little roller to the left. The ball swerved around two WFT players where it was pounced on by the Seahawks. Amazing. But then a flag. What could it be? The ball went 10 yards and was even touched by the receiving team first. No one was offsides and there were five guys on either side of the kicker.

Well, special teams captain Nick Bellore, who wasn’t even on the side of the field they were kicking to, had lined up inside the hashmarks, nullifying the play and forcing a do-over. Remarkably, Myers hit a carbon-copy on his redo but this time Washington scooped it up to snuff out Seattle’s flickering postseason hopes.

SMOKE RINGS

~The offense has had periods of struggle before, but never like this. Since 1975, the lowest-scoring NFL team was the 1992 Seahawks, who averaged 8.8 points/game. The 2021 Seahawks have averaged 7.3 points/game since Russell Wilson’s return.

The most obvious reason for this is Wilson’s poor play, and make no mistake— he’s been dreadful the last three weeks. But nothing about how this unit is structured does much to help him out. For all the talk of being up-tempo, incorporating motion, moving the pocket, using jet-sweeps, etc etc et-fucking-c, all we’re seeing is an 8-bit, paint-by-numbers game plan that creates absolutely zero confusion for opposing defenses. It’s like being offered a finely-aged cabernet but receiving a flat La Croix instead. I don’t know who or what is to blame for the sheer lack of rhythm or creativity but the absence of any misdirection or play-disguise is baffling.

The pass plays are dry and unimaginative, the runs shallow and pedantic. They aren’t doing anything well right now and frankly, haven’t in two months. Every game is just a slightly distorted echo of the one preceding it. Until that final drive in the 4th quarter, Seattle had only run three plays on WFT’s side of the field, and honestly it took a dramatic (and bewildering) switch in Washington’s defense for that second score to even happen. The Seahawks tied their own NFL-high mark of consecutive three-and-outs in this one, going five straight possessions without moving the sticks. It is ineptitude that rivals, and mayhaps even surpasses, the worst offenses in the league

~Someone has stolen Russell Wilson’s sniper rifle and replaced it with a blunderbuss. Against one of the worst defenses the NFL has to offer, Russ’ errancy kept Seattle from sustaining any lengthy drives for the third straight game. For as incredible a story it was that he rehabbed his finger 19 hours a day and cut his projected return time in half, it is blatantly apparent that his finger is not right.

We spend so much time talking about Wilson’s legendary creativity, escapability, and crunch-time performance— and for good reason! But the thing that makes Russ Russ, more than anything else, is his devastating accuracy. Wilson has elevated himself to the pinnacle of his craft by developing a level of precision nearly unmatched in NFL history. What we’ve seen in the last three games, however, is not just a lesser-version of the Russell Wilson we’ve come to expect— it’s something altogether unrecognizable.

His final numbers look okay: 20-31, 247 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs but 87 of those yards came as the result of blown coverages and at least five of his 11 incompletions were inaccurate at best and haphazard at worst. He was under a fair amount of pressure today, to be sure, but he still looks jittery and his misses are really bad. Twice he missed very short 3rd down throws by many feet, and most of his downfield passes either sailed long or hung up in the air.

~The run game never really got going and frankly, outside of one quarter against Pittsburgh, hasn’t gotten going since Chris Carson went down. Alex Collins got the start but gained just 14 yards on seven carries and fumbled his only reception. Deejay Dallas was effective as a receiver, acting as Wilson’s escape valve to the tune of five catches for 27 yards, but he gained just four more on three rushes. All told, Seattle’s backfield accounted for only 58 yards and a fumble on 16 total touches. That ain’t gonna do it.

~Tyler Lockett and Gerald Everett were the bright spots on the receiving corps. Freddie Swain obviously had the big score at the end but he wasn’t really a part of the game plan. Lockett looks like his normal shifty self and it was great to see Wilson hook up with him on a couple of big ones. Lockett received five targets and caught three of them for a game-high 96 yards.

~Everett was the apple of Russ’ eye in this one, garnering nearly 30% of Wilson’s total targets. Of the nine opportunities he was given, Everett snagged five for 37 yards including the touchdown. He looks great.

~DK Metcalf didn’t have the ball thrown to him until the halfway through the 3rd quarter. They never moved him inside, didn’t manufacture touches for him, and I only saw him go in motion once. The offensive approach stuck Metcalf in the mud, as nothing was done to try and free him from the bracket coverage that Washington insisted on using. No rub routes, no quick-hits, no nothin’; jus a few wild heaves in his general direction and one short out route.

One catch, 13 yards. We haven’t seen someone this dynamic get decommissioned like that since Jabba the Hutt encased Han Solo in carbonite. One of the things that concerns me most about Seattle’s collapse this season are the potential downstream effects. Pretty soon, DK Metcalf is going to decide where to spend the next four years of his prime and absolutely nothing about this offense right now is signaling to him that Seattle is the best place to be. Hope that changes. Need it to.

Great to see Dee Eskridge back. The team had him as a returner and put him in a few packages on offense, so his impact was minimal, but still good to see him out there contributing. Just a bummer about him stepping out short of the line to gain though. Whatever,, he’ll get better as he gets more comfortable.

~The defense did their damnedest tonight, just like they have been in each of their last seven games. It’s one thing to only allow 16 points per game over a two-month stretch— that’s hella impressive. It’s another thing entirely to do it while averaging nearly 40 minutes of game time on defense. The way this team has meshed on D has been really fun to watch and I just wish the offense could give them some sort of reprieve.

They spent 42 minutes on the field tonight, continuing a historic imbalance in time of possession. Some of it is the offense’s inability to sustain drives, but some of it is Seattle’s insistence on allowing short gains and forcing teams to convert on 3rd down*. They allowed drives of 9, 10, 11, 15, and 16 plays just in this game alone.

*Allow me a moment to reflect on the philosophy of this. If Seattle thinks it’s advantageous to allow short gains on 1st and 2nd down on defense, why do they also find it advantageous to do so on offense. Makes no goddamn sense.

~Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks each had 14 tackles tonight, giving Bobby a league-leading 129 on the season with Brooks close behind him at 113. Seattle’s Hall of Fame linebacker and his second-year protege now both rank in the top 5 in the NFL, which is remarkable and objectively awesome. However, much in the way that raw passing yards are not always the best indicator of quarterback play, tackles can be misleading.

Part of the reason these guys have so many takedowns is because they rule. That’s a good thing. Another reason is the fact that they are literally playing more defensive snaps than almost any team in history. In fact, barring injury, Bobby Wagner— who hasn’t missed a snap this season— is almost certain to break the NFL record for plays in a single season. There is no question he’s lost a step from his peak, but his instincts, tenacity, and technique remain unparalleled.

~Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams were fucking rad in this one. Diggs has probably been Seattle’s best player this year and Adams has been, with the exception of a tough stretch in the Rams game, phenomenal since Week 3. They both flew around with clear eyes and murderous intent. Adams had nine tackles and the pick while breaking up two passes and Diggs finished with eight tackles while putting a vacuum seal on the top of the defense. These guys deserve better outcomes.

~One really maddening thing about Seattle’s offensive philosophy is the insistence on winning 3rd downs instead of trying to avoid them altogether. They are horrific on 3rd, and Russ has never been particularly great. It is just another example of process not aligning with specific skillsets and it drives me bonkers. They were 4-12 on 3rd downs in this game, which is about on par with what they’ve been for a long time now. And that ain’t good.

~Michael Dickson had 400 yards punting in this game on eight kicks. He’s awesome and I respectfully wish we saw a whole lot less of him.

At 3-8 with Wilson hurt, this season is so far outside of the expected range of outcomes that I don’t even know which way is directions anymore. There isn’t one thing to point at and say “if they can fix this down the stretch, or even in the offseason, then they’ll be back on track.” It’s just too pervasive. Wilson isn’t in a position to bail this team out anymore— not until that hand fully heals— and there isn’t anything in the plans that the team can turn to in this situation.

I tried really hard not to end up right back where I left off with this team. I am doing my best to suspend disbelief, but there’s also no point in being dishonest with you guys or myself. This team is very bad right now— truly, the only teams with worse records are the Lions, Texans, and Jaguars— and it doesn’t feel like just a blip on the radar. Every great era ultimately ends and it takes some pretty gymnastic fandom not to feel like this is it for the brand of Seahawks football that has carried us for 12 years.

It’s such a tough place to be because the one solace for fans of shitty teams is that high draft pick but of course, Seattle doesn’t even have that to look forward to. I am intentionally refraining from a deep-dive on the Pete/Russ-future for now, because it’s remarkably cloudy. My position on Carroll certainly hasn’t changed in the two weeks since I’ve last written, but the Wilson side has only gotten murkier. Here’s what I will say on the subject, however:

There is a disconnect in the discourse. Many folks are interpreting the calls for a new coach as a mark of disrespect for what Carroll has done. But I’m not saying Pete doesn’t deserve his flowers for what he’s accomplished in Seattle. It’s been incredible, and I’ve spilled liters of ink in praise of his success. But sometimes saying it’s time for a new HC is simply that. Coaching contracts are investments in the future of your team, not lifetime achievement awards.

For the first time in forever, the ‘Hawks are in evaluation mode; and that applies to everybody. Sitting 15th in the NFC, the playoffs are out of the picture and without the accompanying draft capital, there’s no cheering for a higher pick. It’s simply time to spend six games looking at what is worth keeping around after this year— and what isn’t.

It’s gonna be a very odd-feeling month and a half, and it’s unlikely we’ll feel any clarity about the direction of this team for a very long time. Hunker down, shit’s about to get weird. Glad we’re in it together.

I’m spending a few days in Leavenworth (the town, not the prison) so I decided to procure some local accoutrements for tonight’s game. I stopped in at Blue Spirits Distillery and picked up a bottle of their Trail Bourbon to sip with a Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne cigar. There was a sweetness to the bourbon that complimented the butterscotchy profile of the stogie. All in all, a nice lil salve for tonight’s game.

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 them up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars. Just be sure to mention that you’re a Cigar Thoughts reader. 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 chance you’ll get to step into that world.

The 2021 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.

Next week,