***As most of you know, Cigar Thoughts is now a podcast. One of the perks of the pod is getting these articles in audio form in addition to our sit-downs with our amazing guests. You can listen to this article right here:
Let’s be clear— I hate games on this field. Arizona’s State Farm Stadium has marked the end of two chapters of Seattle football, claiming the end of numerous great Seahawks tenures in the process. Seattle’s chance at a legitimate dynasty was snuffed out here in Super Bowl 49 and two years later, injuries on this field ended the careers of Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. The next game in Phoenix saw the last snap of Earl Thomas’ storied time as a Seahawk, his raised middle finger as he was carted off a 3” concentration of our collective feelings towards this god-forsaken place.
It’s a weird feeling to have towards a specific stadium, especially when the ‘Hawks have gone 7-1-1 there in their last nine games. Still, a haunting specter has hung over this place for Seattle, and they looked to continue their win-loss dominance while avoiding injurious catastrophe in the process. They’d succeed on one of two counts.
The Seahawks came into this game having been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for two weeks but functionally eliminated for over a month. That has led to a new kind of conversation surrounding one of the winningest franchises of the last decade, as the gripes that have pockmarked Seattle’s varying degrees of success over the last few years grew cacophonous as the losses piled up. Then last week happened; a 51-point explosion in a blowout win over the lowly Detroit Lions. And for all of the “this might work out after all” that started to creep into the collective zeitgeist, it was hedged until we saw it against a good team. The type of team the Arizona Cardinals purport to be.
Seattle received the opening kick and after an incomplete deep shot to DK Metcalf on the first play, disaster struck. Wilson took the snap and drifted to his left, never seeing Chandler Jones— who has sacked Russell Wilson more than any player in the league— inexplicably coming free on an edge blitz. Jones closed the distance between himself and his target in a blink, clubbing Wilson to the ground and jarring the ball free. The pigskin popped into the waiting hands of Zach Allen, who galloped 16 yards into the end zone to make it 7-0 home team.
Given a chance to reset, albeit down seven, the Seahawks offense found some positive vibes. Starting the drive with three straight handoffs to Rashaad Penny, Seattle picked up 30 quick yards, highlighted by the kind of slippery, slanting 20-yard run we’ve come to expect on a weekly basis. That was followed by a nondescript two-yard completion to Colby Parkinson, bringing up 3rd &2.
On this play, and needing to build some momentum in front of a raucous crowd hoping for a division title, Wilson stood in shotgun with his receivers spread out on wide splits across the field. Tyler Lockett was closest to him on the right, the interior of three receivers with Metcalf and Freddie Swain flanking him. The Cardinals responded with their corner, a safety, and a linebacker sitting even with each other about five yards off the line of scrimmage. The play Seattle called in response was perfect.
As Wilson took the snap, both Metcalf and Swain ran stop routes just past the sticks, getting all three defenders to crash. As they did, Lockett slipped behind them and bent his route towards the right seam. Wilson stunted like he was gonna throw short before lobbing it over the top of the defenders to a wide-open Lockett. Tyler coasted under the pass and beat the safety to the pylon for the game-tying score. A phenomenal answer to a horrific start. 7-7.
The Cardinals would get one first down on their first possession but ended up kicking it away. The next Seahawks drive was highlighted by a couple of catches from Metcalf but ultimately ended the same way, and the game remained tied after one quarter.
Every week it seems I’m forced to describe at least one fingernail-pulling drive by Seattle’s opponent but today they outdid themselves. Arizona took all the fun out of eleven whole minutes of the game, inexplicably using 19 plays to cover just 66 yards and coming away with only three points. It was all just so, so stupid. Too stupid to waste your time with. Whatever. 10-7
One of the frustrations with this insufferable bend-don’t-break philosophy is that these chasmic breaks between offensive possessions makes rhythm tough to come by. That was not the case this time, however, as Wilson and Co kept their positive momentum from last week. After a short Penny run and an incompletion, Seattle faced 3rd & 8. We all know how bad the Seahawks have been in these situations this season but the vibrations have changed since the calendar flipped to 2022 and Wilson calmly went through his progressions before dumping it down to Travis Homer for 23 yards.
That conversion was followed by a short completion to Lockett and a missed throw to Metcalf. Unfazed, Wilson stepped into a clean pocket and dotted up DK for 31 yards down the left side to convert the second straight 3rd & 8. Penny would get stuffed on 1st down and Wilson zipped one off of Parkinson’s hands to give them another 3rd & long. No worries though, as Russ went right back to his towering tight end, hitting Parkinson for 12 down to the 5. That set up a sprint right option route to Lockett— an easy pitch-and-catch resulting in Tyler’s second touchdown of the game.
Arizona would commit three penalties on their next possession, including an offensive pass interference on AJ Green that erased his 31-yard catch. Despite one first down, the Cards would have to punt and, to this point, everything besides the fumble seemed to be going Seattle’s way. That mojo would continue on the Seahawks’ next drive, as they used a series of effective Penny runs, two completions to Lockett, and a clutch 12-yarder to Metcalf to get to Arizona’s 19. After back-to-back incompletions forced 3rd & long, Wilson got Gerald Everett isolated against a defender on the left. Wilson stepped back and, with Everett leaving a stumbling defender in his wake with a double-move, lobbed a ball into the end zone for an easy touchdown. All Everett had to do was catch the ball leading him perfectly to glory but the pass clanged off his hands and fell incomplete. Everything about the play was perfect except for the one part that mattered most. Jason Myers would bang home the field goal to give Seattle a 17-10 lead heading into the half.
The Cardinals came out of the locker room and dominated the beginning of the third quarter, putting together their best drive of the game. Kyler Murray, who had been totally bottled up through the game’s first two quarters, found his groove completing all five of his passes for 80 yards including a swing pass to James Conner that saw the bruising running back bounce and dance his way up the left sideline and into the end zone to tie it up.
The pendulum continued to swing in the home team’s favor on the next drive as Wilson, forced to scramble right on yet another 3rd & long, airmailed Homer in the flat and hit Arizona’s Jalen Thompson in stride. Thompson would return the pick all the way to Seattle’s 1, setting up Conner’s second TD in as many minutes. 24-17 Cardinals.
The teams would trade punts on their next two possessions but that would mark the last uninteresting moment of the game. Trailing for the second time, Russell Wilson got back to the business of being Russell Wilson. He hit Metcalf for a quick nine before Penny started hitting his stride. The resurgent fourth-year back got seven on 2nd & 2 and after a short completion to Metcalf, slithered off the left side for 29. That set Seattle up with a first down on Arizona’s 25, and the Seahawks came out with a double stack formation. Splitting their four receivers out along the boundaries, Tyler Lockett stood slightly behind Everett near the right sideline with Metcalf a step back from Freddie Swain on the left. The thing about close-split stack formations is that it makes assignments very confusing for the defenders.
Now as well know, DK Metcalf is one of the scariest propositions in football and when he ran a hard slant, both Cardinals defenders committed to him. That let Swain, who hesitated expertly, run unfettered up the left seam. Wilson hit him perfectly in stride for a walk-in touchdown to tie the game up at 24.
Re-energized, Seattle’s defense hounded Murray on the next possession, obliterating the Cards’ protection on all three plays. On first down, Carlos Dunlap collapsed the left tackle, forcing Murray straight into Poona Ford’s grubby little hands for an 11-yard sack. Dunlap would pressure Murray again on 2nd down, forcing him into a short scramble that Jordyn Brooks put to rest. Then, on 3rd & forever, Kerry Hyder Jr would blow past his man to rope Kyler to the ground like a rodeo calf, meaning Arziona would be punting from their own goal line. That’s when Travis Homer made what might’ve been the play of the game.
With Andy Lee back to kick, he took the snap and entered his punting motion. That’s when he saw Homer screaming towards him out of the corner of his left eye. The hesitation was everything and Lee faltered as he dropped the ball towards his foot. Not wanting the kick to be blocked, he never swung his leg through and the ball thudded to the turf. Homer flew past him and Lee picked it up with all the composure of a blind hyena surrounded by lions. He scrambled forward but Homer changed direction and hammered him from behind, jarring the ball loose. It was pounced on by... /checks notes... Cody Thompson(?) at the Cardinals’ 10.
Moments later, Russell Wilson tucked the ball under his beefy left arm and evaded pressure up the middle. He was met at the 2-yard-line by Budda Baker but Wilson absorbed the hit and launched himself into the end zone for the lead. 31-24.
Arizona was too good to go away, and they strung together another long drive, going 67 yards on 14 plays before settling for a field goal after getting as far as Seattle’s 8. 31-27, and we were in for a wonderfully juiced final six minutes.
This game had felt, for the overwhelming majority of it, like it belonged to Seattle. But the thing about the NFL is that literally everyone on the field is really good at football and a four-point lead doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t do anything with it. No worries here, though. Wilson would hit Lockett on an arrow route to the left for 11 and then Penny slammed up the middle for two. Stage set.
Facing 2nd & 8 from their own 38, many of us figured the Seahawks would simply try to bleed as much clock as possible on what would prove to be their penultimate possession. And you know what, maybe that’s what Seattle was trying to do, but if so, Rashaad Penny had other ideas. The play call was great, but it was the the execution that touched the face of God. With Penny lined up behind Wilson, Seattle’s QB took the snap as the entire O-line took their first steps to the left. Their chorus-line synchronicity shifted the entire defense that way, but the Seahawks’ blockers didn’t over-commit. Instead, they let every member of the Cardinals’ front-seven take one step too many before setting up an impenetrable wall as Penny took the handoff and cut right.
That opened up a giant hole up the middle and Penny vaporized the lone remaining defender before out-running the rest of the defense for a game-clinching 62-yard score. Arizona would get a late field goal but Brooks would cleanly field the onside kick and after Penny snagged 16 more yards on two carries, Wilson was able to down out Seattle’s second straight victory.
~Despite missing three games with a finger injury and sucking donkey balls for three games after that, Russell Wilson still finishes with the most wins (113) of any quarterback in their first 10 years in NFL history. He went 15 of 26 today for 238 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT, plus the fumble. He also ran for a touchdown but most importantly, he looked every bit the Russell Wilson we all fell in love with. He was elusive, accurate, and didn’t wilt after coughing up the early turnover.
He finishes the season having completed 259 of his 400 passes for 3,113 yards, 25 TDs, and 6 INTs. And despite all of his struggles, his 65.1% completion rate and 7.8 yards/attempt exactly matched his career averages. His 4.2 TD/INT rate was the 4th best of his career and his passer rating of 103.1 ends up above his career average as well. Pretty remarkable given all the adversity he faced this season.
I’ll admit that I was forced to reconsider my “retain Russ at all costs” opinion after his abysmal mid-season stretch but my feet are now firmly planted back on the rock. He is the future of this team, no matter what else transpires.
~Rashaad Penny, take a bow. Two weeks ago he carried the ball 17 times for 135 yards, then followed that up with a career high 170 on 25 carries against the Lions. Today, he outdid all of that. 23 carries, 190 yards, and a fuck-you touchdown to seal the deal. He now has 672 yards and 6 TDs in his last five games, the most in the NFL on both counts. Despite starting just one game against them, Penny pulled off the two longest runs the Cardinals have allowed all season. I don’t wanna hear any more noise about him only producing against bad teams.
Before the season started, the Seahawks declined his fifth-year option, making Penny an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. And who could blame them? But despite missing much of the season, he finished the year with a preposterous 786 yards and 6 TDs on just 119 carries. His 6.6 yards/carry is #1 in the NFL by over a full yard. That is absolutely bananas shit.
Pay that man his money.
~Tyler Lockett was the man today. He was only targeted five times but he caught every single one of them for 98 yards and two TDs. That gives him 73 receptions for 1,175 yards and 8 TDs in a season where the offense was nonexistent for most of it. His yardage is good for 9th in the NFL, which is ridiculous considering this offense’s struggles throughout the year.
~DK Metcalf received a remarkable 11 targets today, as Wilson made a concerted effort to force-feed the monster. The efficiency on these attempts wasn’t great, as Metcalf finished with five catches for 58 scoreless yards, but the threat of him opened up the two long TDs to Lockett and Swain. He finishes the year with a line of 75-967-12— well below our expectations for him but pretty impressive given the desert he walked through in the middle of the season. And despite all that, his dozen touchdowns was good for fourth in the league. Amazing, really.
~For the second straight game, the offensive line was awesome. Every team deals with the scourge of OL injuries and Seattle was no exception. They looked pretty bad for stretches this year but they were excellent down the stretch. Like any offense, production follows the performance of the guys up front but man, was that ever evident for this team.
Two straight great games heading into the offseason. This week Jake Heaps, the closest media member to Russell Wilson, came on the Cigar Thoughts podcast and hammered the desire for Seattle to invest real money in the OL. With a projected $53M in cap space, I’ll be fascinated to see how the front office approaches this group.
~Bobby Wagner missed his first game in nearly four seasons, freezing his tackle count at a franchise-record 170 which, unlike the litany of other franchise records being set across the league this week, he needed just 15 games to accomplish. As I’ve mentioned before, his $20M salary next year is a bit of an albatross, as Wagner has most certainly lost a step. He isn’t missing tackles, but he’s making them further downfield than ever before. I definitely want to keep him in that locker room but I’m hopeful he’s open to a restructure, as cutting him would open up another $16M in cap space.
~In Wagner’s stead, Jordyn Brooks is ready. I mean, ready ready. With his godfather sidelined, Brooks tied Wagner’s single-game franchise record with 20 tackles today and a season-long franchise record with 184. Make no mistake, Jordyn Brooks is the future of this defense.
~Cody Barton stepped into the biggest shoes imaginable with Wagner out, and responded with a really nice game. His 12-tackle performance trailed only Brooks on the day and his commitment to his assignments has to be encouraging for this team moving forward.
~Where has this pass rush been all season?? After a season-high five sacks last week, they matched it with another five this afternoon. Incredibly, those five sacks erased 53 yards from the Cardinals total— and Kyler Murray isn’t exactly the easiest dude to corral. Carlos Dunlap continued his scorched-earth campaign with two more sacks, giving him a team-high 8.5 on the season despite being a ghost until December. Meanwhile, Poona Ford got 1.5 chubby, cuddly sacks, sharing one with Darrell Taylor, while Kerry Hyder Jr closed it out with one of his own. Is this group good enough to move forward with?
~I thought the secondary was really good today, as they successfully funneled the Arizona passing game over the short middle of the field. Cardinals wide receivers were targeted 18 times and pulled in just 10 catches for 88 yards. Sidney Jones and DJ Reed were awesome. Lots of promise back there heading into next year.
~Quandre Diggs was three minutes away from finishing an exquisite 17-start, Pro Bowl season heading into a lucrative offseason when he got caught in a scrum and went down screaming. Mercifully, FOX didn’t show the replay but reports are saying he broke his fibula and dislocated his ankle. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field with tears in his eyes and those of many of his teammates. It was painfully reminiscent of Earl Thomas’ final play as a Seahawk and honestly just breaks my heart. Make no mistake, he was the best Seattle Seahawk this year. I hope there’s a way to bring him back.
~Believe it or not, the Seahawks outscored their opponents by 29 this season. They came into their final two games having been outscored by a solitary point on the year but their finish really paints a different picture of this team than we’ve had for the last three months.
I’ve written no less than three articles this year asking this team to enact massive change this offseason, but new information should inform new opinions, and the Seahawks we’ve watched the last two weeks look like legitimate championship contenders. If nothing else, it confuses things— but in a very good way.
It is my steadfast, eternal promise to you that I will always be honest. I have wanted to move on from Pete Carroll for most of this season, but it is undeniable how well the Seahawks have played over the last two weeks. So I’ll say this: whatever the franchise decides to do with their coach and GM this offseason, I support it. I do. Just keep Russell Wilson.
This was an exhilarating finish to the season and what we saw from this team over those last two contests seems sustainable. I’ve never been more deliriously confused about this team than I am right now but I’m thrilled to be heading into the offseason with some seriously positive vibes. Between this article and the podcast, I will be here to relay what my heart and mind believe.
Even if it’s the last time I say this— go Russ, go Pete, go ‘Hawks. Onwards, upwards, and let’s fuck some shit up next year— whatever that looks like.
Today I smoked the Deliverance Porcelair from Black Label Trading Co. It’s the first time I’ve had one of BLT’s stogies and it delivered on par with the Seahawks today. It’s a little spicier than I’d normally reach for but the flavor matched the kick and that’s all you can ask for. That said, it required some serious juice to match so I finally uncorked a personal batch select from Knob Creek that can’t be found in stores, or ever. Don’t ask me where I got it cuz I’ll never tell you— but it was so got damn good it might have ruined 80% of the bourbons I normally drink.
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.