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Cigar Thoughts, Game 9: Are the Seahawks a juggernaut? Many are saying...

The Seattle Seahawks took control late, beating the Arizona Cardinals 31-21 to move to 6-3 and extend their lead in the NFC West.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Joe Rondone/The Republic

***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 all the shows, including this article, right here:

The Seattle Seahawks are for real. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been mentally preparing yourself for the clock to strike midnight, for Seattle’s ballroom gown to turn back into servant’s rags. Not expecting, mind you— just emotionally hedging. Hope is, after all, a dangerous thing.

We’re passed that now, though. The Seahawks have dragged us out to the middle of that rickety rope bridge spanning the chasm between rebuilding and truly contending. It would take just as much effort, with just as much danger, to go back now as it would to get to the other side.

Seattle could take another giant step towards finishing that journey by sweeping division nemesis Arizona Cardinals, but they’d have to do it in Glendale, against a team that has beaten the Seahawks once a year for all of human history.

The Seahawks received the opening kick and looked to keep their reputation for early offense going. The Cardinals held them to 19 points in Seattle a few weeks ago, and both defenses came into this one with a full game’s experience against the looks they’d be seeing. Didn’t seem to bother Seattle much, though, as they came out with a quick pass to Tyler Lockett for three yards. Ken Walker III would get wrapped up for a loss on the next play but Geno Smith found Noah Fant over the middle for 16 yards on 3rd down to keep things going. Two plays later, Smith hit DK Metcalf along the sideline but instead of stepping out of bounds for a five yard gain, Metcalf lowered his boulder shoulder and launched himself into the three closest defenders, carrying them like so many coats for a first down. Seattle was unable to get much further, but their efforts were rewarded by a 49-yard field goal from Jason Myers.

The Cardinals offense got a field goal on their initial drive in the first matchup before getting shut out the rest of the way, but they brought a new weapon to this fight. DeAndre Hopkins’ mere presence has been transformative for Arizona and perhaps no receiver’s absence is felt more strongly across the entire league. And it didn’t take long for the man they call Nuk to detonate. The Cardinals would go 83 yards on nine plays, including a long Kyler Murray scramble as he skipped out of a near-sack from Uchenna Nwosu. They also got James Conner back for this one, and they leaned on their sturdy RB for a series of tough runs to get them down to Seattle’s 22. Then, on 3rd & 2, Murray hit Hopkins on a crossing route in front of Boye Mafe, who was dropped back in coverage. And that, with all due respect to Mafe, is like trying to stop a Ferrari by hoping it runs into a fire hydrant. Hopkins caught the pass over the middle and scorched his way into the endzone to give his team a 7-3 lead.

The Seahawks didn’t do much on their next drive, punting it away, but this time their defense held. They were helped immensely by a high snap that Conner scooped up before getting wrapped up in the backfield by Bruce Irvin for a loss of eight. Arizona would kick it over to Seattle, and the ‘Hawks got back on their bullshit with a long, deliberate 12-play drive.

It started with a toss to Walker III around the right end but instead of charging upfield, the rook stopped, turned, and threw it back across the field to Smith. Geno caught it cleanly and launched it downfield to Fant for 18 yards. Walker III would add a 15-yard run up the middle and then get eight more on the next play, putting Seattle on Arizona’s 8. After an offsides gave Seattle a first down, Smith handed it off to Walker III going left but he lost two yards when he made the all-too-common young-RB mistake of trying to bounce a run outside instead of ducking upfield. On 2nd down, Metcalf got a step behind the defense but Smith failed to put enough air under the ball and it was nearly picked off. If there’s been one recurring mistake during Smith’s gilded season thus far it been the struggle to drop a ball in over a defender and it almost cost them here. Given a second chance, Geno made ‘em pay. Taking a shotgun snap and dancing left, Smith bought time until Metcalf flashed open along the back line. Seattle’s QB whipped a pass into DK who secured iit for the score and a 10-7 lead.

Seattle’s defense would force a quick punt on the Cards’ next drive but it was almost even better, as Coby Bryant’s first career interception was overturned by a teammate’s penalty for the second time this season. This time, the culprit was Quandre Diggs, who bumped his receiver to the ground, nullifying the turnover. Still, the D did its job and got the ball right back to the offense, and Dallas would set them up with a nice return extended by a penalty against Arizona. Unfortunately, the Seahawks would run four plays without moving the sticks, with the final one being an uninspired shovel pass to Colby Parkinson, who is built like an Ent and moves like one too.

The Cardinals strung together a couple of first downs on their next possession but would come up empty when Tariq Woolen broke up an in route to Hopkins on 3rd & 4. On that play, Seattle’s Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate matched Hopkins’ steps like he was his own reflection, keeping his eyes on the QB and snaking a long arm in front of the pass to shut the drive down.

Seattle’s offense kept things going with a swing pass to Walker III on the opening play of their drive, and K-9 hit the defender with a stutter-step so cold your tongue would stick to it. He darted around the crossed-up would-be tackler to pick up 16 and then caught another on the next play for a nice gain but it was called back on an offensive pass interference call against Dareke Young. Seattle would eventually face a 3rd & 16, and Smith found Lockett on an underneath route that had a real chance at a first down. Sadly, Lockett gave himself up, sliding to the turf two yards short of the line to gain and Seattle would have to kick it away. The good news is that Lockett’s gaffe (of which he’s quietly had a few this season) gave Michael Dickson a chance to show off. Seattle’s Aussie booter skyed a 55-yard punt that bounced inside the five and Young dove to keep it out of the endzone, downing it at the 3.

Murray would respond with a great drive, including a zig-zagging 17-yard scramble that showcased his water-skeeter running style. Then, on 3rd & 14 a few plays later, he dumped it off to Eno Benjamin to keep the drive alive but Robby Anderson would drop an easy one on 3rd & 4 that appeared to kill whatever momentum the Cardinals might have otherwise had. The thing about Kyler Murray, though, is that he’s going to give you a high-variance performance and that was on display when he stayed out there for the 4th down conversion. On that play, he took a shotgun snap and ducked under a sack before tucking the ball and sprinting through pressure for a first down and a lot more. It looked for all the world like Arizona would, at the very least, get a game-tying field goal but before Murray could slide to a stop, Ryan Neal pounced from behind and knocked the ball loose. The football pitched forward to the 23 where it was fallen on by Josh Jones, giving Seattle one last chance to try and add to their lead.

With just 15 seconds to operate, Smith flipped a short pass out to glowed-up Travis Homer, who improbably shot between two defenders like the Millenium Falcon escaping a space slug. On the next play, Smith hit Fant over the middle but the pass was dropped, leaving Seattle one last shot from their own 45 and, instead of hucking it to the endzone, Smith elected to dump it off to Lockett for 27 cheap yards to preserve the 10-7 lead at the half.

The third quarter started with three consecutive punts, as both defenses came out of the break looking sharp, and the Cardinals helping Seattle out by trying to throw two forward passes on the same play. At this point, it looked like another low-scoring affair between these two, but that’s what’s when disaster struck for the Seahawks. Stuck deep in their own territory, Smith tried to toss a ball out to Walker III on a swing pass but again, didn’t put any arc on the pass and Zaven Collins made it hurt. Collins snagged the ball on the edge and returned it 30 yards for the score, giving Arizona their second non-offensive touchdown against Seattle in as many games, and a 14-10 lead to boot.

It was Geno Smith’s worst play of the season but the thing about the way he’s handled himself this year is that, instead of being worried, I found myself excited to see how he’d respond. And respond he fuckin’ did. After a five-yard run by Walker III was nullified by a false start on the next play, Smith hit Dissly for six and then again for five to keep the drive moving. Then, after two short runs and a delay of game had him facing a 3rd & 12, Smith defiantly hit Lockett over the middle at the first down mark, with Tyler snagging the bullet before getting leveled with a high hit that added 15 yards to the end of the play. Then it was Dissly again for 13 followed by Metcalf for nine more. Two Walker runs and an incompletion set up 3rd & 6 from the Cardinals 9, and Smith went back to Lockett on a comeback route just across the goal line for a go-ahead touchdown*. Just an incredible response from a quarterback that’s been playing incredible football for two months straight. 17-14 Seahawks.

*Did Lockett get away with pass interference for pushing off at the top of his route? Yes, absolutely. But do you really wanna live in a world where they penalize toddlers for shoving full-grown adults? Is that the America you want?? Huh???**

**Be sure to vote this Tuesday

That put the onus back on the Cardinals to score but their next effort at doing so would end when Shelby Harris discarded the center with a ferocious spin move and spun Murray to the turf for a 3rd down sack. Now, we’ve all marveled at the big play ability of Ken Walker III this season but I think his greatest value lies in his ability to slam the door at the end of games.

The next drive was more Walker III than the Cardinals had room for, as the rookie carried the rock seven times for 33 yards on the ensuing possession. That included a pinballing 12-yard run to the 1 that he’d finish off with a TD plunge on the next snap to extend the lead to 24-14 halfway through the 4th quarter.

Arizona answered back with their longest drive of the game and normally, that would be a great thing for them. But the Cardinals had two enemies at this point: the Seahawks and the clock, and while they’d best the former on this possession, the latter took its pound of flesh in the process. Murray and Co would move the ball 75 yards on 14 plays, culminating their efforts with a TD pass to Zach Ertz after he shook Woolen with a veteran out-and-in move from six yards out.

That made it 24-21, but the drive ate up four valuable minutes, leaving just 3:32 on the clock. The Seattle we’ve known for years would have used this opportunity to try and grind out a couple of first downs on the ground and trust the defense to hold a small lead at the end should that approach not work. But these Seahawks are not those Seahawks and, despite lining up in a heavy set, they eschewed the run in exchange for a well-timed sucker punch.

On the first play, Smith faked a handoff and hung out in the pocket as Fant dodged his way through traffic around the line of scrimmage. The athletic tight end picked his way through the melee and squirted out the other side into the wide open flat on the right edge. Smith rolled with him and hit Fant in stride with no one around him. For the first time since he was traded to Seattle, we got to see the tantalizing open-field speed that made Fant a high-end pick four years ago. Noah caught the pass and turned up the sideline, sprinting 51 yards before finally getting knocked down. That’s when Pete Carroll went to the bullpen, bringing in his closer Walker III to bury their rivals. Walker would gain eight, five, and 12 on the next three plays, before taking another handoff around the right edge and powering through two defenders to the pylon and the game-clinching score.

31-21 Seahawks, and when Jordyn Brooks expertly broke up a deep seam route on 4th & 15 a few plays later, all that was left were a few kneel-downs and the Seahawks headed home at 6-3.


~The first 40 minutes looked like a pumpkin game for Geno Smith. He threw the pick-six and almost had two other interceptions— all of which were either bad throws or bad decisions. It would have been easy for the NFL’s Cinderella to revert to the version of himself that the world expected to see all season. Instead, he responded with three consecutive touchdown drives to deliver a huge win.

Smith ended up completing 26 of 34 passes for 275 yards, two TDs, and the pick while rushing for 38 more. He stayed calm, despite looking upset and rattled early in the game. It has become very easy to see why Geno seized control of this locker room during the preseason, and why this team would follow him to the very gates of Hell right now.

~Ken Walker III is a bona fide NFL running back with some serious star quality. He was bottled up for most of the game before taking over late. The best running backs in the league are often described as getting better as the game goes on and if that’s the bar, then Walker III has already cleared it. He dominated the 4th quarter, finishing with 109 yards and two TDs on 26 beastly carries while adding 20 more on three receptions. He has been one of the most productive runners in the league since Rashaad Penny went down and we’re way beyond fluke status now. K-9 is a dawg.

~DK Metcalf has yet to turn in the type of field-flipping, game-breaking plays we grew accustomed to seeing when Russell Wilson was the quarterback but he’s evolved into a very dependable possession receiver with serious after-the catch prowess. He had five catches for 37 yards on six targets, turning one of them into that graceful first quarter touchdown. I’d love to see Shane Waldron start using him on some of those motion-based slip routes that they call for the tight ends, in order to take advantage of his special abilities with the ball in his hands. So, uh Shane... if you’re reading this......

Tyler Lockett had a great game, snagging all five of his targets for 67 yards and the touchdown. Like Metcalf, he hasn’t had the type of boom plays we’ve seen from him in the past but this is no longer an all-or-nothing offense and Lockett is adaptable enough to thrive in this system too.

Noah Fant is slowly starting to take control of the tight end room and today was his best outing as a Seahawk. He got off to a scintillating start with four catches for 42 yards but was largely ignored after the drop late in the 2nd quarter that had Geno hot afterwards. Ignored, that is, until Seattle’s final drive. That Seattle trusted Fant to be that guy in that moment, and to see him reward that faith with a spine-breaking 50-yard catch was awesome to see. I’m coming around to him getting a contract extension and cementing him as the #3 option in an offense that could really use one.

~The offensive line continues to kick ass up front. They only allowed two sacks and both of them were of the coverage variety. Other than that, they held their marks all afternoon, giving Smith plenty of time to either go through his reads or escape out of the pocket for some big runs. And when it came to blocking for Walker III, they were excellent. Seattle’s young runner is a special talent but the guys up front provide the light that shines off of Walker III’s diamond facets.

~The defense struggled with some bad tackling in the first half but that got tightened up over the final two quarters. The Seahawks held the Cardinals to just 94 yards on 30 plays in the second half, dominating over the final stretch while notching five sacks and forcing yet another fumble. The open sore that was Seattle’s defense over the first five games is scabbing into tough, unfeeling scar tissue that opposing offenses can’t seem to cut through.

The Seahawks defense now leads the NFL with 16 forced fumbles and 10 fumbles recovered, and have recorded an incredible 20 sacks over their four-game winning streak. The Cardinals didn’t even run a play inside Seattle’s 20 until there were four minutes left in the game. To put it plainly, they are feasting.

It started, as always, up front, with the ‘Hawks nasty boys mucking up the interior of the Cardinals’ line and creating consistent pressure on Kyler Murray. Uchenna Nwosu has graduated from fun free agent flyer to consistent contributor to leader of the defense to Pro Bowl candidate to All-Pro material in the span of two months. Two more sacks gives him seven on the season and he is providing the type of fearsome pass rush that this defense has been missing for years. Bruce Irvin and Shelby Harris chipped in with sacks as well and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see Bruce out here thriving.

Jordyn Brooks is looking more and more comfortable in the middle of this defense, keeping tight leashes on the players around him and recognizing plays early enough to make tackles around the line of scrimmage instead of six-to-ten yards downfield. 12 more tackles gives him an incredible 90 on the season and keeps him in the running to lead the NFL in that category.

~Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant are gonna be talked about in this region for a long time. To be this good, this early, is nothing short of remarkable and they were excellent again today. Bryant had an interception taken away on a penalty and a forced fumble overturned by replay, and while those efforts aren’t reflected in the box score, his reputation as playmaker grows with each passing week. On the other side, Woolen continues to learn the NFL corner game at hyper-speed. There are still times where he gets beat by veteran savvy but his instincts and abilities are insane for someone with so little experience at the position.

~Pretty clean effort on the penalty front again, as Seattle was flagged six times for just 34 yards while the Cardinals fell apart to the undisciplined tune of 12 for 77.

These are not fluky wins. Seattle is playing complete football, winning on both sides of the ball and being utterly unflappable when faced with mid-game adversity. They’re now 6-3, a game and a half ahead of the pack in the NFC West and, if the season were to end today, would be the #3 seed in the NFC. This team has all the hallmarks of a playoff squad, as they are not just squeaking out victories. They are bodying their opponents, balancing a sharp passing game with a relentless rushing attack and an opportunistic defense that hasn’t wilted when games get close late.

The Seahawks are on the Great Glass Elevator, busting through the ceiling of the chocolate factory and soaring into the atmosphere. Twice as many wins as losses, and they have a chance to proselytize Germany with their bodacious brand of football when they battle the Bucs in Munich next Sunday. It’s gonna be another really fun week in what has become a really fun year. Onward, upward, and fuck it... Go ‘Hawks.

Finally got to try the La Aurora Especiales Robusto today and it was awesome. Slow, smooth, and carrying an earthy flavor that danced eloquently with the Whistlepig Bespoke Blend I paired it with.

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