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Cigar Thoughts, Game 1: Vindication

Let’s ride.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

***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 or any of our other episodes right here:

Broken relationships hurt. They are obstacle courses with no map, just emotions so strong they cloud your version— and the decisions that come with ‘em. The intensity with which we feel the hurt is directly proportionate to the strength with which we felt the connection in the first place. Light hits the prism from another angle after the separation, casting a different hue upon the things we used to see so clearly. But once we process the pain— the sense of loss and, in some cases abandonment— we’re able to view things in a new light. We can take stock of who we are, where we are, and what we need moving forward.

Russell Wilson is one of the most important athletes in the history of Seattle sports. Nothing about the last six months changes what he’s meant to us as fans and to this region as a whole. He is the author of some of our greatest memories and his work with Seattle Children’s Hospital is a net positive that has reverberated throughout the region. He’s also a giant fucking cornball and got damn does it feel good to finally say that out loud.

You ever been in a relationship that you loved— that you cherished so much you couldn’t stop talking about it. You have? That’s amazing. Everyone should be so lucky. You ever have that relationship end? And was there stuff your friends alluded to— things they found annoying or troublesome but that you saw as cute, quirky, our not problematic in the grand scheme? The thing about break-ups is that it gives you a very personal permission to see that person (and yourself) for what they are— faults and all. For me, I am infinitely grateful for Russ’ time in Seattle— for the outsized role he played in making the Seahawks matter. I’ve also never wanted to see someone lose a regular season game more.

It’s one thing to break up with someone. It’s another thing entirely to have your first post-relationship date be at the exact same restaurant, your ex sitting one table over with their new fling.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world...

The game itself delivered on every promise the hype for it made. The home crowd was lubed up and rocking like the days of old when the Seahawks received the opening kick, beginning their 2022 season with Geno Smith and a new/same-look offense. With Pete Carroll and Shane Waldron free of Wilson’s penchant for improvisation but bereft his uniquely creative abilities, they were liberated to call the game as they saw fit. That started with a toss to Rashaad Penny on the first play for a minimal gain, followed up by a completion to DK Metcalf to create a 3rd & short. That’s when Smith calmly stood in the pocket and delivered an assertive strike to Tyler Lockett on the left hash for 17 yards and a first down. Then, after a false start and a decent run from Penny, Geno wung one out to Metcalf in the right flat and DK made a tremendous twisting, airborne catch on a ball slightly behind him, contorting his muscular body to snag the pass while horizontal in tight coverage.

Facing another 3rd & short, this time just inside the Denver 40, Geno was ready. Taking the snap and dropping back, Smith surveyed the field as the Broncos’ stunt let a pass rusher break free up the middle. With pressure bearing down, Travis Homer stepped in front and sacrificed his life for the cause. The defender bulldozed him to the ground but Homer’s heroism was not in vain, as the collision allowed Smith to move up in the pocket and find a wide open Will Dissly for the slowest 38-yard touchdown in NFL history. Just like that it was 7-0 Seahawks and the score sent Lumen Field rolling in a way it rarely has since the name changed.

That set the table for Wilson’s first drive as a Bronco and he was greeted with a cascade of boos that I imagine he both appreciated and which must’ve cut him to the core. Nevertheless, he was crisp, confident and to be honest, I expected nothing less. He alternated productive completions to Andrew Beck(?) and handoffs to Javonte Williams, moving the ball deep into Seahawks territory before settling for a field goal when Seattle’s defense did what they’ve done for years: namely be really permissive until the red zone before tightening the screws on their opponent. The Seahawks defense is maddening that way— flirting with you all night before leaving you on the doorstep to call an Uber at 2am. The possession saw much of what we’ve grown used to when we cheered for Russ, namely sharp, on-target passes and slippery mobility under pressure. The drive stalled, but it was clear that Wilson showed up prepared for this one.

The Seahawks looked great again on their second drive, using a lot of Penny and little Noah Fant to get inside the Broncos’ 10 yard line. Then, faced with 4th & inches, Carroll did the right thing and kept the offense on the field. With less than a football’s length to gain, they correctly called a QB sneak but Geno slipped after taking the snap and Denver won at the point of attack. That combination kept Smith short of the marker and Seattle came up empty. Still, the vibes were high with the ‘Hawks up 7-3.

Denver took over with their backs pressed up against the noise but they ripped off a couple quick first downs thanks to Williams and Albert Okwuegbunam. They moved the ball closer to midfield before running out of gas and punting it back to the home team. The Seahawks would respond with yet another long drive, covering 50 yards on nine plays before Jason Myers knocked a 49-yard field goal through the uprights to restore the lead to seven points.

Now look, regardless of how we feel about Russell Wilson in this moment, we all know he has some magic left in him. and that wizardry would be on display in Denver’s next possession. After Williams was bottled up for a loss by a crashing Michael Jackson, Wilson went back to his RB through the air for nine to set up 3rd & 2. As we all know— and this is something I’ve always appreciated about him— Russ loves to go long on “& short” plays. This instance was no exception, as he heaved a ball up the left sideline towards Jerry Jeudy, who had gained a step on rookie Coby Bryant. Bryant closed the gap as the ball descended towards the receiver but couldn’t get his head around in time to knock it away. Jeudy corralled that pass and sprinted to the end zone with a 52-yard TD to tie it at 10.

If that touchdown was supposed to quell Seattle’s momentum, no one told them. Smith picked up right where he left it, completing five passes on the next six plays before dialing up Colby Parkinson down the right seam for a 25-yard score and tilting the entire stadium like a drunken sailor on choppy seas.

That gave Russ and company a little less than three minutes to answer, and they did in the form of a nine-play, 57-yard drive resulting in a half-ending field goal. It could have been more, but Cody Barton shut shit down on a well-timed blitz, sacking Wilson and killing the rhythm Denver was building. When the first two quarters were all said and done, Seattle carried a 17-13 lead to the locker room and the vibes, they were a-vibin’.

After a high-flying opening half, things settled into the the kind of dusty, grind-it-out battle that you know Carroll really wanted it to be. The Broncos received the 3rd quarter kick and moved the ball down the field with precision and intention. Wilson saw what he needed to see and delivered, linking up with Courtland Sutton on a couple of chain-moving passes and targeting Sutton again on a pass interference that put the ball at Seattle’s 9. After a short pass to Jeudy, a delay of game, a stuffed run, and an eight-yard completion to Melvin Gordon, Denver had a 4th & goal from the 1. They went right back to Gordon, who took the ball and charged off the right guard’s ass towards pay dirt. Before he could reach the promised land, however, he was met by an angel of God in the form of Quandre Diggs, who leveled him with a righteous shoulder. Gordon tumbled to the turf as the ball bobbled free, bouncing into the waiting arms of Jackson, who returned it out to the 10.

Seattle would take advantage of a couple defensive penalties and two completions to Metcalf, including a big-time contested man’s-game catch on 3rd down, and the Seahawks were on the move again. Geno logically went right back to Metcalf on the next play, swinging it out to his gorgeous wideout in the right flat. After catching the ball, DK stiff-armed the first defender to the turf but his undeniable will to extend every play, right or wrong, cost him. As Metcalf struggled for the extra yard, Randy Gregory came from the blindside, ripping the ball free and it was recovered by Justin Simmons who returned to Seattle’s 32.

Denver was in prime position to capitalize and finally take the lead that the betting public had been counting on. It didn’t take them long to get inside the 10 and a go-ahead touchdown seemed inevitable, especially after Wilson found Okwuegbunam at the goal line. To the eternal chagrin of Broncos Country, however, Diggs was there once again to deny entry to heaven, shutting Okwuegbunam down inches from glory. That forced a 3rd down a hand’s-width from the end zone and on that play, one that carried with it a massive swing in win probability, Russ turned and handed it to Williams. As Javonte picked his gap and charged forward, Uchenna Nwosu crashed down and punched the ball out, sending it bounding forward and into the arms of Jackson once again. Just an incredible stand, and the third consecutive drive in this game that ended in a lost fumble. Still, it remained 17-13.

The Seahawks tried to capitalize and even managed to get a couple first downs thanks to Smith’s bull-headed will when scrambling, but the drive would peter out when Bradley Chubb beat Charles Cross for a strip-sack that was almost the fourth consecutive lost fumble. It took three and a half quarters for us to see Michael Dickson but he was finally called upon for Seattle’s first punt and he thumped it 47 yards to pin the Broncos inside their own 20. Denver responded with their longest drive of the game, going 72 painstaking yards on 15 plays before once again failing to capitalize inside the red zone. Given three chances from inside Seattle’s 10, Wilson went 0-3 and the Broncos had to comfort themselves with another threadbare field goal. 17-16 with six minutes to go.

Now if you thought Seattle was gonna go down the field and ice this game with a score, you clearly don’t know Seahawks football. Instead of imposing themselves on a beleaguered opponent, they lost eight yards on three plays and punted again, giving Wilson a chance to write his own revenge story. And, for a minute there, it looked like he was gonna.

After a 5-yard Gordon run and a short incompletion, Wilson found Okwuegbunam for a questionably-marked first down. He followed that up with another completion to Albert O for six, then Gordon carried it up the middle for two. On 3rd & 2, Russ checked down to Williams for nine yards and another first down. After another incompletion, Wilson went back to Williams but he was chopped down by Barton for a loss of four, creating a 3rd & 14 with just over a minute to go. On the next play, Wilson eschewed a downfield pass in favor of yet another dump-off to Williams, who made a couple of guys miss as he wiggled his way to the Seahawks’ 46. With the clock winding on a 4th & 5, and all three timeouts in their pocket, the Broncos inexplicably let the play clock wind down before using one of them with 20 seconds left. And instead of using that respite to draw up a play for their $256 million quarterback, they took the ball out of the hands of the player they traded two 1sts, two 2nds, and a handful of players for, choosing to put their fate on the foot of their kicker from 64 yards away. Now I hate icing the kicker, unless you’re going to do it before he has a chance at a practice kick but the only thing Pete Carroll likes more than losing challenges is giving opposing kickers two tries to win the game.

Brandon McManus pulled his first attempt at the game-winner wide left but Carroll’s late timeout gave him a second chance. His next kick— the one that counted— was better, spending the first 95% of its journey just inside the left upright. McManus had the distance, which is impressive enough, but his kick screwed left at the final moment and the Seahawks sideline erupted.

When the smoke settled, the scoreboard read Seahawks: 17, Broncos: 16 and the party was on. Just a remarkably satisfying, cathartic, and vindicating win to kick off what promises to be a very interesting season.


~Geno Smith came out with some serious “this is my fucking team now” swag, completing his first 13 passes and talking a healthy amount of shit to whoever happened to be close enough to hear it. He finished the first half 17/18 for 164 yards and 2 TDs but the Broncos adjusted the way NFL teams do and he reverted to the game-manager we all kinda expected over the last two quarters. Smith’s second half numbers were, uh... not excellent. He completed six of ten passes for 27 yards and 0 points over the final 30 minutes but he was good enough in the first half to put the team in a position to win and he didn’t do anything down the stretch to lose it.

Smith was excellent when Denver brought the heat, however. When under pressure, Geno went 5-6 for 82 yards, a touchdown, and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Incredible. He earned the “Ge-no” chants that flooded the stadium tonight.

~With no Ken Walker III, Rashaad Penny was called upon to shoulder the load for Seattle’s running game and I thought he did pretty well. Last year Penny led the NFL in yards per carry, yards after contact, and yards after Thanksgiving and it looked like he was close to breaking off a big one a couple of times tonight. Denver defends the run really well and while he didn’t have a lot of room, he still managed to turn 12 carries into 60 yards while adding seven more on two catches. A solid but unspectacular game from the guy who set the NFL on fire at the end of last season. No worries about him from me, long as he stays healthy.

~The Seahawks force-fed DK Metcalf early in this game and it’s a trend I hope continues throughout the season. Despite constant coverage from all-world corner Patrick Surtain II, Metcalf caught all seven of his targets. None of it was downfield, however, as the Broncos shaded a safety over the top of him all night. The seven catches were encouraging but they only amounted to 36 yards, and he lost a fumble. I love the intention and am not too concerned about the results. The big plays will be there, and I’m happy to see him take charge of the team’s target share.

Tyler Lockett had a big catch on the opening drive but we didn’t hear much from him after that. Smith did dial up his tight ends and running backs a lot today but I’d still love to see Lockett get more than four targets moving forward. Three catches and 28 yards for Tyler tonight.

The tight ends were the stars of the passing game in this one, with Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson splitting Geno’s two touchdowns and Noah Fant chipping in three more catches for 16 yards. All told, the position group accounted for eight of Smith’s 23 completions, 101 of his 195 yards, and both of his scores. To me, it’s more a reflection of Denver’s refusal to let Lockett and Metcalf beat them than an intentional focal point of the game plan— but I was still thrilled to see those guys deliver when called upon.

~I thought the offensive line played pretty well today. Charles Cross dominated for three quarters but ultimately, Bradley Chubb wore him down, logging two sacks in the 4th. He’s gonna have some growing pains, especially with the ridiculous quality of pass rushers on Seattle’s schedule, but he was really impressive for the game’s first 45 minutes. He moves so effortlessly, with remarkable footwork and he swallowed up every would-be pressure like a Sarlacc. A good debut, late sacks notwithstanding.

Abe Lucas was solid as well. playing with the nasty meanness you love to see from a right tackle. Lucas did have one hold on a great Penny run but honestly, his hands were inside the defender’s shoulders and Penny’s change of direction left him in a no-win position. No negative marks from me on that one. The interior line played well also, creating some lanes for Penny and keeping Smith clean in the pocket.

~The defense was outstanding tonight. Some of that may be chalked up to intel on Wilson’s tendencies but mostly I think it was just a good game plan executed really well. After years of an uninspiring, non-dynamic scheme under Ken Norton Jr, Clint Hurtt’s debut was a lovely one. Playing safe but sticky coverage, and choosing some well-timed blitzes, the Seahawks held the Broncos to 16 points while doing a ton of damage inside the red zone. It remains to be seen if that’s a sustainable approach but man, they were fun today.

Jamal Adams played his ass off in his limited minutes, making a couple tackles, forcing an incompletion with a near sack and almost picking Wilson off on a downfield pass before suffering what Carroll deemed a “serious” knee injury in the first quarter. Just a cataclysmic outcome for a player primed to show Seattle fans just how good he can be in this new-look defense.

Uchenna Nwosu was the star of the show. One of the new additions this offseason, Nwosu was everywhere, snagging ballcarriers at every level, recording a sack, and forcing a goal line fumble en route to seven tackles. What a fun player.

Welcome to the show, Michael Jackson. One of the major standouts in camp this offseason, Jackson forced his way into the starting lineup and responded with an amazing performance. In addition to two end zone fumble recoveries, he also had a tackle for a loss and a pass breakup, with four takedowns to boot. Looked like a stalwart out there.

Jordyn Brooks stepped effortlessly into the massive vacuum left by Bobby Wagner, leading the team with 12 tackles while making all the right calls on defense. I don’t think there’s a single player on this defense I’m more excited about than this guy.

Quandre Diggs just does it, man. Six tackles, one of which came in the backfield, plus a game-changing forced fumble while captaining this D. Should have had an interception to boot. He is the heart of the defense and as the first player to re-sign with Seattle this offseason, he delivered a message that this is no long-term rebuild. This team loves this guy, and so do I.

Al Woods is an Ent, and his 1,000-year-old tree strength was evident on a 2nd & 2 with two minutes left when he wrapped up Melvin Gordon while being blocked and threw him to the turf like like a candy wrapper in the hands of a hungry 6-year-old.

Cody Barton had a couple of massive tackles for loss including on Williams with a minute and a half left to help force the long field goal attempt that missed. He also sacked Wilson on a beautiful little stunt as part of his 10 tackles. He was the biggest question mark on this defense for me and assuming his late injury isn’t serious, he may very well be a big part of the picture this season and beyond.

Darrell Taylor didn’t have his name called until he went down with a cramp on the final drive. Alas, maybe next time. High hopes for him still.

~Penalties have long been a bugaboo for the Seahawks but they were very disciplined in that regard today. While Denver caved to the crowd to the tune of 12 penalties, Seattle committed just five. You do that every game, you’re gonna put yourself in great position.

~Shane Waldron was in his motherfucking bag tonight. The thing about Russell Wilson is that no matter whatever offense you wanna run, you’re going to run the Russell Wilson offense. Today, however, plays developed on schedule with a QB willing to stay in the pocket until the proper opportunity presented itself. Wondering what could have been with Russ’ talent and Geno’s mindset is an intoxicating thought experiment but the fact of the matter is that they are two wildly different players (breaking news, I know) and Geno’s mindset (not talent) is exactly what Waldron’s offense needs to succeed. I don’t love how the offense looked in the second half, and they’ll have to learn to adjust to their opponents’ adjustments, but the first half was Louvre-worthy. If they can bottle that part of the game up, they may actually make some noise on that side of the ball.

~This victory belongs to Pete Carroll. Anyone who has been reading this column over the last few years is familiar with my in-game frustrations with Seattle’s head coach but one thing I’ve never wavered on is his unbelievable ability to get his guys up for the moment. We saw it down the stretch in a lost season last year and it continued tonight. The things that annoy me when his team is better than the opponent are the very things that helped this team win today. Shorten the game, limit mistakes, count on your men to make the plays in the game’s biggest moments. He is relishing this victory up there with some of the biggest in his career, I promise you that.

~If you were at this game, give yourself a hand. Y’all were insane in a way that stadium has been missing the last few years. I may be alone in this, but it seems like the Seahawks’ home-field advantage has been trading in on its reputation for a long time and it’s something I’ve felt when I’ve been there. We created a standard for disruption that can only be imitated elsewhere but lately, we’ve been a pretty flaccid crowd. Here’s to this not being a one-time thing.

This is just one game, so I don’t want to overreact, but this was a massive win for this team. It goes beyond beating Russ, beyond being 1-0— hell, it’s more than standing alone atop the NFC West. What it does is set this re-tooling on the right track, instilling valuable belief in this team’s trajectory and showing that they are good enough to beat good teams. The vibes surrounding this team were atrocious last season and this game was a monumental step in reversing that energy. Expectations for this team are a blank canvas and the first few strokes of the paintbrush were beautiful. Here’s to them adding color and verve over the course of the season as they build towards a masterpiece down the road.

There is so much season left, but there’s also a lot of time to worry about that. Tonight, however, we sleep the sleep of the righteous, on a comfy bed stuffed with losses by the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals.

Onwards, upwards, go motherfucking ‘Hawks.

Tonight deserved something special, so I unsheathed a Herrara Esteli by Drew Estate and paired it with a heavy pour of a remarkable Glenlivet 18. A combination worthy of the most meaningful Seahawks win in a very long time.

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The 2022 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.