***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— like this week’s conversation with Seahawks legend STEVE RAIBLE. You can listen to all the shows, including this article, right here:
No team has ever stepped on an NFL football field looking more resplendent than the Seattle Seahawks did today, and they stepped off it looking even better— as leaders of the NFC West. Robed in theirs— or anyone’s— Sunday finest, the Seahawks did the franchise proud in their throwback uniforms. It wasn’t always pretty, but when is it ever?
Cleveland received the opening kick and with the crowd at their 2013 best, the Seahawks defense immediately forced a three and out. They have been so good lately, and despite all the talk about Deshaun Watson not playing, the Browns offense is not an easy bull to slay. Armed with one of the best OLs in football, they are more than capable of keeping opposing offenses off the field and when you have the best defense in the NFL on the other side, it’s a bitter recipe for opponents. So when you can card a win in the first round, it’s a big one. You just gotta capitalize with the offense.
Say no more. I haven’t fully gotten on board with Shane Waldron as a great offensive coordinator, but got damn is he good in the first quarter. Waldron’s opening script was a masterpiece once again, putting Geno Smith and Ken Walker in advantageous positions from the jump.
Smith hit Tyler Lockett for six on the first play, then, after a run went nowhere, Smith went back to Lockett for 13 more and a first down. On the next snap, Walker uncorked his longest run of the season against the second best run defense in the NFL (you’ll never guess who’s first /wink). Walker took the handoff up the middle and hopped to the left through a well-blocked hole and into the second level. His speed vaporized the nearest linebacker’s angle and he sprinted up the sideline until he was ridden out of bounds 45 yards later.
After a short run and an incomplete pass, Smith went back to Lockett again for 11 yards and another first down. That put the ball on the Browns’ 3 yard-line and Waldron showed a creativity I have been begging for in the red zone. On 1st & goal, Seattle wasted no time, running a jet sweep to Jake Bobo, who looked to be bottled up around the right edge. But the patron saint of undrafted wide receivers stuck his stocky foot in the ground and cut upfield for his second touchdown in as many games. 7-0 Seattle.
On their second drive, Cleveland used an eight-yard run to Kareem Hunt and a slick diving catch from Amari Cooper to move the sticks but their best intentions were undone when Jordyn Brooks timed his blitz perfectly, slicing through the offensive line and karate-chopping the ball out of PJ Walker’s hands. Boye Mafe fell on the ball and the Seahawks were back in business like a bank after a federal bailout.
Starting their second drive from the Browns’ 41, Smith went right back to Lockett for 17 on first down. A reverse to Dee Eskridge (remember him?) went for -5 yards but a screen to Jaxon Smith-Njigba remedied everything, as the rookie knifed his way down to the 10 for 19 yards. Two plays later, the Browns pass rush finally broke free and wrapped Smith up but Geno hopped out of the sack and, trotting towards the line of scrimmage, unleashed a perfect jumper at the last moment. His feathery pass sailed over the defense and hit Lockett in perfect stride in the endzone for a two-touchdown lead. 14-0 Seattle and the stadium nearly tilted from the noise.
Now look, I truly believe pregame vibes can lift a team, but not for an entire game. There’s no doubt that all the hype surrounding today’s reminiscent pageantry helped Seattle through the first four drives of the game. The vibes were pristine. But after that, it’s just football— and when it came to just football, the Browns were more than ready.
They kicked the Seahawks’ ass for the next 40 minutes, starting with a great drive to answer Seattle’s latest score. It only took them four plays to go 75 yards, and 71 of them came after the first play. On 2nd & 6, Walker hit Kareem Hunt for 12 and chased it with a swing pass to Pierre Strong for 41. With Seattle’s defense on their heels for the first time in a month, he whipped a pass to a crossing David Njoku over the middle. Cleveland’s athletic tight end split two defenders and charged into the endzone to cut the score in half at 14-7, and it looked like we were in for an unexpected shootout.
Seattle’s next drive was highlighted by a big-time catch from DK Metcalf, who exquisitely tracked a deep throw up the left side to basket-catch a 43-yard pass. It set up a Jason Myers field goal, and the Seattle lead swelled back up to ten at 17-7.
The only problem for the fans in attendance was that Cleveland had weathered the maelstrom and now it just came down to execution. After two incompletions, Walker maneuvered a rapidly collapsing pocket to dial up Cooper for 22 yards on the second toe-tapping grab of the game for Amari. It was the biggest play of a 10-play drive— at least, that is, until the final one. After racking up three first downs, Walker overshot Njoku on an out route, instead delivering it right to the crotch of Riq Woolen. Last year’s runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year corralled his first interception of the season but as he rolled over, Njoku dove in and, on one of the craziest plays I can remember, jabbed the ball free and snagged it himself while Woolen was on his back.
It’s not often that I learn a new rule in the NFL these days, but I’m always happy when I do. Especially in this case. Turns out that even if the opposing player makes contact with the ball first, if the player with the ball is “down”, then the player with the ball is down.
It was a huge break in Seattle’s favor but they were unable to take advantage, as the Browns defense began living up to their billing. The ‘Hawks went three and out on their next opportunity when Greg Newsome made a perfect play on a deep ball to Lockett on 3rd & 5. That brought Michael Dickson out for his first punt of the day and he damn near hit the clouds with his kick. The ball went a startling 59 yards and Seattle’s coverage team eliminated the return.
Cleveland, though, was undeterred. A nine-yard Hunt carry was followed by a Walker keeper for seven to move the chains. After a stuffed run and an incompletion, a nine-yard connection to Njoku set up 4th & 2 from Seattle’s 44. On the play, Walker pivoted left and delivered a pass towards Cooper, who was blanketed by Woolen. Riq knocked the throw away but a late flag flew, wiping out his breakup with the tickiest of tacky pass interference calls. It was a lucky break for the Browns but as I always say, luck only counts if you make it count, and three plays later, that’s exactly what Cleveland did, as Hunt banged it home from one yard out to make it 17-14.
Seattle got a first down on their next drive by beating a blitz with a Lockett out route but it was wiped away by a hands-to-the-face penalty (a theme for this game), and the Seahawks would need to punt it away. It set up yet another productive drive by Cleveland but Mafe came through with a huge third down sack to end the threat.
The next Seattle possession held a lot of promise, highlighted by the Seahawks going for it on a 4th & 2 (hell yeah, Pete) and hitting Metcalf over the middle for seven. On the next play, it appeared as though Geno got the Browns to jump and, thinking he had a free play, Smith tried to force an out route Metcalf at the sticks. Unfortunately, Martin Emerson was sitting on the route and he undercut Metcalf for the pick.
No flag was thrown on Cleveland’s premature jump and while that’s annoying, Smith has to make a better decision there— whether he thinks there’s a penalty or not. The interception effectively took this game to halftime at 17-14 Seahawks, but that lead felt very tenuous.
The Seahawks got the ball to start the second half but failed to get a first down. The Browns continued their momentum, launching another big drive, using long completions to Njoku, Elijah Moore, and Cooper to get deep into Seattle territory. The Seahawks defense finally bowed up in the red zone but Cleveland chipped a short field goal to tie the game and the advantage Seattle had built early was officially erased.
Almost every NFL game features a gut-check, and the one Cleveland delivered to Seattle was enough to double them over. Ten straight points and they weren’t done. On the third play of the next drive, Maurice Hurst turned in one of the best plays from a defensive tackle you’ll ever see. Feinting a pass rush, Hurst dropped straight into Smith’s preferred passing lane, tipping the throw over his head and then somehow tracking it down in traffic for an interception. It put the Browns in position to take their first lead of the game and that’s exactly what they did.
Their next possession got as far as Seattle’s 9— using gashing run after gashing run to keep the sticks moving— but a 3rd & 2 pass was broken up by Tre Brown, holding the visitors to another short field goal. It’s a good thing Walker made up his mind to throw to Cooper, who was isolated against Brown to the right, before the play because Moore was wide open over the middle for a walk-in touchdown. Instead, Brown posted Cooper up at the first down marker, spun his head around, and swatted the pass away for one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. The easy kick did give the Browns a 20-17 advantage, however, and their clock-sucking offense wasn’t leaving Seattle a lot of time to do much about it.
The teams would exchange punts for most of the rest of the game, a sequence that ended with Cleveland getting the ball with less than six minutes left. It did include a terrible third down pass from Smith that probably should’ve been a game-altering pick-six.
Even so, the Browns found themselves just three first downs away from terminating the mojo from SoDo on a day pregnant with expectation. They got two of the first downs they needed, the second coming on Seattle’s third hands-to-the-face penalty on a 3rd & 3, this one courtesy of Woolen. When that flag flew, it felt extremely dicey for the home team, and they needed a stop as badly as they have all season. Fortunately for those decked out in retro gear, that’s exactly what happened.
Two runs gained six yards, bringing up a 3rd & 4 that would all but ice the game if the Browns converted. Since the play clock forced the snap on the plus side of the two-minute warning, both run and pass were in play for Cleveland because the clock was going to stop either way. In a stroke of luck for Seattle, the Browns chose the latter.
It was one last chance for the ‘Hawks defense to leave their mark on this game and they did so by being aggressive when the moment demanded it. Seattle brought pressure in the form of Jamal Adams, who blitzed over the right guard. His rush was picked up right as Walker began his throwing motion and Adams leapt to meet him.
Now, most players in Adams’ position would throw their hands up to try and deflect the pass but Jamal is not most players. Instead of doing the normal human thing, Adams somehow headbutted the pass, sending it careening high and towards the middle of the field. Julian Love was in the right place and didn’t disappoint, snagging the fluttering pigskin for what might be the biggest turnover of the season to date.
That gave the Seahawks the ball on their own 43 yard-line, on the heels of seven consecutive scoreless drives and out of time for an eighth. Suddenly, this felt like a fulcrum possession for the Geno Narrative, and the man who didn’t write back cast his vote in his own favor.
One drive to tie the game or win it. Smith chose the latter. First it was a quick-hitter to Lockett for seven, then it was Metcalf for nine. First down. Then Smith, in rhythm for the first time in two hours, found Noah Fant up the seam for 27 yards and the Seahawks were 14 yards from glory with less than a minute to play. After an incompletion and a 12-men penalty against Cleveland, Seattle’s youngest player paid tribute to all those who came before him.
With 44 seconds left, Geno took a shotgun snap and, without considering any other options, flung the ball out to the left to Smith-Njigba. Seattle’s electric rookie caught the pass and wasted no time getting upfield. JSN used a terrific block from Metcalf, who erased the last remaining defender, and danced down the sideline for the go-ahead score.
24-20 Seattle, and all that remained was for Darrell Taylor to ice things with a sack on the final drive. 48 years of echoes joined the roar of 70,000 fans in attendance and Geno Smith downed out Seattle’s fifth victory amid a cacophony of triumph.
~Geno Smith had a tall order today, drawing the the #1 defense in the NFL after a month of pretty ho-hum play. And through one quarter, he appeared to be more than up to the task at hand. Smith led three consecutive scoring drives to open the game but cratered on the seven possessions following that. During that stretch, he completed just eight of 16 passes for a paltry 51 yards, zero points, and two interceptions. It wasn’t just unimpressive QB play, it was outright bad. He skipped a couple of short throws, airmailed a couple others, and was goaded into picks by an elaborate defensive scheme on two different throws. On the flip side, his TD to Lockett showcased everything that made this team commit to him after last season’s shocking performance. The way he spun out of one sack, hopped out of a second, and dotted up Tyler with a touch pass was flat out incredible.
And, when the chips were down and the cards were laid bare, Geno hit on the river. Smith went 4-5 for 52 yards and a touchdown on the final drive, popping off the mat for the knockout like Brad Pitt in Snatch. He finished 23 of 37 (62.2%) for 254 yards (6.9 Y/A) with two TDs and two INTs for a pedestrian QBR of 52.0 and passer rating of 78.0.
This was not Smith’s best game— again— and if you’re inclined to doubt him moving forward, there’s enough evidence in court to make a case. I am personally still bullish on Smith because his good throws have been otherworldly and this is still the 8th-highest scoring offense in the NFL despite missing a bunch of offensive linemen and running a gauntlet of talented defenses. Still, at least twice a game Smith makes decisions that appear baffling and his interception luck from last season is regressing hard. It won’t get much easier next week against a Ravens defense that is absolutely balling out. But the headline for Geno’s performance was that game-winning drive and, like a birdie on #18, it might be enough to reset his vibes heading into the next round.
~Ken Walker got loose early in this one, which was impressive given the relative strengths of Seattle’s OL and Cleveland’s DL. He had 51 yards on his first five carries but somehow only saw three rushes in the game’s final three quarters. He finished with eight rushes for 66 yards— impressive on a per-carry basis— but you know that final line was not part of Pete Carroll’s intention coming into this one.
~When Walker wasn’t out there, which wasn’t often, Zach Charbonnet looked excellent. He had the first two 20+ yard runs of his career today, turning seven total touches into 64 total yards as the rookie continues to earn his snaps. He runs like he’s angry at the field, slamming his feet into the ground to generate unusual power with every step. He might not ever break off a 50+ yard TD run but the kid has an awful lot of Chris Carson to him, and that’s extremely valuable to this offense.
~You never know when you’re gonna get the Tyler Lockett Game each season, you just know that it’s coming. And through three possessions, it looked like today was going to be that day. He had five catches for 53 yards on those first three drives but he slipped into the background at the same time the rest of the offense did. Still, he re-emerged in crunch time, logging a big reception to start the final march. He finished with a team-high 81 yards on a team-high eight catches— doing all of that on nine targets. He and Smith were totally locked in this afternoon.
~The same could not be said about Smith and DK Metcalf, as they connected on just one of their first seven attempts. For whatever reason, Smith was shooting with a bent barrel whenever he targeted Metcalf, skipping two easy throws to him and overshooting him on a couple others. That one connection did go for 43, however, and they started to get in sync as the game progressed. Metcalf earned a gigantic 14 targets and #14 brought in just about every one of them that was catchable. His final line was five receptions for 67 yards but his biggest play may have been the block that sprung JSN’s game-winner. Great to have him back out there. Speaking of...
~Jaxon Smith-Njigba is here, and he ain’t going anywhere. He was single-handedly responsible for what might be the two most successful screen plays of the decade, including the game-clinching score. His routes already have so much polish but it’s his YAC ability that is really flashing. He caught three of his four targets for 36 yards and the score but most importantly, there were no other reads on his touchdown. That play was drawn up specifically for Smith-Njigba with no fall-backs, and he delivered on the team’s faith in him when it mattered most. This was an epochal moment in JSN’s career and his trajectory is now pointed firmly skyward.
~Jake Bobo is a legitimate part of this offense now. Never thought I’d see the day. Despite all three of Seattle’s top receivers being healthy and involved, Bobo still managed to snag both of his targets for 23 yards, run for a touchdown, and continue to block his honky ass off.
~The tight ends didn’t do much besides block in this one but Noah Fant came through with one of the biggest plays of the game. He had a massive 27-yard catch-n-run on the winning drive, putting his team in position to win this one.
~Given what they were up against, I thought the O-line played fantastically. They damn near shut out Myles Garrett, holding the DPOY front-runner to just two tackles, although one of them was a drive-killing sack. It was the only sack they allowed on 38 dropbacks against one of the best front lines you’ll ever face and opened lanes for Seattle’s RBs to average 8.7 yards per carry. Jason Peters made his Seahawks debut, splitting snaps with Jake Curhan at RT and the rest of the group held their line magnificently. A very impressive and encouraging outing from the big guys up front.
~The Seahawks defense has been one of the league’s best over the last month but they really struggled in getting off the field throughout the middle of this game. That being noted, they made huge plays down the stretch to give their offense a chance to win. They ended up allowing 385 total yards, which ain’t much considering the Browns ran 74 plays.
Even so, they gave up a disconcerting stretch of third downs in this one and extended three drives with penalties. There are definitely things to clean up but they still only allowed 20 points in this one meaning they’re giving up just 11.5 per contest since the Panthers game. A stupendous stretch.
~Boye Mafe continues to play like an upper-echelon edge defender, and he tied a franchise record by recording a sack in his fifth straight game. He finished with eight tackles and added a game-high four QB hits in addition to recovering a fumble. He won all day long and if this team does end up hitting their ceiling this season, he may be the most surprising reason why.
~Darrell Taylor came alive after Uchenna Nwosu got hurt last week and he kept the good vibes rolling with another sack in this one. His contributions are going to be paramount the rest of the way.
~Seattle’s two starting linebackers continue to play like the best duo in the league. Bobby Wagner, in honor of the day, turned the clock back en route to 13 tackles, including his franchise record 70th career tackle for loss. His protege Jordyn Brooks nearly matched him, racking up 10 takedowns of his own including a strip sack early in the game. This is exactly what the team envisioned when they A) drafted Brooks three years ago and B) brought Wagner back before this season. That Jordyn is playing at this level so soon after his devastating knee injury is remarkable.
~We didn’t hear Jamal Adams’ name much in the first half, but he left a mushroom stamp on the face of the Browns offense in the second half. He spearheaded a defense that allowed just six points over the game’s final two quarters and he did so by recording seven of his eight tackles over that stretch, including one in the backfield when it looked like Pierre Strong was about to get loose for a big gain. But his biggest impact came on his delightfully bizarre headbutt with two minutes left that led to the game-changing interception by Julian Love. Jamal Adams is chaos incarnate and when he’s locked in, he makes this team so much better.
~His running mate at the back end of the secondary was his usual solid self, as Quandre Diggs notched nine tackles. A startling amount of them came downfield when the Browns run game got going, and he may have been to blame on a big Amari Cooper catch in the second quarter, but those downfield tackles are not an indictment of Diggs. He remains a stalwart for this secondary.
~Riq Woolen had an adventurous game today. He got his first pick of the season on an overthrow but PJ Walker didn’t hesitate to target him more than he did Devon Witherspoon or Tre Brown. Woolen played pretty well for the most part, but he had two costly penalties and still looks a half-step slower than he did before getting hurt earlier in the season.
~I haven’t said much about Michael Dickson this year because frankly, the team hasn’t used him much. But when his number’s been called... lord have mercy. Dickson continues to make his case as the best punter in the NFL, booting his 5 kicks for a staggering average of 54.8 yards, and putting enough air under them to keep the return yardage almost nonexistent. He now ranks third in yards per punt and second in net yards per punt. What a blessing.
~Despite the win, Seattle continues to struggle in two key areas. They were outdone on third downs, as Cleveland converted six of their 15 while the Seahawks managed to do the same on only four of their 12. Additionally, they committed the first five penalties of this game, notching seven of them in total. Sure, a couple of them were pretty freaking soft but you can’t be the most penalized team in the NFL and expect to win consistently. They have to clean this shit up.
Montell Jordan played a throwback halftime show and frankly, this is how the Seahawks do it. I say it a lot but I mean it every time: wins in the NFL are hard and I’m grateful for every fucking one of them. If you’re looking for perfect, don’t watch pro football. What matters is whether you play well enough to give yourself a chance to win, and how you perform when that opportunity presents itself. For the fifth time in seven games, Seattle did both and now they’re in first place in the NFC West and, if you can believe it, second in the entire NFC.
This is a really promising team and they’re not even playing their best football. The San Francisco 49ers are in a flat spin while the Seahawks continue to manage the turbulence. Next up is the biggest test of the season to date, a cross-country showdown with the Baltimore Ravens. A win there cements them as true contenders not only in their division, or even in the conference— but among the best teams in the entire league. Even with a loss, today’s effort keeps them in great shape. It’s hard to overstate how big that late interception / touchdown sequence was today, but it’s one of the most monumental two-minute stretches this team will experience all season.
5-2. First place. Onwards. Upwards. Go motherfucking ‘Hawks.
A throwback game deserves a throwback cigar, which is why I unsheathed the Ashton Classic Corona, courtesy of Seattle Cigar Concierge. I love Ashton stogies because they require exactly zero effort to smoke, and the Classic is the perfect example of that. What an awesome enhancement of today’s game.
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