***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 one with Seattle’s legendary STEVE RAIBLE. You can listen to all the shows, including this article, right here:
I’m gonna shoot straight with you— I’m not even that mad about this one. I mean I am, but I’m not, you know? Because the Seattle Seahawks showed some got damn fight tonight. Some real American gumption. They went into Dallas, where the Cowboys had beaten every opponent by 20+, and gave those suckers everything they could handle. Were there costly mistakes? Yes, of course. No loss is without them. But they looked like contenders today, and that’s all I ever ask. I’m way more torqued over their loss to the Rams and their no-show against the Niners. Win one of those and this L is way more palatable.
Look man, if I did my normal blow-by-blow, this article would be longer than
my Moby Dick. So I’m gonna play the hits and y’all watched the game— you can fill in the gaps. Here’s the other thing— the refs in this game were absolute Pharisees. I’m getting that out of the way early because fans of both teams each have a half-dozen legitimate gripes about the officiating and I hate when 60 minutes of football between the best athletes on the planet gets reduced to bitching about bad calls. And there were a lot of them. I’m acknowledging that now. Still, it came down to execution and that’s what I’m going to focus on.
The Cowboys received the opening kick and got right to it. In a preview of the non-reffing, overarching theme for their offense, the home team embarked on a 14-play, 63-yard opening drive that saw them relentlessly nibble at a Seahawks defense that has struggled mightily over the last month.
There were a couple of bright spots for the D on this possession, including Riq Woolen breaking up two passes— one of which was in the endzone. Bobby Wagner also stuffed a Tony Pollard run on 1st & goal and another big play came from a blitzing Devon Witherspoon, who batted down a pass by a rolling Dak Prescott on 2nd down. Jordyn Brooks then sliced by an attempted pickup block from Pollard and swung Prescott to the turf for a huge sack that forced Dallas to take a field goal. 3-0.
It wouldn’t take Seattle long to ring the answering bell. After two runs set up the first third down of the evening, DK Metcalf beat 2023’s defensive darling DaRon Bland on an inside move and Geno Smith, who deftly looked off the middle safety, dotted him up in stride. And when Metcalf hits top speed, you better be an actual jungle cat if you want a chance to catch him. DK got his hands away from his body, caught it cleanly, and sprinted 73-yards to glory. It was a refreshing reminder what a one-of-one athlete Metcalf is and his score made it 7-3, good guys.
A short Pollard run kicked off Dallas’ next possession and on the ensuing play, Seattle drew up some pressure. The effectiveness of blitzing Devon Witherspoon has been nearly 100% this year and on 2nd down, the rookie came free and just missed his fourth sack of the season. That said, his pressure forced Prescott right into the arms of Darrell Taylor for the Seahawks’ second sack of the first quarter against a team that hadn’t allowed one in three games. Unfortunately, a dump-off to a wide-open Jake Ferguson on 3rd & 16 gained 17 yards and was followed by a 47-yard pass interference call against Woolen. Shortly thereafter, Dak whipped the ball to an elevating CeeDee Lamb in the back of the endzone to make it 10-7.
The thing that stood out to me about this game, more than anything else, was the resilience of the Seahawks offense. Facing 3rd & 7 on the next drive, Smith hit Tyler Lockett to the left for 13 and a first down and followed that up by dropping a 34-yard bomb into the teacup Metcalf was carrying up the left sideline. They’d get down to the Dallas 18 before Seattle’s weekly amateur hour started. Somehow they got a delay of game after a third down incompletion and Jason Myers sliced his only field goal attempt of the night wide right. It was a huge miss— one that was preceded by the latest act in the Seahawks’ season-long comedy routine.
The Cowboys took advantage of the error and cashed in with yet another frictionless drive. They covered 68 yards on 11 plays, culminating with Dak hitting a wide open Brandin Cooks for a seven-yard TD to make it 17-7.
It would’ve been easy for Seattle to fold here, because we saw them do that against both Baltimore and San Francisco. Instead, they took just seven plays to answer. Seattle leveraged two big pass interference calls against Dallas to get near the goal line and Zach Charbonnet found his way into the endzone from two yards out for his first career TD. 17-14.
The Cowboys saw Seattle’s seven plays and raised them to 16. They marched unfettered deep into Seattle territory before a Leonard Williams sack halted things. Dallas eventually faced a short 4th & goal but Prescott’s rushing TD was called back on a hold and the ‘Boys settled for a field goal to make it 20-14.
That left Geno Smith roughly 90 seconds to answer, and answer he fuckin’ did. On a crucial 3rd & 3, Smith hit Jaxon Smith-Njigba for 11 yards. Consecutive penalties against Dallas an an eight-yard completion to Lockett put the Seahawks back in scoring position and Geno capitalized with a preposterous 30-yard throw off his back foot to a tightly covered Smith-Njigba in the endzone. Bland was beaten in coverage and interfered with JSN’s catch attempt but it didn’t matter— at least, that’s how it seemed. Seattle’s rookie WR made a diving catch but review determined he didn’t maintain control as he went to the turf. Still, the DPI gave Seattle 1st & goal with seven seconds left— time to run one more play.
It was the first of three touchdowns Geno would throw in the final 10 seconds of the first half. On the next play, Smith hit Noah Fant for a one-yard score but it was waived off when it was determined that Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy called a timeout right before the snap. Big whoop. Smith calmly dropped back on the next play and put the ball right into a slanting Metcalf’s breadbasket. Believe it or not, the officials threw a flag on this play too but it was an offsides against the Cowboys and this time, the score stood. 21-20 and these teams were headed to the locker room with Seattle holding a surprising lead.
Better yet, the Seahawks got the ball to start the second half and picked up right where they left it. 10 plays, 75 yards, finishing with Smith tucking and scrambling for a 5-yard TD after two big completions to Metcalf. 28-20 and the prospects of one of the biggest upsets of the season started to crystallize into a real possibility.
Sadly, Seattle’s defense was unable to compound the offense’s success and the Cowboys responded with a 12-play scoring drive that featured an unconscionable four first downs granted by Seahawks penalties. Woof. A slip screen to Pollard ended the torture and Dallas, in a nod to the high-scoring nature of this game, eschewed a game-tying two-point try and took the extra point instead. 28-27 Seattle.
Look, we all felt it. The Seahawks were essentially five for five on scoring drives up to this point, the one exception being the missed field goal. At some point they needed to come up empty, right? Right. Smith made his first real error of the game, throwing a pick when Bland made a small deposit on the massive debt he’d incurred all game by expertly undercutting an out route to Lockett for an interception and the game’s first turnover. It was the first time the Seahawks offense had dropped the ball but the defense responded by picking it up for them. Finally.
Despite giving Dallas the ball on their own side of the field, the defense bowed up and got off the field when a 4th down out-route to Lamb was perfectly covered by Witherspoon and the pass fell incomplete. Whew.
Granted a reprieve from their first failure, the offense responded in a big way. The next possession started with an incredible diving 25-yard catch from Fant. On the play, Seattle’s lead tight end went horizontal, snagged Geno’s spiral, and then turned over in the air like Free Willy to land on his back and protect the ball from hitting the turf. It was our monthly reminder what a freak athlete Noah is and was followed by a perfectly executed screen pass to Charbonnet for 39, down to the 5. I have to pinch myself every time Seattle runs a successful screen but they really have seemed to figure out that part of their game. Two plays later, Geno looked off the coverage and lofted a floater to Metcalf, who lured two defenders into a collision like a got damn pro, for his third TD of the game. 35-27. I won’t lie, when Smith let the pass fly, I thought he had overshot his target. Metcalf made sure that wasn’t the case. One of the best games we’ve ever seen from a receiver who is off to one of the best age-adjusted starts to a career the game has ever seen.
Man, the Seahawks were so close to slamming the door on this game so many times. Gahhhh. On the Cowboys’ next drive, another pass interference call against Woolen put Dallas in scoring range but it appeared that Seattle would make up for it when Taylor beat his man off the left side and wrapped Prescott up for a would-be drive killing sack. Everything was perfect up until the whistle never blew. I don’t know if Taylor let up because he didn’t want a penalty or because Dak is just that strong but the Cowboys QB wiggled free of the tackle and rolled right before hitting Jalen Tolbert for a first down. The drive would eventually end with a field goal and the lead was cut to 35-30.
Any time a team loses by one score, there are plays you can point to as game-killers. That Seattle committed them isn’t surprising, per se— what was surprising was who the culprit was. On 2nd & 10 on the ensuing possession, Geno dropped back and surveyed the scene as Lockett lost Bland on a post route. Smith delivered a perfect strike over the middle to his surest-handed receiver and Lockett just... dropped it.
It was a 30-yard layup over the middle into field goal range at worse and position to score a game-winning touchdown at best. Instead, it was an incompletion and a nine-yard pass to Jake Bobo set up a massive 4th & inches. At this point, I was screaming at the TV for Seattle to run a QB sneak but instead, Smith turned and handed it to Charbonnet. As he did, DeMarcus Lawrence beat his blocker inside and met Zach at the handoff point. He wrestled Charbonnet to the ground and the Cowboys got the ball back at midfield with seven minutes left.
The Cowboys offense is too good to let this opportunity pass. It would take them seven surgical plays to score the go-ahead touchdown, finishing with Dak dialing up Ferguson on an iso route against Jamal Adams for the score. A two-point completion to Cooks over the middle made it 38-35 and the Seahawks’ backs were against the wall once again, with just four minutes left.
Honestly, if you offered me a 38-35 deficit with the ball in Seattle’s hands before the game, I would’ve taken it— what with the Seahawks being two-score underdogs and all. And here they were, with a chance to drive down and tie, or even win it. The possession got off to a promising start, with Smith hitting Smith-Njigba for 18 up to the 43. Unfortunately, they’d stall there. Deejay Dallas, filling in for a hurt Charbonnet, got six on the next play but consecutive incompletions forced a huge 4th & 4. On the play, the Dallas pass rush won and Smith was forced to throw before JSN, his intended target, got out of his break. The throw sailed incomplete and Dallas took over just two first downs away from icing it.
They’d get the first one pretty easily with a reverse to Lamb but after that it got weird. Two Pollard runs got seven yards and with Seattle down to their last timeout, one more run would either exhaust it or get a game-clinching first down. Instead, Prescott dropped back and went for the kill shot in the endzone, looking for Lamb. On this one, Tre Brown had it played perfectly and shut off CeeDee’s route for a massive, clock-killing stop. Dallas tried a bullshit attempt at drawing Seattle offsides but when the Seahawks refused to take the bait, they hit a field goal to make it 41-35.
One more chance. 90 seconds. Go get it, fellas.
Alas. There was hope initially, as Smith hit Lockett for 17 over the middle then Fant for eight more but that’s about as close as they’d get. The pass rush would nearly get home on the next two plays, forcing rushed incompletions to create a 4th & game with two yards to go. On the game’s most important play, Shane Waldron, who was exceptional tonight, completely whiffed. Micah Parsons was lined up in a racecar stance to the right side of the formation and, inexplicably, Seattle left him unblocked. Instead, they relied on Dallas, their third string RB, to cross the formation and try to pick up arguably the best defensive player on the planet. Unsurprisingly, he was unable to stop Parsons, and the Defensive Player of the Year candidate harassed Smith into a game-sealing throwaway. Two kneels later, the Cowboys were escaping with their ninth win of the season while Seattle fell to .500.
~Geno Smith played his balls off tonight. Whatever your qualms with this team, they don’t deserve to land on Geno today. There are valid arguments to be made about QBs with higher ceilings than Smith, but finding someone who fits that bill is extremely difficult. It is far easier to find one who can’t account for 340 yards and four TDs against one of the best defenses in the NFL than it is to find one who can do better. You wanna move on from Smith after this season? There’s a discussion to be had. But Geno was electric today and his performance has me feeling better about this team, despite the loss, than I have in three weeks.
~With Ken Walker out for the second straight week, Zach Charbonnet had arguably the best game of his young career. He ran decisively, handling the bulk of the workload before an undisclosed injury removed him from the final minutes. He turned 20 touches into 99 yards and a touchdown and helped keep the offense on schedule— something they’ve really struggled with of late.
~DaRon Bland was November’s Defensive Player of the Month and DK Metcalf simply whipped his ass all night. Metcalf was targeted eight times in this one, and he caught six of them for 134 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He had Bland in a blender all evening and his first touchdown saw him hit the fastest speed (22.23 mph) of any ballcarrier this season, passing Tyreek Hill. DK Metcalf is 6’4”, 235 lbs.
He added a 34-yard basket catch in coverage and torched the goal line defense on his second score late in the first half. His third TD showed a route-running mastery that we’ve all been waiting on, as he baited two defenders into a collision before sailing free for an easy score. He showcased every ounce of potential we’ve all been salivating over and he did it against the most hyped secondary in the league. He’ll be charged with a drop but it was on an unnecessary fastball thrown at his knees when Metcalf had beaten Bland on a slant. It was as close to a perfect game from a wide receiver you could ever hope for.
~Tonight also saw the best game of Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s blossoming career. the second-half rookie bump is a real thing and we’re seeing it from JSN. Every week he seems to get a little better and today, he was a first down machine. He led the team with 11 targets, snagging seven of them for 62 yards and was a dubious review away from an 8-92-1 line. The man is earning his opportunities.
~It was a weird game for Tyler Lockett. On one hand, you have a respectable 47 yards on five catches but on the other, you had the most back-breaking drop of the entire season. He also gave up inside leverage on the one interception and while that sort of thing happens all the time, it almost never happens with Lockett. As I said earlier, there were a number of mistakes in this game but his drop with seven minutes left was the biggest of them all. Such a bummer.
~It’s incredible how much better this O-line is, and the offense as a whole, with Abe Lucas back. They’ve now played six quarters with Lucas on the field and have scored 51 points against the Rams and Cowboys. It’s a small sample, but extrapolate that over a game and you’ve got 34 points— enough to win more times than not. With Charles Cross playing well on the left side, and Lucas anchoring the right, we were all reminded what this offense is capable of. The extra half-second of protection opened up the playbook and Seattle spent 50 of the 60 minutes tonight carving up an elite defensive unit.
~I can’t figure out this defense. There is so much individual talent on that side of the ball but the Seahawks seem incapable of pulling it all together for a full game against good teams. They didn’t pull it together at all tonight, to be honest. There was only one drive all night the Cowboys didn’t score on and despite recording four sacks— more than the Cowboys have allowed all season— they just couldn’t get any stops.
Only once in the last six seasons has this defense finished above average in DVOA and they’re not on pace to change that in 2023. There are too many good players on the defense for them to be this bad against competent offenses. It comes down to coaching, and no matter who is defensive coordinator, they seem overmatched against every team that has any semblance of functionality. They provided zero margin for error for their offense today and it cost them.
It’s easy to point to the the final few offensive drives as the reason Seattle lost but it wouldn’t have come to that if the defense was able to put together three or four consecutive positive plays. Think I’m exaggerating? Tonight was the first time in 36 games in the Pete Carroll era where Seattle scored at least 35 points and lost. I don’t know what the fix is but whatever they’re doing ain’t it. Dallas’ offense has been the best in the league for two months now but tonight was the first time they’ve avoided punting.
~The Seahawks have been arguably the worst 3rd down team in the NFL this year and, as a result, we heard Pete Carroll break character and say he was going to get more involved with the 3rd down play-calling. The result? A season-best 9-14. Sadly, atrocious play-calling on 4th down doomed the Seahawks in the game’s biggest moments. So close to a breakthrough here.
~Clete Blakeman showed up ready for the world to learn his name. Tonight saw the most penalty yards (252) of any game in the NFL this season and it hindered the flow of an otherwise awesome football game. I get legislating aggressive play but 19 flags, plus three declined penalties, plus three other fouls that were picked up is just way too many. Shameful effort from the stripes tonight.
The Seahawks are 6-6, which sucks. The next two games aren’t going to be any easier and it’s hard to feel like tonight’s loss isn’t something of a death-blow to Seattle’s playoff chances. But they fought tonight— they showed grit, they adjusted to the attacks of a superior defense, and they punched back when scored against. The way they played tonight was good enough to win most games and I wouldn’t be so worried if they had simply handled their business against the Rams two weeks ago.
As it stands, however, they are on the cut line of the playoffs and they’ll be significant underdogs against the 49ers and Eagles over the next two weeks. Barring an upset, they’ll be 6-8 and will likely need to run the table from there to make the playoffs. If this game existed in a vacuum, I’d tip my hat to the Cowboys and feel like the Seahawks are equipped to at least compete against the really good teams in the league.
But this game doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the Seahawks have been ass for a month now. I’m not writing them off, but I’m certainly not writing them on. 5-2 and first place in the NFC West feels like a century ago and while I know better than to completely dismiss a Pete Carroll-coached team, it’s getting harder to be optimistic.
The good news is they have three extra days to get healthy before the Niners game and hopefully, they can steal one of the next two. If they do, meat’s back on the menu. If not, they’ll be fighting for their lives to fend off teams that frankly have no business being on their level.
10 days to lick wounds, adjust attitudes, and get right. Until then, onward and upward my friends.
Tonight I treated myself to a TAA Exclusive from Herrera Esteli by Drew Estate. A great cigar with a long, slow burn and plenty of flavor. I love just about everything Drew Estate puts out and the TAA Exclusive is no exception.
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