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You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger vibes switch-up from one week to the next than the one Seattle just experienced. With the Seahawks coming off an electrifying win, returning home with a chance to go 2-1, and honoring the 2013 Super Bowl championship team, the juice was abundant. It threw the energy from last week, after that abysmal opening day performance, into stark relief.
The one concern I had was whether the team on the field could carry the weight of expectation that comes with so much fanfare; especially with the Chiefs losing to the Lions after getting their Super Bowl rings and those same Lions losing to these Seahawks during their celebration of Barry Sanders. And for the first half of this one, those fears felt justified.
The Seahawks started with the ball and proceeded to go three-and-out in a blink, setting the Panthers up to do what many of us joked about in the days leading up— namely having Andy Dalton carve up Seattle’s zone drop defense with short completions to Adam Thielen. Dalton went 4/5 on the opening possession, leading an 11-play drive aided by a brutal personal foul against Julian Love and overcoming an impressive breakup by Devon Witherspoon (much more on him later). It was a long, annoying drive that was eventually snuffed out by a Boye Mafe sack and Uchenna Nwosu chasing down a WR screen on 3rd down. That brought out Eddie Piniero for an easy field goal to make it 3-0.
After Seattle started their next possession with their third penalty in the first eight minutes, Ken Walker turned what should’ve been a five yard loss into a six yard gain by running about 50 total yards in the backfield. Tack on a Justin Houston personal foul, and the Seahawks were finally in business. Then Geno Smith hit DK Metcalf for 20 over the middle and chased it with a completion to Noah Fant on a play-action rollout for seven more. Walker was stuffed on the next two runs but Pete Carroll bravely kept his offense on the field for 4th & 1 from the Panthers’ 29. It was a welcome deviation from Carroll’s conservative ways and they did it his way, going back to Walker, who plunged off left guard for what looked like an obvious first down. The spot, however, was terrible and the $100 billion league once again resorted to two old guys with a chain on a stick to determine whether Seattle got to keep the ball.
Fortunately, the pigskin’s nose hairs were deemed across the line to gain and Seattle’s intrepid march continued. Sadly, all that drama was for naught, as the drive stalled four yards later and an embattled Jason Myers came out to attempt a 43-yard kick. This one was stress-free though, and the score was an aesthetically pleasing 3-3 with 3:33 left in the opening quarter.
The Seattle defense answered with a quick stop punctuated by an Artie Burns sack on a third down blitz that was preceded by another terrific breakup by Witherspoon. After the punt, Smith immediately hit Tyler Lockett up the right sideline for 16 yards and a quick first down then danced out of a sack to find Fant for nine. Zach Charbonnet kept things moving with a seven-yard charge and the Seahawks were rolling as the first quarter came to a close.
The momentum continued on the first play of the second, as Smith stood coolly in a perfect pocket until Metcalf got open on a deep crosser. Geno’s pass was perfect and DK turned it upfield for a 33-yard gain. Charbonnet followed that up with a bruising 11-yard carry that was undone by an Evan Brown hold. Smith went over the middle for nine to Lockett but got swallowed up for a big sack on the next play. A screen pass to Jaxson Smith-Njigba got most of it back but it wasn’t enough to keep Myers off the field. Seattle’s kicker made his second attempt look as easy as the first, and Seattle took their first lead at 6-3.
The defense made quick work of Carolina on the next possession and the offense got right back to work. Walker took a toss with two TEs in the backfield lead blocking for nine. Then, on 2nd & 1, they went right back to him. Walker took the handoff and charged up the middle before hitting a 2003-era video game juke that sent the edge defender into the ether. Not losing his speed for a second, Walker pranced down the right sideline for 36 stunning yards. Unfortunately, the Seahawks offense bogged down in scoring range again, with Smith narrowly avoiding an endzone interception thanks to Lockett batting it away at the last moment. Myers gamely trotted back out there for a third time and calmly made it 9-3 Seattle.
It looked like the Seahawks were gonna get off the field swiftly again on the next drive, but a missed tackle by Jordyn Brooks in the backfield became a long run for Miles Sanders and two plays later, a complete breakdown in the secondary let DJ Chark get wide open for a 47-yard touchdown. On the play, Mike Jackson passed Chark off, apparently expecting a safety to pick him up. The only problem was that there was no safety there to do that. Regardless of who’s to blame, when you turn touchdown opportunities into field goals on offense, one play like that can turn everything.
Things got worse soon after thanks to a terrible interception from Geno, who blindly threw the ball to a pivoting linebacker. The Seahawks, who had been slowly scaling this peak, were suddenly tumbling ass over teakettle down the side of the mountain. They were saved before they hit the bottom by Burns expertly breaking up a 3rd down fade to Thielen. The Panthers settled for a field goal and a 13-9 lead with only two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was just enough time for Seattle to do what they had done on every other drive since their first one: use a big completion to Metcalf to get into field goal range before stalling out. Myers made it 4/4 on the day and the Seahawks took a 13-12 deficit into the locker room.
Carolina received the second half kick and politely went three and out— a truncated drive highlighted by an impressive aerial play from Love. That led to yet another nice Seahawks possession, including a pretty swing pass to Walker for 18, that crumbled to dust as soon as a touchdown became a possibility. It’s like Seattle’s engine had a killswitch that got activated as soon as they crossed Carolina’s 30 yard line and an increasingly beleaguered Myers came out to hammer home his fifth field goal. 15-13.
The next possession saw Dalton hit Chark on a gorgeous deep ball up the left sideline, a play that featured a clear catch by the receiver as he went to the turf. But Pete Carroll, who quite literally can’t help himself, tossed the red flag. It should go without saying that the challenge was unsuccessful. Honestly, Jodi Allen should pay someone specifically to hide the red flags from Carroll every Sunday. Each week a new hiding spot. “Sorry coach, they were right here I swear.” Fortunately, Dalton missed an open Miles Sanders on a 3rd down circle route and the Panthers had to settle for a 55-yard attempt from Piniero. Unlike a suddenly laser-focused Myers, the Carolina kicker couldn’t keep it between the pipes, pushing it a skosh to the right and the home team took over with their best field position of the day.
Seattle overcame their weekly 15-yard penalty from Metcalf with a gorgeous wheel route completion from Smith to Walker for 36 to give Seattle yet another chance at six. After an illegal formation penalty made things difficult again, Smith hit Fant on a play-action crosser for 18 to set up 1st & goal. It took three tries from there, but Walker finally punched it in to give Seattle a two-score lead at 22-13. It felt like some invisible barrier had finally been broken with that score, and the Panthers never quite recovered.
Not to say that they folded, though. Carolina punched back, capitalizing on a really bad pass interference call against Witherspoon that set up a long completion to Thielen into scoring range. Dalton would continue his 3rd down prowess a couple snaps later when Thielen lost Seattle’s LBs on a crossing route to get inside the 1. Sanders dove in from there to make it 22-20, one play into the fourth quarter.
It seems like once a game, Shane Waldron draws up a drive that’s all tight ends and running backs and this possession was it. It began with a 17-yard pass to Parkinson on a slip route and was followed up by a 13-yard stick to Fant for consecutive first downs. After Charbonnet got five on the next play, he picked his way through the defense for eight more. With his motor revving at max RPMs, Charbonnet took the next one for 11 and coaxed a personal foul to add 15 more to the end of it. That put Seattle at the 9 and Ken Walker did the rest from there. A stutter-step behind the line sucked the outside defender in, Fant sealed him off, and Walker easily won the race to the pylon. A flawless drive to answer the score they’d just allowed and out of nowhere, we had ourselves a high-scoring affair. 29-20 Seattle.
If the Panthers were going to win this game, they needed to find a score on their next drive, but three crowd-induced penalties set up a 3rd & long pass that Bobby Wagner broke up over the middle by reading the play and crashing hard. Seattle was unable to score on their next possession— the first time in seven drives they came up empty, but the amount of clock that back-and-forth took up squeezed a Panthers team that was already down by two scores.
With the clock running, their backs firmly against the ropes, and the Seahawks raining blows upon them, Dalton and Co were desperate for points. But instead of scoring they went incomplete, incomplete, illegal shift, incomplete, sack. The exclamation point for an increasingly rabid defense was Jarran Reed barreling through the line to all but seal the deal with his takedown of Dalton.
That put Seattle on Carolina’s 27 yard line with less than five minutes to play— an opportunity to put their opponents in the got dang dirt. Handing the shovel to their backfield, the Seahawks did just that. Walker started things with a 10 yard run and two plays later, Charbonnet damn near got arrested for manslaughter. On the play, Charbonnet took the handoff, bounced left, and sprinted up the sideline. He was met inside the five by a defender who immediately wished he hadn’t. Zach lowered his shoulder and crumpled the poor fella like so much paper mache, and set the crowd up to go ballistic a couple snaps later. On 2nd & goal, Smith took the snap and faked a draw inside. Pulling back, he saw The Great White Hope streaking into the endzone. Smith pulled the trigger, aimed perhaps a touch too high, but it mattered naught. Jake fucking Bobo leapt in the air, snatched the pass, and delicately tapped his toes inside the baseline as the two nearest defenders hit him. The ball moved nary a millimeter in his god-like grasp and he hit the turf with his first career touchdown.
Seattle’s human victory cigar gave them a 35-20 lead and, with the Super Bowl team in attendance, Geno paid homage to the one who came before him. On the ensuing two-point conversion (kudos to Carroll for going for it), Geno dropped back and faced near-immediate pressure from his blindside. He faked like he was gonna bail to the right before pirouetting back to the left. With no one open and a recovering pass rush closing in, Smith jab-stepped forward then turned and sprinted back to the right. He got all the way to the numbers— at the 20-yard-line, mind you— and flung the ball all the way back across the field to the left side of the endzone. It was a preposterous toss outdone only by the marvelous catch Tyler Lockett made, juggling the ball as he dove between two defenders. It was peak Russell Wilson, and damn near a carbon copy of Wilson’s impossible two-point conversion in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay nearly 10 years ago.
The Panthers managed to add a garbage-time touchdown to Thielen, who had a monster game of his own in the loss, but Bobo snuggled the onside kick to his bosom and Geno downed out Seattle’s second victory of the season.
~Geno Smith wasn’t the sharpest we’ve ever seen him today— most notably in the red zone, but you can’t suck your way to eight scoring drives in a single game. He completed 23 of 36 passes, overcoming a rough patch in the middle to throw for 296 yards and a TD against the one interception. The thing about Smith, and it’s what makes him so much more soothing to watch, is his willingness to throw the ball on time when his first read is open and smoothly work through his progressions when they’re not.
His 8.2 yards per attempt is a sensational number and, most importantly, he kept his head when the snowball of negative momentum started rolling in the second quarter. Geno was what the Seahawks needed him to be today— no more, no less— and he leaves the field with the team’s second win to show for it.
~Ken Walker is that dude. Every criticism he faced this offseason— from being too eager to bounce outside, to not being reliable enough for third-down work, to being a non-factor in the passing game— was put to rest this afternoon. Perhaps most notably, the fantasy-brained knock about him not being effective in short yardage was summarily tossed in the trash.
He did it all today, breaking big runs, making two huge catches, and scoring twice in the green zone. Maybe my favorite play came early in the 4th quarter, when he took a handoff and was met with a wall of tonnage at the line of scrimmage. You could see the brief moment where he considered hopping backwards and trying to win a race to the edge, but then he put his head down and followed his line’s haunches for the three yards that were given to him. By the time he was done, he had 97 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns while adding 59 more through the air on three catches. He was the team’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver, racking up 156 total yards from scrimmage. He is arriving.
~Zach Charbonnet already looks like the exact change-of-pace back Pete Carroll craves. His selection, as I’ve said all along, was about adding firepower to the backfield, not about replacing Walker. He had his biggest workload to date, carrying the rock nine times for 46 yards and delivering more punishment than he received along the way. He had another 20+ yards called back on penalties but you could see everything start to click for him as he picked his way through the line of scrimmage and delivered blows at the second level.
~DK Metcalf might have been the best player on the field today. He had half of Seattle’s receiving yards through three quarters, winning at all levels of the field en route to a season-high 112 yards on six catches. He’s been targeted just 19 times so far this season but he’s caught 15 of them for 234 yards and a score, giving Smith a sterling passer rating of 135.6 when looking Metcalf’s way.
~After playing the hero last week, Tyler Lockett took on more of a reserve role today. He was thrown to seven times, not counting the two-pointer, but caught just three of them for 34 yards. It’s never going to be the same receiver every week with this team, so no worries here. Plus, that two-point grab was hilariously good.
~Jaxson Smith-Njigba was quiet again today, recording one catch for 10 yards. He’s a bit of a statistical anomaly so far, ranking last among qualified NFL receivers with a 1.3 average depth of target. But on the other hand, he leads all NFL wideouts in average yards of separation on his routes. It’s because of the latter stat that I’m not worried about JSN despite an underwhelming string of box scores to begin his career. There’s not a ton of pie left after Metcalf, Lockett, and the tight ends and it’s gonna take Shane Waldron and Co some time to figure out how to work him in. If we’re still here by Thanksgiving, maybe we start to get a little worried, but rookie receivers are notorious for breaking out in the second half of the season and I anticipate us seeing something similar from a WR of Smith-Njigba’s caliber.
~The tight ends did their thing again. As always, no individual stat line jumps off the screen but in Will Dissly’s absence, Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson were great with their opportunities. Fant caught four of five looks for 41 yards and Parkinson turned his four targets into three catches for 38. Colby did have a drop but it was wiped off the books by a defensive penalty. All told, the pair combined for seven catches and 79 yards.
-The offensive line was good again, despite the absences of Charles Cross and Abe Lucas. They allowed just two sacks on 38 dropbacks and created an environment that allowed the running backs to average 4.9 yards per carry. All told, the Seahawks offense put up 425 yards of offense and 37 points without a whole lot of negative plays.
~Is this run defense good?? After being abjectly awful last season, this unit has been stout in the trenches. Carolina ran all over them last season but today, they found just 44 yards on the ground, a shocking departure from the 223 they gained in Seattle a year ago.
~That starts up front, and nobody on that D-line was better than Jarran Reed today. Reed looked reborn this afternoon, knifing between blocks, causing mayhem in the backfield, and even making two tackles downfield. He had eight takedowns— a huge number for a defensive tackle, including 1.5 sacks and a team-leading three QB hits. If he’s anywhere close to this good the rest of the season, this defense is going to be very competitive.
~Reed wasn’t the only guy having success up front today, Boye Mafe had a sack and two QB hits, adding to a remarkable total of 11 by Seattle in that category. Uchenna Nwosu made some noise too, though I’m not seeing as much from Dre’Mont Jones as I’d like— nor as much as his contract would warrant. Still, the front seven had their third straight good game against the run.
~The star of the show today was Devon Witherspoon. The Panthers clearly made a point of targeting the rookie in his second game, and Witherspoon simply said “bring it on”. He was thrown at a remarkable 11 times today, allowing just three completions for 19 yards. He gave up one first down, broke up two passes, and led the team with 11 tackles.
He plays with juice we haven’t seen from a Seahawks defender since, well— since *that* team. It’s one thing to be this good in coverage already, to have the instincts that he displayed against veteran receivers; it’s another thing entirely to do all that while hitting like opposing ball carriers just slapped his mama. He made tackles in the secondary, in the second level, and at the line of scrimmage. He knocked fellow rookie Jonathan Mingo out with a devastating blow and threw his body around like he was renting it for the day.
I’m trying hard not to be hyperbolic but I couldn’t be much happier with this selection so far.
~It was a get-right game for Jason Myers after a weird start to the season. The mental side of being a kicker has gotta be crazy— doing nothing for 90% of the game and then having to perform an isolated task in high-leverage situations. It feels like the streakiest position in football, which is why today was so impressive for Myers. After missing three kicks in the first two weeks, including two short ones, to come out and comfortably make all five field goals and both extra points is remarkable. It’s weird to use a term like grit when describing a kicker but that’s exactly what he showed in this game. Full confidence in him moving forward.
~Seattle’s third down struggles continued today— on both sides of the ball. The Panthers converted an astonishing 10 of 19 tries while the Seahawks went just three of 13. How Seattle managed to win despite that disparity is honestly incredible. Penalties, I guess.
~If the 2013 Super Bowl team inspired anything today, it was y’all in the stands. The crowd was back, helping the Panthers to a staggering 13 penalties— most of which were the procedural type a hyped up atmosphere can influence. The best part was Carroll hootin’ and hollerin’ with each successive call against the visitors. This is the type of energy that needs to remain constant at Lumen Field, because coming in, the Seahawks were just 12-14 at home over the last three seasons.
The Seattle Seahawks are 2-1, just one game out of first place in the entire NFL. They haven’t been dominant—at least not yet— but they’ve put two very good efforts on the field in consecutive weeks. No loss is going to feel good but we gotta resist the urge to nitpick the victories too harshly, too. We only get so many of them a year and while today was hardly flawless, they were as good as they needed to be. 2-1 is a great place to reside, especially heading into a Monday night showdown with a reeling Giants team.
There is work to do for the Seahawks, but that’s okay. They’ve got 14 games to get better, and better than what we saw today is very dangerous. Seattle gets a much-needed extra day to rest, then a bye week that feels like it can’t get here soon enough. Coming out of that healthy and 3-1 is a very real possibility, and they’re one more game like this one away from making it happen. Until then, onward and upwards my friends.
Y’all already know about our amazing partnership with Seattle Cigar Concierge, and their hospitality extended all the way down to the desert. I watched this game in Phoenix, at their flagship cigar lounge— Anthony’s Cigar Emporium. I’m deep in Cardinals country at the moment but I told them I was coming, and they put the ‘Hawks on for a traveling fan. Their selection was impossibly good, as one might imagine, and I enjoyed the game with the incomparably smooth flavor of a 1926 Padron Anniversary Natural. A perfect cigar in a perfect environment. Thank you to Steve and Jim for making a fella feel at home.
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