***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 the brilliant GRIFF STURGEON. You can listen to all the shows, including this article, right here:
What a year. On the surface, 9-8 is a successful season, especially when you consider that the Seattle Seahawks conducted an overhaul just 21 months ago. All week I’ve been thinking about how similar this season has been to last year, and while the broadcast stole some of my thunder, it’s still worth mentioning:
In 2022, the Seahawks started 6-3, then went 2-5, and needed a Week 18 victory combined with a Packers loss to sneak into the playoffs.
In 2023, the Seahawks started 6-3, then went 2-5, and needed a Week 18 victory combined with a Packers loss to sneak into the playoffs.
If happiness equals reality minus expectations, then the last two Seattle seasons are Exhibit A. Last year, Seattle was near-universally picked to have one of the worst records in the NFL. Geno Smith was supposed to be a stop-gap quarterback and Pete Carroll was perceived by many (your beloved author included) to be on the wrong end of one of the highest profile divorces in recent NFL memory.
Both seasons ended 9-8, but this time, Green Bay won. The thing is, even if the Packers had lost, I think a lot of you would still be upset, and like, I get it. But also, there’s a reason I constantly preach zooming out. Transport yourself back to March of 2022— how were you feeling when you heard Seattle traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos for what appeared at the time to be two late 1sts, two late 2nds, and a handful of non-elite players. Now imagine that I told you, in that moment, that the Seahawks would win 18 games with a playoff appearance over the next two seasons.
If you can honestly tell me that you would have been disappointed, then you are welcome to write the rest of this article off. And know that I appreciate the click. Here’s the reality: the discontent we feel right now has everything to do with how tremendously this team has outperformed the expectations cast upon them a year and a half ago. Victims of their own (moderate) success.
Effectively speaking, the only difference is that this year, Green Bay won.
I’m not gonna spend a ton of time on the blow-by-blow because the reverberations of this game go well beyond what actually took place on the field. In a way, this game serves as a Rorschach Test for your views of the Seahawks.
This contest didn’t present much that we didn’t already know. We saw a fairly efficient but inconsistent Seahawks offense struggle for 90% of the game and then come through in the final minutes— like we’ve seen so many times before. The defense continued to tackle like a high school JV team, greatly increasing the degree of difficulty for said offense.
Instead of going play by play, I’m going to focus on what happened when the game was tied 13-13 late in the third quarter. Following a Seahawks punt that put the Cardinals at their own 39, Michael Carter took a sweep for 15 yards. After two runs gained zero yards, Kyler Murray hit Rondale Moore for 10 to move the chains. Three runs netted another first down then Murray hit rookie Michael Wilson for 11 yards.
Two short runs and a false start set up a 3rd & 13 from Seattle’s 18. With the ‘Hawks defense on its heels for the ninth straight game, Murray hit Moore over the middle down to Seattle’s 8, setting up a 4th & 3. The Cardinals sent out their field goal unit, then did a late substitution to run Murray back out onto the field. That’s where things got weird.
The officials should have given the Seahawks a chance to substitute as well, and Pete Carroll lost his damn mind on the sideline arguing that very fact, but they were not granted the reprieve they should have and instead, Seattle was caught under-manned for the play Arizona ran. Murray settled into his usual shotgun stance while kicker Matt Prater split wide to the left. The Cards put two receivers out wide to the right and Seattle was stuck in their field goal personnel. As a result, Trey McBride was wide open in the endzone for an easy go-ahead touchdown. That made it 20-13 Arizona and the Seahawks were up against it once more.
Seattle got the ball back with 10 minutes to go and it felt like they would answer. After all, it’s what they’ve done all season in this situation. Turns out, it was still a touch too early. The Seahawks went three and out, punted, and all of a sudden were counting on their defense to get a high-leverage stop.
If you’ve watched this team this year, you’d feel like that’s a losing bet and in all honesty, it probably should have been. The Cardinals churned out a 13-play drive, picking up four first downs to all but ice the game. Knowing that all they needed was a field goal, and aware that they had one of the most accomplished kickers in NFL history, ‘Zona called a draw on 3rd & 8 that gained four yards and brought Prater out for a simple 43-yard field goal with three minutes left.
But instead of cementing a win, Prater pushed his kick wide right, giving Seattle one last chance. As the Seahawks took possession, the Cardinals PR team (wisely) posted the final score in Green Bay, showcasing the Packers’ win for all— including the Seahawks— to see. It was intended as a nut-punch to the visiting team, and there’s no question that Seattle’s coaches and players were aware that they had been eliminated from the playoffs.
The thing about the Seahawks, though, is that the vibes are soooo strong. Like, strong enough to overcome massive deficiencies in terms of execution and decision-making. I think that facing a seven-point deficit 57 minutes into a game, knowing you’ve been eliminated, would be a death knell for most teams. But given all Seattle’s shortcomings, they didn’t wilt. And for all of the justified criticisms of this team, you can’t fault their gumption.
Starting on their own 33, Geno Smith and Co needed just four plays to re-establish themselves. A bailout completion to Colby Parkinson for five was followed by a dump-off to Zach Charbonnet for 13. Smith went back to the rookie RB on the next play for 15 more, then went for it all.
One of the things I loved about Russell Wilson was his penchant for going all-in when the stakes were highest. That specific brand of chutzpah is alive and well with Geno and for whatever he lacks in terms of Russ’ spontaneity, he makes up for in on-time decisiveness. Never has that been more evident than it was on this play. After taking the snap, Smith stepped back, hit the top of his drop, and uncorked a rainbow up the right seam.
For some reason (most of which I chalk up to the fact that Geno has spent most of his career as a backup), there is a sizable contingent of Seahawks fans that don’t think Smith is that good. If you can watch this particular throw (not to mention the dozens of others that defy probability) and still feel that way, then we can just go our separate ways disagreeing on what 2 + 2 equals. Smith hit his mark, unleashed a throw, and trusted that Tyler Lockett would beat his man to the outside. His pro’s pro of a receiver did just that and the pass was a 99th percentile throw. Lockett corralled it at the goal line to make it 20-19 with less than two minutes left.
It’s a fun, albeit inconsequential, thought experiment to wonder what the point-after decision would have been if Seattle didn’t know they had been eliminated. I’d like to think it would be the same, but I don’t believe it would’ve been. Regardless, Carroll decided to keep his offense on the field down 20-19 and Geno went right back to Tyler over the middle for the two-point conversion. The team let their balls hang with the game on the line and their exceptionally professional quarterback and exceptionally professional receiver came through. All of a sudden it was 21-20 Seattle with less than two minutes left.
Here’s a thing, though: for all of the online jokes, Kyler Murray is a really fucking good quarterback. With his back against the wall, he orchestrated a nine-play, 42-yard drive to give his kicker a chance to win it. And why not? Matt Prater is literally the best kicker in NFL history in game-deciding kicks, having made all 23 of his game-tying or game-winning kicks with less than a minute left in his career.
Unfortunately for him, the historic weirdness of the Seahawks-Cardinals rivalry was more than even his bionic leg could overcome. Prater ended up facing a 52-yard kick on the final play of the game— well within the range of one of the most gifted kickers in the history of earth— and yet, when he swung his leg through, I felt in my soul he was gonna miss. I’m not even kidding. Sure enough, his kick drifted wide right again and the Seahawks escaped with a bittersweet victory.
~Geno Smith’s stats in this one were, well, pedestrian— but when you filter for leverage, man... He finished 16-28 for 189 yards and two TDs but on the final drive, he was 4-4 for 64 yards and the game-winner, including the two-point conversion. In the process, he set the NFL record for game-winning drives in a season under two minutes left. The Seahawks underperformed in a number of ways this season, but quarterbacking ain’t one of them.
On the year, Geno completed 64.7% of his passes for 3,624 yards (7.3 Y/A), 20 TDs, and 9 INTs for a passer rating of 92.1. Taken as a whole, he was about the 12th best QB in the NFL this season and that’s a big win given what they’re paying him.
The Seahawks will be drafting 16th next year, which makes for an interesting decision. Do you want my opinion? If so, I’d say there are four quarterbacks in this draft I’d co-sign on Seattle selecting if they’re available: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, and Michael Penix. If those guys are off the board— and I expect they will be— I’m perfectly fine with the team running it back with Geno.
~Ken Walker has got some Le’Veon Bell to him. His ability to be patient, to flip the field with a cutback, and to avoid squared-up hits is special. And that’s not even taking into account his breakaway speed ( astest ballcarrier in the NFL in 2022). He had 78 yards on 17 carries today,
On the season, he finished with an impressive 1,169 scrimmage yards and 9 TDs in 15 games. Say what you want about the value of using a second round pick on a running back, this offense would be toast without him.
~DK Metcalf had his worst game of the season, statistically speaking, catching a pass on the first play of the game and failing to haul in any of his final five targets of the game. Even so, he becomes just the 6th player in league history to record 900+ yards in each of his first five seasons. Just how crazy is that? There have been nearly 3,000 wide receivers in the NFL. Dial it in even further, he’s one of three players in history to record 50+ catches, 900+ yards, and 6+ TDs in each of his first five seasons... ever.
He finishes with 1,114 yards and 8 TDs, good for 8th in the league. He was the best player on the offense this year, and is proving to be worth every dollar the team paid him.
~There is no question that Tyler Lockett slowed down this season. A staple in the top-15 in catches, yards, and touchdowns for nearly a decade, he definitely took a step back this year. Even so, he was the difference today. The stat sheet says two catches for 71 yards and a touchdown but it was his two-point conversion that provided the difference.
He had his longest catch of the season today, which would be great if it wasn’t 37 yards. Still, he followed it up with a crucial 34-yard TD and the aforementioned two-pointer. Zoom in far enough, and that’s excellent. Zoom out far enough, and you have a precipitous dropoff from prior years. Lockett finishes the season with 79 catches for 894 yards and 5 TDs, his lowest output in six years. For all of the wonderful moments he’s given this franchise, 2023 was a major step back from the borderline elite production he’s provided over the last half-decade.
~So... thank god for Jaxon Smith-Njigba. JSN was the first receiver drafted and while he didn’t lead the league among rookies in any category (shoutout Puke Nakua), he was really valuable this season in big moments. At the end of it all, he carded an impressive 66 catches for 642 yards and four TDs, including two game-winning scores while competing for targets against one of the most productive duo of WRs in the NFL.
As Lockett slows down, Smith-Njigba will pick up speed. He was the right pick at the right time.
~This defense stinks. It stinks so bad. It smells like if you took an over-ripe avocado, put it mayonnaise, put that in a mason jar, farted in that mason jar, and then stuck it on a Mesa sidewalk in late July for a month. It’s so weird, because the defense was really good through seven weeks. Like, top-5 good. But then Uchenna Nwosu got hurt and for some reason, that meant the Seahawks sucked historically. Since then, Seattle has had one of the worst run defenses in NFL history, one year after having one of the worst run defenses in NFL history.
Normally, when something is going poorly, I’m able to diagnose what that is and suggest a remedy to said malady. When it comes to this defense, I’m at a complete loss. This unit sucks harder than Teanna Trump and it’s perplexing how much worse it is than the sum of its parts. There are good players here, and in that sense I’m willing to exonerate John Schneider.
If you’re talking about pure, on-paper talent, you can do so much worse than Leonard Williams, Boye Mafe, Dre’Mont Jones, Jordyn Brooks, Bobby Wagner, Devon Witherspoon, Riq Woolen, Tre Brown, Mike Jackson, Coby Bryant, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, and Julian Love. I mean, a lot worse. And yet, all we’ve seen for two straight months is soft coverage, inconsistent pass rush, and embarrassing tackling. I don’t know that it’s all Clint Hurtt’s fault but I’m comfortable saying it’s not not Clint Hurtt’s fault.
The Seahawks have a real issue, in that they are captained by a head coach that made his way with a revolutionary defensive philosophy that hasn’t been inspiring in nearly 10 years. More on that to come.
~Bobby Wagner is no longer that game-changing force that resided in the middle of the greatest defense in modern NFL history. He has been soft against lead blocks, slow against crossing routes, and is no longer tackling at the historic 99% rate that heralded his first eight years in the league. But even so, he is one of the few dudes playing his ass off on every snap on this defense. He once again led the team in takedowns today, recording 15 tackles to end up leading the entire NFL with a career-high 183 on the season.
On one hand, we’re seeing one of the most impressive tackling seasons in the history of the sport, 12 years into a historic career. On the other, this can’t be the best we can do. My frustration isn’t with Wagner— what he’s doing is a miracle. It’s with the insane deficiency in defensive coordination. Wagner just became the fourth player in NFL history to record 1,000 career solo tackles and the 7th player to eclipse 1,700 combined tackles. The sad thing is, if the rest of the defense was doing their job, Wagner wouldn’t have sniffed those numbers this season.
Bobby Wagner is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and this team absolutely cannot have him as their best linebacker next season. Maybe not even their second-best.
~Devon Witherspoon is so awesome. A Pro Bowler as a rookie, a potential Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded defensive rookie. For all the consternation about the pick on draft day, he’s been the real fuckin’ deal. Witherspoon has an argument as the best player on the entire team this season. He does everything well— covering inside, covering outside, blitzing, and tackling in the open field. He is a great player, destined to make an indelible mark in franchise history.
~Jason Myers broke his own Seahawks record for field goals made this season. He missed some high-profile kicks to be sure, and volume stats for kickers are at least 50% representative of the offense they kick for, but there was a lot of criticism about the Myers’ extension and, taken as a whole, I think he’s lived up to it.
As fans, kickers are an afterthought and anything less than perfection is a disappointment but it wasn’t long ago that Myers came as close to perfection as almost any kicker in NFL history.
As a tangent, if I was in charge of professional football, I would limit every team to two field goal attempts per game but that’s a discussion for another time. Fortunately, the NFL— Seattle included— is trending away from playing for three points once they cross the 50-yard line but when the time does come to kick, you could do a lot worse than Seattle’s guy.
Wanna hear something crazy? Jason Myers finished 3rd in the NFL in total points, 2nd in field goals made, and one of only eight to make every one of their extra points. We hyper-focus on the misses but the Seahawks have a good one.
~Michael Dickson continues to be one of the best punters on the planet. He heads to the offseason ranking sixth in gross yards per punt and third in net yards, highlighting his ability to combine distance, hang-time, and precision. He’s responsible for a lot of hidden yards this season.
~I don’t know what to make of the coaching. On one hand, you have damn-near immaculate vibes. Every pregame, postgame, and midweek video of this squad shows the exact wavelength I wanna see from the team I cheer for. But between 60:00 and 00:00 on gameday, it feels like the Seahawks staff is constantly running uphill.
The offense is much better than the defense, but still well behind the NFL’s real contenders. The defense is much worse. What? What do you want me to say? The defense fucking sucks. Assuming Pete Carroll stays, there are four options with the coordinators and I rank them thusly:
Keep Waldron / Fire Hurtt
Fire Waldron / Fire Hurtt
Keep Waldron / Keep Hurtt
Fire Waldron / Keep Hurtt
I don’t know what lies ahead— what I do know is that Seattle is at a distinct in-game disadvantage on the sidelines against most teams with a winning record.
Even though this season has been nearly identical to last year, satisfaction among Seahawks fans has plummeted. This is why I constantly insist on zooming out. If the Packers won last year but lost this year, we’d all be feeling different about the trajectory of the team. 2023 would feel like progress, even though the end-game results were identical. Such is the nature of the NFL.
The standard I hold myself to is trying to elevate 20,000 feet above and view the Seahawks’ position within the overall landscape of the league. When I do that, I see a team that is still ahead of the curve, all deficiencies accounted for. Last year, I felt like the team outperformed their on-field talent. This year it feels like they underperformed it. We can focus on the fact that Seattle missed the playoffs, or we can integrate that result into the wide-lens picture of a team that has potential beyond what we saw this season.
Don’t get me wrong— I’m disappointed. I thought this team could not only make the playoffs, but win a wild card game and plant their flag one step further than they got last year. But at the end of the day, this is a team that has gone 18-16 since trading the most consequential player in franchise history.
Sometimes I feel silly trying to preach my particular brand of perspective. We all want to win a Super Bowl but it’s upon us, as members of the most evolved species on earth, to apply a little more perspective than that. If your happiness is based on championship-or-bust, you’re gonna spend 97% of your life unsatisfied. In my opinion, the transcendent approach is to try and judge each season against the realistic expectations therein, and to enjoy each win as it comes.
If that sounds boring then well, frankly, I feel a little sorry for you. Because the folks I know who cling to Super-Bowl-or-nothing as a worldview, well, they’re just unhappy people. We follow sports teams because they have the potential to bring us joy. This year, the Seahawks brought us joy more often than otherwise, if we’re willing to see it.
Seattle faces an endlessly interesting offseason, and we’ll track all of it through the podcast. If you’ve enjoyed the article, and want to say thank you for free, please subscribe to the podcast HERE. Our next show features none other than Mina Kimes, as we put a bow on the 2023 Seahawks season.
One of the things I appreciate most about y’all is the commitment to this article, and to the podcast episodes, even when we disagree. In fact, it’s the disagreement I cherish most. All context taken into account, I’m still bullish on the Seahawks immediate future and I’m grateful to have y’all as a part of it.
I’ll be back soon, I promise; in the meantime, onwards and upwards my friends.
Fuck it— last game of the year, a season-ending victory. Sure, they missed the playoffs but this years has been more fun than what most fan bases have experienced and that’s worth a special cigar. In that spirit, I unwrapped an Arturo Fuente flagship Opus X. This is one of the absolute standards in the cigar world and I relished every last puff. If you ever get the opportunity to try one of these I’m telling you, don’t look at the price tag— just go.
And if you didn’t know, we also have our own cigars now, which you can order below:
We’ve linked up with one of the premier cigar manufacturers in the world to offer a special 13-year-aged blend of Dominican tobacco leaf to Cigar Thoughts readers for less than half of MSRP. These cigars, banded and branded by their creator, sell for $35-$40 per stick but we’re able to offer them to you for just $149 for a bundle of 10. They come with a Mylar bag and Boveda humidification pack so they’ll stay fresh whether you have a humidor or not. Just use the link!
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This is the 5th year of our incredible partnership with Seattle Cigar Concierge. They have the plug on some of the most insane stogies on the market and they’re offering them to Cigar Thoughts readers for 20% off. These are extremely special sticks, and among the most enjoyable I’ve ever smoked. To get the hook-up, just email SeattleCigarConcierge@GMail.com. They are carrying over 70 cigar brands with many rare releases, including Davidoff, Opus X, and Padron. You can also hit them up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars. Just be sure to mention that you’re a Cigar Thoughts reader. Many of you have taken advantage of this incredible opportunity and for those who have always wondered what elite cigars are like, this may the best chance you’ll get to step into that world.
We’re also thrilled to have an awesome partnership with Westland Distillery in Seattle, which is my favorite local whiskey maker. Today I cracked open their Garryana #8, which was just ranked as the #3 whiskey in the entire world by Whiskey Advocate. And yeah, it’s that good.
Westland is an American Single Malt Whiskey distillery in the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle. Tasting room and bar is open to the public, serving whiskey flights, cocktails, and small bites. Bottle shop onsite, featuring distillery exclusive releases and more, located at 2931 First Avenue, a little over a mile south of Lumen Field. Needless to say, I’m stoked to be working with them and one of the reasons I love their whiskeys so much is that they’re excellent pairings with a good cigar.
The 2023 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors in Bellingham, WA.