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Cigar Thoughts, Game 2: Derrick Henry kicked our asses, man

The Tennessee Titans overcame a 24-9 halftime deficit to knock off the Seattle Seahawks 33-30 in overtime.

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Today was awesome. I mean, it totally sucked, but it was rad, you know? I was blessed with the opportunity to experience Seattle Seahawks football from a vantage point far closer than anything I’ve witnessed prior. This remarkable experience was offered up to me and my lifelong friend Caleb by loyal-reader-and-buddy Mike (far left). So how did I end up huddled in a corner on top of a parking garage at 11pm? I dunno, how did the Seahawks blow a 24-9 lead in a game they were dominating? Sometimes life just does what it does and sometimes what life does is kick you square in the genitalia.

Look, the way this game ended completely blows, and much of the discussion during the next week will be devoted to this team’s flaws— much like most of the discussion the week prior was devoted to their strengths. Such is the way of results-oriented determinism. Would I be writing this article, half-cocked on bourbon, sitting criss-cross applesauce on a piece of stained concrete that I’m praying isn’t urine if the ‘Hawks had won? Maybe, yeah. Probably, actually. Whatever. They lost and I’m here.

The majority of you reading this saw the game on TV, and I ask for your grace if I miss some of the context that the broadcast provided. I’m honestly rather fond of watching games from the comfort of my own home but at least once a year I like to descend into the madness of Lumen Field and get swept up in the rabid bloodlust of 60,000 blue-clad maniacs. So when the chance to be a part of the first home crowd since 2019 presented itself, there was only one acceptable choice.

As I just mentioned, there’s things you miss from a TV broadcast when you watch a game in person— that said, there are some things you miss on TV that are reserved only for those in the arena. Today, that included a crescendo of pent-up enthusiasm that began to swell inside the stadium nearly an hour before kickoff and carried all the way through the first drive. It was nothing short of magical to be a part of today’s festivities and, regardless of outcome, will be an experience I remain grateful for forever.

Now, as far as the game itself went— well, shit. If we’re being honest, most of this one was pretty awesome; but if you chip your tooth on the pit with your last bite, it doesn’t really matter how good the peach was, ya know? One thing that was very clear early on was that playing in front of a crowd as raucous as Seattle’s affected both teams, and most of the first quarter was played in a jolty, stunted manner. On Seattle’s first drive, Russell Wilson threw askew to a wide-open DK Metcalf en route to a three-and-out. The play was designed to create a few free yards and establish some initial rhythm, with Metcalf getting easy separation on a seven-yard out. Wilson, however, missed high forcing a 3rd & long and shortly thereafter, a punt. Fortunately, the Titans couldn’t move the chains either, and Seattle got the ball back in nearly the exact same position they punted from.

Seattle strung some things together on their second drive— most notably a gorgeous 51-yard fade route from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett— and posted the game’s first score with a 31-yard Jason Myers field goal. On that play in particular, Wilson dropped back to his right, letting the defense drift that way with him before planting and throwing a dart back across the field. While all of this was happening, Lockett slipped under the safety across the middle and angled deep down the left sideline. Russ’ pass arrived exactly when it needed to, with Lockett coasting under it to make a smooth over-the-shoulder grab as he tumbled to the turf. The drive stalled from there, with Wilson missing on a 3rd down rollout to the end zone, but it was enough to give Seattle the initial lead.

Tennessee would respond with a classic we’re-playing-the-Seahawks possession, going 70 yards on 13 plays to tie it with a field goal of their own. I appreciate that Pete Carroll defenses give up so few big plays but watching opposing offenses patiently take their chunks of flesh can be excruciating to witness.

Seattle’s third drive lasted nine plays and showed some promise before ultimately petering out in the form of a touchback punt. The Titans pressed forward with a series of completions to Julio Jones and a couple nice runs from Derrick Henry, eventually pushing the ball all the way to Seattle’s 5. Facing a 3rd-and-goal, Ryan Tannehill dropped back in hopes of finding one of his stud receivers for a score. What he found instead or, rather, what found him, was a stunting Bobby Wagner, who came free on a perfectly timed blitz to record the drive-killing sack. The Titans would settle for another field goal and a slight 6-3 lead.

The next seven minutes is where it got really fun, and it all started with Russ. On the first play of their fourth possession, Wilson hit Metcalf over the middle for 16 yards. That was followed by a 4-yard Chris Carson run, setting up a return to what had worked so well just a few plays prior. Just like on their first big play, Russell took the snap and waggled to his right. Metcalf crossed with him about five yards down field, sucking a safety up into the box. As that happened, Lockett ran the same route as before and Wilson threw him a perfect pass, same as before. Just like last time, Lockett made the grab but unlike the previous connection, he stayed on his feet. With two defenders crashing down on him, Lockett hit the brakes and let them bounce off each other like billiard balls before scooting between them and into the end zone for a 63-yard score to make it 10-6.

At this point the stadium felt like it was actually bouncing. The sheer verve of the crowd, strengthened by that perfect autumnal Seattle sunshine, seemed to lift my feet a few inches off the ground— and it would only get crazier from there. On the second play of Tennessee’s next drive, Alton Robinson broke through his block as Ryan Tannehill dropped back. Seeing Robinson coming free, he tried to escape to his right but once the wolf is in the cave with you, it’s dinner time. Robinson crashed down on Tannehill, jarring the ball loose inside the 10. The closest man to it was Kerry Hyder Jr, who pounced on it to set up 1st & goal. From there it was two quick Carson runs to make it 17-6 and it started to feel like last week’s game all over again.

The Titans would, to their credit, bounce right back on their next drive. Not panicking, they kept the ball in the hands of their indestructible running back Derrick Henry, following up an initial 4-yard run with a well-designed screen play to him for 15 more. Then there was a 19-yard strike to fancy new weapon Julio Jones and then a lot more Derrick Henry after that. The result was a 1st & 10 at Seattle’s 11 and it looked like Tennessee was gonna get at least one of those touchdowns back.

After two Henry runs gained six yards, Tannehill went back to Jones on 3rd down— flinging the ball hard towards the back of the end zone where Julio was coming across. Jones skied for the ball, snagged it, and miraculously dragged both feet inside the end line for the score. Upon review, however, the officials determined that Jones’ second foot sorta maybe kinda touched the line and overruled the score. Tennessee would settle for their third field goal and give the ball back to the Seahawks with 1:09 left.

Like last week, the Seahawks were unsatisfied with taking a one-score lead into the break and like last week, they delivered on their mission. Moving quickly and getting to the line early in the play clock, the ‘Hawks were able to keep the Titans on their heels, pushing relentlessly as they squeezed the field down on their final drive of the first half. A quick out to Travis Homer gained 11 before Wilson found Lockett for eight more. Then Freddie Swain was left unchecked beneath a Metcalf go route and Wilson calmly found him for 12 more. Then it was back to DK for eight, moving the ball to the Titans 36 and setting up a gorgeous draw play to Alex Collins for 25 weaving yards.

It was beautiful, watching this offense move swiftly, decisively, and with every area of the field available to them. After a short miss to Metcalf, Lockett was able to draw a pass interference call near the goal line, all but ensuring the Carson TD that would come a play later. Just like that, the Seahawks were up 24-9 at the break and it appeared to be calm waters ahead. I wish they ended the game then.

Tennessee got the ball back to start the third quarter and they wasted no time getting back to the business of being the Titans. Everyone has always talked about the way Derrick Henry “gets stronger” as the game goes along and man... man.

After being held in check for, well, the first six quarters of the season really, Henry started hulking up in this one. He’d carry the ball five times on that drive, gathering 25 yards split up by a couple of defensive penalties that gave the visitors a free 20 yards to boot. All of this moved the Titans down to the Seattle 9 and from there, it was just a matter of letting their big dog prowl the yard. Henry took the handoff on the next play and charged to his right. The Seahawks collapsed the line, seeming to blow the play up for a loss— and against most running backs, it probably would’ve been. Henry, however, was starting to get angry and he did away with a couple of would-be tacklers before bouncing back to his left and winning a footrace to the goal line. The impressive run would cut the lead to 24-16 and set the tone for the remainder of this contest.

After scoring 21 points in just over six minutes to end the half, it seemed like Seattle’s offense had found its groove and, for the first few plays of the second half, it appeared they’d stay in it. A series of quick passes to Lockett and Metcalf scattered against the backdrop of a couple first down runs from Carson, moved the ball across midfield. It looked like Wilson and Co were gonna keep cruising but Carson would get bottled up for a loss on 3rd & 2, forcing the Seahawks to punt it back to the Titans.

Five more touches from Henry would net 27 more yards as the Titans mixed in enough passing to be effective on the following possession. The ball was back across the 50 in a blink and you could sort of feel the field start to tilt a little. They’d get as far as the 26 on this one before Seattle finally stuffed Henry on a 3rd down, but it was clear that Tennessee was getting what they wanted. Randy Bullock came out for his fourth field goal attempt but unlike the first three, he pushed this one wide and we all exhaled a bit.

When the Colts made a couple of pushes last week, I remember feeling strangely calm about it all— like the outcome was never really in jeopardy. And after what came next, I’ll admit I was lulled right back into that same sense of safety and assuredness. Seattle’s first play of the next drive was called back on Metcalf hold, but it didn’t matter much. On 1st & 20, a quick screen to Swain got blown up and on 2nd & 19, Wilson found Lockett for seven quick ones to set up 3rd &12. Spreading his receivers out wide, Wilson took the next shotgun snap and watched his targets disperse. All of them ran horizontal routes of varying distances; well, all of them except one. With Tennessee’s secondary forced to flatten out, Swain turned and shot upfield behind them. Russ was ready, and calmly fired the ball over the top of everybody to the most wide open Seahawks receiver you’ll ever see. Swain caught the pass in stride and ran freely into the end zone to give Seattle a two-score lead early in the fourth. It all seemed pretty academic from there, and you could feel the “we got this” demeanor taking root in the stands.

Alas.

The unraveling began when Myers, who has basically been above reproach over the last two seasons, doinked the extra point. This kept the lead at 14 which, as you all know, is much different than 15. Even so, two-touchdown leads, while never certain, start to feel pretty safe. Especially when the other team’s best weapon is a between-the-tackles grinder at running back. I mean, it’s not like Seattle was trying to protect the lead against a terrifying air attack like the Chiefs, Bucs, or Bills. Except, as we all know, there's something very different about this particular running back.

Say what you want about the importance of the position as a whole, there is no doubt that Derrick Henry matters and when he starts hulking up, he’s as dangerous as anyone in football. The sheer weight of that danger was felt almost immediately on the next drive. After Tannehill hit AJ Brown for 15, he turned and handed it off at his own 40. Henry took the ball going to his left, turned up the seam, and absolutely exploded through the line. You always hear how it doesn’t make sense watching a player that big run that fast— like when you hear that grizzlies are faster than Usain Bolt— but lemme tell you: in person, it’s surreal. Blowing by the linebackers, Henry galloped into open space up the left side. Quandre Diggs, who had a great game, looked for all the world like he’d be able to meet Henry and at least knock him out of bounds but Derrick absolutely vaporized his pursuit angle and sprinted 60 yards for a lightning quick score. Hear me when I tell you that man runs like a semi truck that just crested a hill with its brakes cut.

Normally it takes some sort of defensive breakdown for a handoff to go 60 yards and maybe it’s because my perspective was limited on the far side of the field, but it didn’t feel like Seattle messed up. Instead, it just looked like the best player on the field doing something that defies all logic and reason. That score made it 30-23 and just like that the game was very much back in the balance.

Seattle had no more counter-punches, going three-and-out the rest of the way. They were like a boxer way ahead on the cards that ran out of gas in the 11th round. Tennessee, however, was gaining energy and unleashing blows on a Seahawks team that suddenly looked like it was just trying to last until the final bell. And while it would have been awesome to get another score, what Seattle really needed to do was get first downs. Instead, they looked completely out of sorts down the stretch and gave Tennessee all the chances they needed.

Seattle’s defense actually came up huge on the next possession. After the Titans continued their relentless march, the Seahawks were able to force a stop on fourth down, overcoming a couple of huge penalties that seemed destined to do them in. But instead of doing anything with the defensive stand, the Seahawks quickly booted it back to the road team. This time, Henry and crew would not be denied.

The Titans’ final possession would last 12 plays, cover 68 grueling yards, and eat up almost every bit of regulation’s final four minutes. There wasn’t anything fancy about it, in fact only one play went longer than nine yards, but it just didn’t stop. Most of the drive was just short passes over the middle, dinking it down to Henry or an outlet receiver as Seattle fought to keep any big plays from happening. Tannehill stayed patient, taking what was there, and deftly moving his team into the red zone and towards the goal line. The Henry TD felt inevitable and when he eventually punched it in, that sickening feeling of old started to creep back in.

The game went to overtime but in hindsight, it was over already. Tennessee got the ball first but after an initial surge, were unable to score. They did, however, accomplish the goal of pushing the ‘Hawks deep into their own territory and while we’ve seen Russell Wilson pull out wins like this many times before, it just wasn’t happening in this one. To be honest with you, it’s a minor blessing that the Titans would win on a field goal because this was awfully close to a very embarrassing finish.

The Seahawks, to their credit, tried to let Wilson go out and win this but instead he turned in his worst sequence of the year. He missed Lockett up the left side on first down and then missed Metcalf badly in the same spot on the next play. That brought up 3rd & 10 from their own 13 and that’s when everything came apart for good. As Wilson dropped back, the line broke down and forced Russ to hit playground mode for maybe the first real time all year. Unlike the many great escapes in his past, however, he was swallowed up pretty quickly at the goal line and his desperation heave towards the sideline had all the makings of a game-ending intentional-grounding safety. Remarkably, the officials ruled his forward progress had stopped at the 1 and Seattle was able to delay their own death with a rushed punt to midfield. From there it was just a bunch more Derrick Henry and one last Bullock field goal to steal all the joy from the first home crowd in forever. Just a massive bummer.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson’s stats from this game will look much better than his actual performance as it related to winning this game. He was white hot in the middle stretch and did almost all of his compiling between the mid-first quarter and the mid-third. His final line is impressive: 22/31, 343 yards, 2 TDs, and no turnovers, but he missed some gimme throws today and was all out of sorts in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Through two games his numbers are actually pretty bananas, completing 74% of his passes at 11.1 yards per attempt, with 6 TDs and nary a turnover. His passer rating is an insane 146.9 and I honestly have as much confidence in him overall as I ever have. He looks great in this offense and I think it suits him beautifully; it was just weird to see him be so precise for a long stretch and then completely wonky when it mattered most. I’m not reading into any of it but it was odd to witness.

~The run game was non-existent today. On the one hand, Chris Carson did get two short TDs but on the other, he was only able to gain 31 total yards after going for over 100 in the opener. Gone were demoralizing rushes that gutted the defense last week; in their place were a bunch of really short plunges that never made it to the second level. The only run of any length was the draw to Alex Collins for 25 yards but that had more to do with taking advantage of the Titans assuming pass than anything. I guess time will tell which of these rushing attacks we can expect more of moving forward.

~Tyler Lockett is going crazy on the field this season. After exploding for 4 catches, 100 yards, and 2 TDs against the Colts, he came back with 8-178-1 against the Titans. He appears completely in control of his routes, timing, and hands right now and Wilson seems to have fully melded minds with him. He is the Seahawks’ most dangerous weapon so far and remains criminally under-rated across the league. His 278 yards and 3 TDs both rank second in the NFL, as he has been the biggest star of Shane Waldron’s new uptempo offense.

~DK Metcalf’s sluggish start continued in this one. After not receiving a single target in the first half last week, he was force-fed early in this one. The problem was, he and Wilson just seemed disconnected. Russ missed him on a couple of easy passes and Metcalf let a few others get away that I’m sure he’d say he should have had. For all of the otherworldly physical gifts he has as an athlete, he is still polishing up the skills needed to be an elite NFL receiver. He struggled at the catch point today, going 0-3 on contested passes, and bobbled another one over the middle that he eventually caught.

And for the second straight week, everything he caught was underneath. We have yet to see DK unleashed in this offense, as teams seem content to bracket him with a safety over the top, sacrificing elsewhere to make sure he doesn’t rain his special brand of hellfire on them. On top of that, Metcalf was HOT today. He picked up a couple of penalties and very easily could have been called for a couple more. You could almost see the steam coming out of his helmet as his frustrations spilled into the dangerous seconds after the whistle. At one point early in the second quarter I told my buddies I wouldn’t be surprised if he got kicked out. I don’t know what it looked like on TV but from where I was at, he seemed to be on the edge. I don’t know if it was because he was mad at the missed opportunities, keyed up to play against friend and former teammate AJ Brown, or if a defender just got in his head. Whatever the cause, it looked like he got taken out of his game early.

Freddie Swain is kind of the forgotten third receiver on this team but he had his best game as a pro in this one. It wasn’t just the 68-yard bomb, either— he also roped in four other catches to finish with 5 for 95 and the score. Nothing about his production was the result of amazing route running or anything, he just figured out how to get open while the defense stressed about Tyler and DK. And to be fair to Metcalf, DK was a direct contributor to his teammates’ production. On three occasions that I noticed, his go routes pulled two defenders deep to open up easy completions beneath him and both long touchdowns were the result of an extra defender being pulled Metcalf’s direction. He’s still very effective.

~It was hard to watch the defense get worn down in this game but that’s kind of what the Titans do. The pass rush that was so dominant against Indy’s vaunted OL was mostly quiet today, save for Robinson’s strip sack. They had some nice run stops early, and Bobby Wagner got home on a stunt, but other than that, Tannehill looked pretty comfortable out there.

Speaking of Bobby, Wagner’s 20 tackles set a franchise single-game record and gives him an astonishing 33 takedowns just two weeks into the season. He was everywhere today because he had to be, and while 20 tackles is absolutely amazing, it also tells a tale of a defense that spent a LOT of time on the field. Indeed, Tennessee ran an incredible 83 plays for 532 total yards, slowly grinding Seattle’s bones into dust.

~DJ Reed was excellent while Tre Flowers struggled. I’m not even that down on Flowers, to be honest— Julio Jones, who he seemed to find himself lined up against more often than not, is an insanely tough matchup. And while Flowers wasn’t quite up to the task (few are), it wasn’t like he was getting torched. Rather, he was just a step too slow on a day where one of the NFL’s most efficient offenses over the last two years found its stride.

Reed, on the other hand, looked brilliant from where I was sitting. He played AJ Brown incredibly well on an end zone corner route in the first quarter, beating Brown to his leaping point and forcing him to alter his steps. The result of Reed’s deft counter-punching was a jump-ball pass that saw no jump from an off-his-mark Brown. Reed had a couple of other impressive plays in coverage, though sadly, what will be talked most about with him is the ridiculous taunting call* he received after breaking up a long pass.

*The NFL has had a lot of stupid rules over the years— from the disintegration of physical pass coverage to their nebulous “catch rule” to the fact that a 12-figure league still uses sexagenarians with chains on sticks to determine first downs. But perhaps nothing is worse than this year’s emphasis on taunting. Few things in American sport are more difficult than playing cornerback in the modern NFL, and for Seattle to get hit with a debilitating 15-yard penalty after Reed expertly broke up a big play because he barked monosyllabically is an embarrassment to the league itself. And I’d say the same thing if it was called against a Titan. The rule is trash and puts refs in a brutal position. Whoever thought this would make the game better is the feds.

Quandre Diggs wasn’t credited in the box score with any pass break-ups today but he was solely responsible for at least two but probably three drops by Tennessee WRs. Diggs’ homicidal approach to opposing receivers must’ve made its way into the scouting report this week because Brown dropped two great passes with Diggs bearing down on him and Julio coughed up a gimme with Quandre closing too. He also recorded 10 tackles. Busy day from a man who is absolutely earning the money he “held in” for.

It sucks that the first home crowd of the COVID era had this one ripped away from them. The fans really brought it today and deserved, as much as any fans deserve anything, to spend the evening celebrating a win. I was excited to see downtown Seattle go off after the W so trundling out of Lumen Field with a loss carried with it an anticlimactic sting.

Even so, the rain that was forecast for the game held off until it was over and I was with one of my best friends so it was, all in all, a great day. My man Mike hooked up the pre-game buffet in the Verizon Club, our seats were better than any I’ve ever had, and we got to ride scooters through a torrential downpour to a bar in Capitol Hill for the Sunday Night game. Now I’m buzzed off excellent booze and elite tobacco on top of a roof. For all the things Seattle has dealt with the last couple of years, this city still rules.

Here’s the thing— the Seahawks weren’t going to go undefeated. Every loss feels like a bad loss when you’re a good team but bad losses happen to literally every team every year. I’d rather have this happen in September than later in the season. Teams are still figuring out who they are, and there are 15 games left to learn from this and be better. And they will.

They didn’t play badly today, they ended badly. And the Titans also went out and won this game. They took it. It’s not like Seattle had a bunch of blown coverages or costly turnovers, they simply didn’t close. The defense has been mostly good so far this year, the OL is better than we’re used to, and Russell Wilson is playing some of his best football.

I think this team will be fine, it just hurts that everyone else in our insane Agoge of a division is 2-0. That stuff will even out though, especially as they all start playing each other. In the meantime, Seattle can learn, evolve, and keep this thing moving onward and upward. Until next week, my friends... cheers.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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Downtown Seattle deserves a cigar that can match its gritty demeanor and flavorful flair. That’s why I was stoked to keep myself company with the Reserve Don Carlos from Arturo Fuente. Boasting a number of different notes, it’s smooth up front with a bite on the back end— a perfect paring with the 15-Year Calumet Farm bourbon that the wonderful Carmen Denson gifted me last week.

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The 2021 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.