It’s the next day and I still don’t know what I just watched.
Some people are calling the game a disaster, like CBS Sport’s Ryan Wilson, who’s “Seahawks-Cardinals set football back 100 years” piece said that this was a game for people who love “suspect coaching, horrible special teams, and offensive football before the advent of the forward pass.” Now, I could argue with that statement point-by-point, but let’s focus on what was not good about this game that ended in a 6-6 tie:
Nothing. Football enjoyment is subjective. You are promised nothing. The world turns regardless of your hopes and dreams. For every action, there is an equal and opposite Earl Thomas.
On a macro scale, it’s tougher to point to “What went wrong” in a game like this one. We have 75 game minutes of football to observe and at the end of the day, our best argument is “The offenses were bad.” Were they? Let’s wait to answer that. On a micro scale however, it’s much easier to say that “The kickers were bad.” Stop and go back to the final meaningful play of the game.
Seahawks kicker Steve Hauschka misses a 28-yard field goal with seconds remaining that would have ended the game. Focusing just on that, we see a bad play by a good kicker. Every time something like this happens, whether it’s Blair Walsh against Seattle in the playoffs last year or Saints kicker John Carney missing a game-tying extra point against the Jaguars in 2003, we are dumbfounded. But the dumbfoundation on Sunday was compounded by the fact that Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro just did the same thing.
We’ve seen kickers miss chip shots plenty of times but to have it happen on back-to-back drives in overtime is what made it so stunning, if not spectacular. The odds of that happening were 0.2%, or, slightly better than the odds of getting four-of-a-kind in Texas Hold’em. If that doesn’t make it one of the most entertaining finishes in NFL history, then I guess you’re also the type of person who hated Stranger Things because it reminded you of things you love.
But we see two kickers do a bad job within a matter of minutes and we assume then that the performance was bad, hence, the game was bad. Some would even go as far as to say that the kickers “sucked” and so it sucks that the game had to end that way. However, if you look even closer at what led to those missed kicks, is it really a byproduct of blowing an easy opportunity, or was it a performance of amazing special teams defense?
First of all, these types of misses are unusual for Hauschka and he should not be abandoned by Seattle fans for it. He said after the game that he felt he let his team down, but I can’t recall Hauschka being out there on any offensive plays for the first 74 minutes. He made field goals to tie the game in crucial situations twice and then sailed it wide left on his final attempt. But maybe it’s just something about Glendale ...
Playing in a blowout win over Arizona in 2014, Hauschka was 0-for-3 on field goal tries. Yes, he was 0-for-3. He missed from 52, 50, and 47. Those are some decent-sized kicks but something he’s made plenty of times before. And there was no pressure. The Seahawks won by 29 points. Not only is the only time in his career that he’s missed three kicks in a game, it’s the only time that he’s missed more than one kick in a game.
Going back to Arizona in 2015, Hauschka missed again, this time from 40. It was the first drive, there was no pressure, he just missed it. This doesn’t seem to be about pressure, unless you’re talking about ... desert air pressure or something, if that exists.
Hauschka is now 5-of-10 in Phoenix over his last three games there against the Cardinals. That includes three misses from inside of 50. Hauschka almost never misses from inside of 50. He is now 26-of-36 in his career against Arizona, an accuracy percentage of 72.2%. Against the St Louis/LA Rams, he is 19-of-20. Against the San Francisco 49ers, he is 18-of-19.
There is clearly something about the Cardinals that throws him off. Maybe it’s something that Bruce Arians is having his special teams do. Maybe it’s the environment. Maybe Hauschka wants to see Larry Fitzgerald get a ring before he retires. I have no idea but this miss was less unusual than it seemed.
So was Catanzaro’s.
Of course we can’t forget that the Seahawks noticed a weakness in the forcefield that is Arizona’s field goal blocking unit, and Bobby Wagner leaped his way to finally finishing what Kam Chancellor started against the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs three years ago. Of course, Arians can’t forget that Catanzaro missed a very makeable field goal against the New England Patriots in Week 1 that would have won them the game also. Of course, Catanzaro can’t forget that Arians didn’t give him a chance to try an easy field goal earlier in the game when the Cardinals only led by three points. Of course, we all seemed to forget that a delay of game penalty sent Arizona back five yards on the try, from the one to the six. Would it have made a difference? You watch the kick bounce off the uprights and tell me anything wouldn’t have made a difference.
Catanzaro missed that field goal hours before he tried it.
So if we’re using a microscope on the game and focusing just on these two special teams “gaffes” as examples of why it was not a good game, I think we could argue quite reasonably that they were not gaffes at all. And it would be even easier to make the point that both teams had these opportunities to win the game because of incredible plays over the course of five “quarters.”
In the few minutes before those kicks, we saw Wagner stuff David Johnson with a little help from his friends at the one.
We saw Earl Thomas run down Johnson and stop him at the inch.
We saw Richard Sherman slip and fall down (and if he hadn’t slipped, probably intercepted the ball) as JJ Nelson ran to the five only to be tackled by the toe by Kelcie “eenie meenie” McCray.
We saw Seattle go 57 yards for the OT game-tying field goal, which was 42 yards longer than any of their other drives previous to that, including three catches for 35 yards by Jimmy Graham.
We saw the Seahawks bend over and over again, yet never break. We saw the Cardinals go up against an offense that had been going full “Cousin Eddie” on them by dropping over 100 points over the last three visits, and hold them to the worst offensive output of the last five seasons under Pete Carroll. We saw superstars like Russell Wilson, Palmer, Johnson, Graham, Doug Baldwin, and Fitzgerald, all get relatively held in check. Palmer threw the ball 49 times and only twice did it go for over 20 yards, strangely getting beaten by Nelson and Ifeanyi Momah, but not Fitzgerald or Johnson.
A “bad game” is two bad teams where you focus on one mistake that cost one side everything. This is not a bad game. These are not bad teams. There was not “one” mistake and there were not a million bad mistakes. This game had so much that you could talk about it for as long as I have and not mention that Cliff Avril and Frank Clark each had 2.5 sacks, that KJ Wright had a Pro Bowl-level game again, that DeShawn Shead was spectacular, that Jeremy Lane was memorable often for the wrong reasons, that Chandler Jones and Tony Jefferson and Patrick Peterson and Markus Golden and Deonne Bucannon and so on all made a ton of plays for Arizona and comprise a still-great defense ...
There was a lot of emphasis on the score and the tie and the lack of touchdowns, but not a lot of emphasis on why there was a lack of scoring. We live in a sports society where scoring is “getting the job done,” not that preventing scoring is “getting the job done.” And that if you didn’t win, you lost. Ties do not signify “good” teams, right?
Not according to recent history.
Over the last six tied games, between 12 teams, eight of those teams went onto the playoffs. That’s a rather remarkable .666 (or 6-6? Or 6’6, like Tanner McEvoy’s height? Oh and yeah, I didn’t even mention Tanner McEvoy) success rate for what should mostly be a random sample other than the fact that it qualifies that all 12 teams didn’t lose.
That includes the 2014 Carolina Panthers, who won a playoff game over Arizona and then lost to Seattle. Also the team they tied that year, the Cincinnati Bengals.
It also includes the 2012 San Francisco 49ers, who tied the Rams and came within yards of winning the Super Bowl. The 2008 Philadelphia Eagles, who lost by a touchdown to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship. The 2002 Pittsburgh Steelers, who won a playoff game and then lost in OT to the the Tennessee Titans. The team they tied, the Atlanta Falcons, who also won a playoff game.
Teams that tie aren’t bad, and I think both Arizona and Seattle have proven enough for us to know they aren’t bad. Offensively, they may have their challenges, but defensively, they present challenges that lead to 75-minute stalemates. Offensively, they came up with plays in critical moments that always serve playoff teams well, and I think we definitely just watched two NFC playoff teams.
The special teams wasn’t only fine, it was downright spectacular for many moments.
Although I disagreed with Arians’ decision to not kick the field goal, calling the coaching “suspect” by two people with these track records, is a stretch.
And there were 86 forward passes. Many of which were defended by some of the best defensive backs in the NFL -- The game was on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, which has an opening credits sequence featuring 12 NFL players, five of whom were playing in this game, including two DBs: Thomas, Mathieu. Another is Kam Chancellor, who Seattle had to play without. You could just as easily include Sherman and Peterson. The quarterbacks did an incredible job given the adversity they were facing.
I may not know what I watched on Sunday, but that’s only because I’d never seen anything like it before. The results were insane given what we had come to know about football over the last 100 years, but stretching your imagination for what is possible does not make it a bad thing. Great defense at 125% is also not a bad thing. If I had to take one guess at what I just watched though, it would be this:
The 2016 NFC Championship game.