Monday, December 19, 2011

The Morning After: Seahawks Win 38-14 Over Bears

This was one for the record books. Red Bryant gets his first career touchdown. Golden Tate had a career-high 61 yards receiving. Brandon Browner set the franchise record for interception return yards in a season with 220, breaking a 27-year-old mark set by Dave Brown. Marshawn Lynch scored two touchdowns and broke Shaun Alexander's record for consecutive games with a touchdown, by bringing his streak to ten games. Lynch also broke 1,000 yards rushing to become the first player to do that since Alexander in 2005. He actually broke 1,000 yards three times in the game, as many times as Ricky Watters did in his Seattle career. Chris Clemons had (at least) two more sacks, making him the first Seahawk to record back-to-back double-digit sack seasons since Michael Sinclair did it in 1997/1998. Seattle scored 30+ points in three consecutive games for the first time since 2003. Seattle won three games in a row for the first time since 2007. Seattle managed to create a CliffsNotes version of their 2011 season in one game. They followed an embarrassing first half with a virtuoso second that turned Soldier Field into a ghost town in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks effectively ended the Bears playoff chances with that victory. Fitting, given the Bears have ended the Seahawks last two playoff runs.

Many will point to the Bears injury situation as a reason this Seahawks win was unimpressive. Forget the fact that Tim Tebow and the Broncos were feted for beating this same Bears team at home by three points in overtime. Forget that the Bears had lost three in a row. They were up 14-7 at home in a first half that saw them hold the Seahawks to six first downs, 84 yards of offense and a 0.4 yard average gain per rushing attempt. Hanie nearly outrushed Lynch (21 yards versus 27), and had color commentator Tim "Former Bear" Ryan saying things like, "You have to feel good for Caleb Hanie with the way he's playing." That is not how I felt, Tim. This game was a following a familiar script. Everyone expected a low-scoring affair, and the Bears being up seven points felt bigger than one score given the way their defense was playing and timid play from the offense. The Seahawks have played in these games many times before, and 90% of the time it ends up a ruinous day for Seattle fans. The 31-0 second half was just the latest proof point that Pete Carroll is building a team that will challenge every Seahawk norm.

There were so many savory moments in the second half that it will be worth some time memorialize a few of them this week. Bryant's interception was the play of the game, and was keyed by linebacker K.J. Wright's well-timed smack of Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie. I offered some expert analysis of that play here and here. My neighbors likely thought I had won the lottery. The only person more excited than me might have been Wright, who was bounding into the air pumping his fists as Big Red rumbled into the end zone.

Carroll and staff deserve a ton of credit for altering their game plan on offense and defense in the second half. Hanie was getting outside the pocket a ton, and the Seahawks were waiting for him when he tried a bootleg on that Bryant interception. Hanie only escaped the pocket once in the second half, and completed only three passes. He nearly threw as many passes to the Seahawks, who picked him off twice. In fact, Bears quarterbacks completed seven passes in the second half, four to their team and three to the Seahawks. The Bears didn't get a first down until late in the fourth quarter. They managed only two first downs in the entire second half, and converted none of their third downs after converting 50% in the first half. Their longest play from scrimmage in the second half was 12 yards, and that was a big chunk of their 53 total second half yards. The Bears only reached 89 total passing yards for the game, in large part due to the Seahawks getting three of their four sacks after halftime. Total domination.

I told Softy last week that if the Seahawks had to put the game in Tarvaris Jackson's hands to win it, the coaching staff had failed. They had to commit to the run, even if they were not having success. It feels fantastic being wrong. The coaching staff did stick with the run in the first half, but made a concerted effort to open things up in the second half. Some of that was due to the Bears defense of the run, but a large part was also due to the Bears being down to their 3rd-string safety after Chris Conte went down. Jackson and his receivers rose to the occasion. No play was bigger than the third play of the opening series following the second half kickoff. The Seahawks had run two bootleg passes to tight ends for a grand total of one yard. The Bears smelled blood. Jackson dropped back and fired a strike to Golden Tate that was good for a 10-12 yard gain. Tate went "College Mode" on the Bears, breaking tackles and turning it into a 33-yard gain like he was back at Notre Dame playing the Huskies. Ben Obomanu followed that up with a 43-yard gain on a gorgeous deep ball by Jackson up the sideline. Lynch banged it in, and everyone watching the game was stunned. Did that just happen? Wasn't it just 3rd and 9?

Jackson is on a three-game stretch where he is completing 67% of his passes for over 8 yards per attempt, and sterling passer rating of 104.5. It is likely no coincidence that he has been healthier and getting more practice reps over that time. It is nice to see a player who put his health on the line for so many weeks come out on top. As solid as his play has been of late, it does nothing to change the priority of drafting a quarterback in the first round next year. It just means the team can afford to let that player sit for a year or more and still win.

The offensive line deserves a different kind of credit this week. After all the well-deserved praise for clearing lanes in the running game the last few weeks, they provided excellent pass protection on Sunday. The Bears feature Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and a host of other imposing defenders. Their whole defense combined for one sack and two quarterback hits versus a Seahawks line that was playing only two opening day starters. That one sack was the fault of Jackson for holding onto the ball too long. Paul McQuistan was matched up with Peppers one-on-one a fair amount of time. He was the back-up right guard a few weeks back. Amazing.

Picture week three of the season. The Seahawks were 0-2, and had just lost 24-0 in Pittsburgh. They were averaging 8.5 points per game. They now have wins @NYG, BAL, PHI, and @CHI. Any of those would have been considered a signature victory in a normal Seahawks season, but instead, they are simply chapters in a story Carroll, Schneider, and the players have been writing. They have completely dissociated themselves from the lowered expectations of Northwest fans. Seattle teams don't do this. They don't persevere through major injuries, especially when they pile up at specific positions like they did this year at cornerback and offensive line. They don't rise up and smack the tough teams in the mouth. They steal defeat from the jaws of victory. Not the other way around. The only thing sweeter than seeing the Seahawks beat the 49ers this Saturday would be finding a way to beat them in the playoffs. That's the kind of impossible story Carroll & Co are authoring. It's been a page turner thus far, and shows no signs of getting boring.

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