Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Earn 14-12 Win Over Packers

A titan was in town. The Seahawks were unproven, disrespected, and given little chance to beat an offensive powerhouse like this. The home town boys entered the fourth quarter with little hope, trailing 23-10. The game was clearly over when Matt Hasselbeck could not complete a 4th and 1 pass to Darrell Jackson with just 4 minutes to go, and the Rams taking over possession in Seahawks territory still leading 23-17. Seahawks Stadium, as it was known back then, was rarely full even though sellouts were announced. Half the stadium was empty at this point, and I wanted to get to the bus before a major line formed. As I made my way down the staircase, something unexpected happened. Something that just didn't happen for the Seahawks. Anthony Simmons intercepted a pass intended for Dane Looker. Seattle had three minutes, and needed to go 66 yards for a touchdown. I pressed up against the railing to watch the final drive. The first pass went for 32 yards to Koren Robinson, and moved the Seahawks into Rams territory. The Seahawks converted two third downs to get to Rams 3-yard-line with 1 minute to go. Robinson ran a slant and gathered in a touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to win the game. I raised my hands in the air and thought to myself, "This is going to be the win that rekindles Seattle's love for the Seahawks." Sure enough, Seattle went on to win 10 games that year (2003), which was the first time since they had done that since 1996. Famously, Hasselbeck told a certain Green Bay Packers team in the playoffs that year, "We'll take the ball, and we're gonna score." The win over the Rams happened in the third game of the season, and marked the beginning of a truly memorable run of Seahawks football where they won five straight division titles and made their first Super Bowl appearance. Monday night felt a lot like that. Improbable outcomes, questionable calls, funny bounces, and crooked statistics happen during special years. It may have sounded foolish after the Cardinals game, but this team is on the verge of great things.

Consider, for a moment, some statistical marvels:

- The Packers have scored 12 points or less two times when Aaron Rodgers plays the whole game at quarterback. Seattle becomes the third team to hold a Rodgers-led offense to 12 points or less, and first since 2010.

- Rodgers has had 10 games (out of 71 starts) where his passer rating was 81.5 or less since he became the starter in 2008. This was the 11th. Five of those ten games came during his first year as starter.

- This was Rodgers the fourth-worst yards per attempt (5.7) since he took over as starter.

- The Packers have been held to zero points in the first half three times in Aaron Rodgers career as a starter. This became the fourth. 

- Jordy Nelson had two catches for 19 yards. He had not been held to a yardage total that low since Week 15 of 2010.

- Only 28 players in NFL history have had 2.5 sacks or more after their first three games as a rookie. Bruce Irvin becomes the 29th, and the first Seahawk.

- Two rookie quarterbacks since the AFL/NFL merger have had an 86.2 passer rating or better after three games: Mark Sanchez and Jim Kelly. Robert Griffin III (103.5) and Russell Wilson (86.2) become the 3rd and 4th.

- Only three players in Seahawks history have had 5.0 sacks or more after three games. Chris Clemons becomes the fourth.

- Seattle had 11 games in franchise history (a total of 566 games) where they registered 8 sacks or more. They had that at halftime on Monday.

The Packers had Greg Jennings tonight. They had Jermichael Finley. They had Donald Driver, and Randall Cobb, and Cedric Benson, and James Jones, and Nelson. They had their starting offensive line. Ask 100 NFL experts which team has the best offense in the NFL heading into this game, and at least 80 would tell you Green Bay. This is the same team that scored 35.0 points per game last season, and went 15-1. Seattle is only the third team to hold that offense scoreless at halftime with Rodgers at the helm. If anyone had any doubts about whether this was a championship defense, those should be gone. Holding the Cowboys to 7 points and the Packers to 12 should help to explain why allowing 20 to the Cardinals was so unacceptable.

Irvin and Clemons fulfilled the most optimistic pass rush fantasies of any Seahawks fan. This was what everyone had in mind when talking about an improved pass rush. Some will say the pass rush was gone in the second half. Watch again. Seattle ended with 12 quarterback hits and countless hurries. Seattle has now faced two of the top four rated passers from 2011 and rendered them largely inert.

Teams are officially just ignoring Richard Sherman's half of the field. There is not a better cornerback in the NFL right now. Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright may be two of the best open-field tacklers in the game. Bobby Wagner recorded 8 tackles. No Seahawks rookie has ever had as many tackles as Wagner through three games.

The offense was another story. Wilson did not turn the ball over, and threw a gorgeous touchdown to Golden Tate in the first half. He rallied the team for 73-yard and 46-yard drives with his team trailing and the game on the line. There is no way to prove that Tarvaris Jackson would never have made that final play happen, but don't you just know it to be true? Wilson is the winner everyone says he is. He also is a serious liability so far. Many will point to his 99.3 rating and game-winning moxie as proof that he is playing good enough. He was at the helm, after all, when this team beat two quality opponents. You should all be able to see how good this team can be this year. Wilson will be the reason the team falls short of its potential if he does not make significant strides. He missed open receivers. He broke from the pocket prematurely. He held onto the ball for too long. These are all things he can, and will, overcome. Until he does, he is as much a threat to team success as he is an asset.

Keep in mind the Packers entered the game leading the NFL in sacks. They finished the game with one sack and three quarterback hits. Tom Cable and the line performed admirably.

This defense deserves every bit of attention they won't get this week. Do not let anyone tell you 1 out of the 119 plays in this game rendered the others moot. None of the defensive achievements enumerated above come with any asterisk. It would be easy to say the pass interference call that gave Green Bay a first down, or the replay that gave Rodgers a first down, were bad calls that allowed the Packers to score a touchdown. It would be easy to point out that a third field goal by the Packers would have allowed the Seahawks to win without a final Hail Mary throw. But all that debate just takes away from what we all know. This Seahawks team is a force to be reckoned with, no matter who officiates the game.

Extra Points

- Wilson gets his first game-winning drive. Dave Krieg holds the franchise record with 26, while Matt Hasselbeck had 22.

- Seattle held the Packers to 35 return yards. Total. They averaged 8.75 yards per return on one kickoff and three punt returns.

- Remember Clay Mathews?

- The Seahawks now rank #1 in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 13.0 points per game, despite facing the Cowboys and Packers.

- Video of the reaction in the stadium after the replay official confirmed the touchdown:




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