Friday, October 19, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Fall To 49ers 13-6

Seattle let one get away. Then, they let another. No, I am not talking about they bevy of passes the team dropped on Thursday. I am not talking about the series of break-out runs by the 49ers in the second half, either. As the final seconds ticked off the clock during the Thursday night defeat, my mind wandered to the earlier losses to the Cardinals and Rams. Win just one of those two games, and this one likely would have not felt as desperate as it did for so many Seahawks fans. The mood on Twitter after the game was near panic. People were scouring NFL rosters for wide receivers, proposing trades and scouting potential draft choices for next April. Nobody hates Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers more than me, but was this game that awful? I seem to remember a series of drops by Patriots receivers, including Wes Welker, in the Super Bowl last year that effected the outcome of the game. It happens to the best. It happened to the Seahawks. Speaking of the best, there was ample evidence that Seattle can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the NFL. They did not play their best game, missing easy opportunities, faced a Top 2-3 opponent on the road that was amped up after a disastrous loss, on a short week and lost by seven points. No team in the NFL will face opponents as diverse as the Patriots and 49ers in such a short time and be more impressive. Let's revisit that topic December 23rd after the 49ers play @NE and then come to Century Link the following (full) week later. That said, this loss has consequences.

San Francisco should be on their way to at least twelve wins. They only need to hold serve at home, and win one division game on the road to eliminate Seattle's chances at a division title. At 4-3, Seattle would need to win their remaining nine games to beat a 12-4 record. As bullish as I am on Seattle's ability to make hay the rest of the way, that is pushing it. The Seahawks path to the playoffs will very likely be through the wildcard route. That's okay. Get this team in the post-season, and anything could happen. Seattle needs to beat a quality opponent on the road if they hope to make the most of any playoff appearance because they will need have to do it then, likely more than once. Detroit is as good a place to start as any.

This team will need the rest between now and next Sunday. They have played on the road in three of the past four games, with the one home game being against the Patriots. This represents a mini-intermission almost halfway through the season. I fully expect the team to gather itself and make a strong run. Wins at Detroit, at home against the Vikings and Jets should be expected, which would have them at 7-3 heading into the bye week. That will leave a pivotal two-week stretch of back-to-back road games against the Dolphins and Bears. Win one of those, and you get to finish with three of four at home and a winnable road game against the Bills. Twelve wins is well within reach.

It is easy to look at this 4-3 record, a struggling offense, a rookie quarterback, and think talk of playoffs and twelve wins is ludicrous. Relativity matters. The only games left on the schedule that come close to the degree of difficulty the games against the Packers, Patriots and 49ers presented is the road game against Chicago and the home game against San Francisco.

Some are wringing their hands about this defense getting gashed for 175 rushing yards last night. There is not a team left that will come close to that total. The 49ers earned those yards with fantastic line play. Their blocking was amazing. There were more "wow" moments from their blocking than any skill player. Sure, Frank Gore got the glory, but he was running through the line untouched. There is not another offensive line in football that could do what the 49ers did. Give them credit. Even with those 175 yards, their offense managed just 13 points. They were the number one offense in football six days ago. They had put up 621 yards in their last game, and 77 points in their last two.

Seattle's secondary was exceptional. There were only six receptions to 49er wide receivers for 63 yards. The Seahawks much-maligned receiving corps had seven receptions for 97 yards. There was another 30-80 yards Seattle let slip their hands. The only success San Francisco found was on  their opening drive of the second half when Smith checked down time and again. Seattle stoned them the rest of the game. There was another crushing hit from Browner, and another red zone interception. Be critical of the rush defense, if you must, but try not to lose sight of the entirety of their performance.

I have spent a fair amount of time attempting to keep some semblance of balance in how Russell Wilson is judged. His most ardent supporters dropped any pretense this week, declaring a full on religious devotion on KIRO 710. I love Wilson. I love the Seahawks more. He will continue to get called out here, as with any player or coach, when he is standing between this team and great things. He will also get praise and credit where he earns it. He earned a ton of it last night. That was the best 9/23, 38.7 rating performance you are likely to see this season. Pointing the finger anywhere near his direction for the loss is ludicrous. He was a rookie quarterback, facing the most intimidating defense in the NFL on the road with minimal prep, and he came out on fire. His whole first half was impressive. He gave his receivers and running backs and tight ends numerous chances to make big plays. His first half numbers were 6/13 103 yds 7.9 YPA and a 73.6 passer rating. There were at least three straight drops in that half, two deep balls that could have been caught, and a few throwaways. In other words, he was nearly perfect. He entered what was likely to be his biggest challenge of the regular season, and was nearly perfect out of the gates. Impressive.

This was not the Wilson of a few weeks ago that looked confused and bailed from the pocket for no reason. He was patient, and made some courageous decisions. There is no doubt he still locked onto certain reads and missed open receivers. He has not "arrived" as some wanted to believe after his stirring performance against the Pats. He has, however, showed far greater growth the last three weeks than he had the first four. That is encouraging.

The best performance on the team last night may have come from the offensive line. Did you happen to see Russell Okung drive Justin Smith back five yards and plant him on his back? I did. It was fabulous. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin ran hard, both averaging over 4.3 yards per carry. It was the line, however, that impressed most. There was great pass protection, allowing only one true sack, on their last drive. The 49ers were credited for another sack when Wilson scrambled and was brought down just shy of the line. There was only one holding penalty. Wilson was able to throw deep so often because he had the time and pocket to do it from. And when the team ran, the Seahawks moved that defense.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the loss was the play of special teams. A missed field goal, poor punt coverage, poor returns led to a negative day for the group as a whole. No team this year has had a worse average starting field position (the 15-yard line), according the ESPN Stats & Info, than the Seahawks did yesterday.

Beating the 49ers would have been a win that could have set the town ablaze. It was a great opportunity, but it was also the third massive challenge the team has faced early in the season. They are 2-1 in those games. There is every reason to expect the Seahawks to be much better the next time these two teams face off. There is nothing that happened in the game last night that indicated the 49ers were out of the Seahawks league. If anything, it was Seattle that played a game below their capabilities. San Francisco did not have a long list of missed opportunities in that game. The path forward is clear for the Seahawks. No more losses to inferior opponents. Continue to make progress in the passing game, and on scoring points. Put a win streak together. A division title may be unrealistic at this point, but everything else is well within reach.

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