Monday, January 7, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks March Continues, Beat Redskins 24-14

Ancient history says the Seahawks do not win road games in the playoffs. Yesterday's history shows they can. NFL history says nobody comes back from a 14-point first quarter deficit on the road. Yesterday's history saw Seattle accomplish the feat for the first time since the AFL/NFL merger, and only the second time in pro football history. The NFL edict is rookie quarterbacks do not win in the playoffs, especially on the road. Yes...yes, they do. One convention that did hold on Sunday was the better team usually wins. The Seahawks are a better team than the Redskins on a normal day, but became dominant on a day when Robert Griffin III was forced to rely on his arm due to injury.

As is customary with any big Seahawks moment, there will be those that belittle the accomplishment. The narrative for those will be that the Redskins were on their way to blowing out the Seahawks before Griffin tweaked his knee. The timing makes that a convenient excuse, but it remains just that, an excuse. Griffin played with that bad knee the last two weeks, threw for only 87 yards against the Cowboys, and the Redskins still won. His bad knee did not give up a 3rd and 12 catch to Zach Miller that kept a drive alive and led to the Seahawks first points. His injury was not responsible for Seattle setting a franchise playoff record of 224 yards rushing. There will be people that choose to believe this story line. Those people will need it to stay warm through a cold off-season.

You really do have to question why Griffin has been playing. This guy is a once-in-a-generation talent, who had a knee problem before. This Redskins team was not equipped to make a Super Bowl run. I just hope they have not robbed themselves of a bright future.

Speaking of bright futures, Russell Wilson had his worst game in a month, and was still terrific in his first playoff game. A lot of veteran quarterbacks would have pressed after falling behind, likely making matters worse. Wilson just kept plugging away. He was sacked a lot again, but it did not rattle him. There were signs of nerves, however. His accuracy was off, and when Wilson is nervous, he tends to overthrow. His receivers made some terrific catches, but Wilson missed some that could have been huge. Two throws to Doug Baldwin come to mind. It was an almost ideal first playoff experience for Wilson who knows he can play so much better, but still saw his team mount a historic comeback. He will need to play better against a far superior Atlanta secondary.

There was a reason John Moffitt was active this week for the first time in three weeks. Pass protection was the reason. Moffitt replaced J.R. Sweezy for much of the game, after some early challenges with blitz pick-up again. The team has to be disappointed about the protection problems. No doubt that each upcoming opponent will test them with more blitzes. The good news is that when Tom Cable helps the team fix the problem, there should be some big play opportunities. Things improved yesterday as the game went on, so Moffitt could be getting his starting job back.

One of the best parts of the victory was seeing less heralded players step up with big contributions. Alan Branch had his best game of the season, and possibly his best game as a Seahawk. He was a big reason why the Redskins running game slowed to a crawl. Zach Miller had a series of crucial plays. The team may not win this game if he doesn't convert that 3rd and 12 early in the game, or the 3rd and 10 catch that led to Marshawn Lynch's go-ahead touchdown, or the two-point conversion. He was fantastic, and continues to prove why he is worth every penny of that big contract. Bruce Irvin stepped up to replace Clemons, and appeared to be more effective than Clemons at first glance. He was consistently pressuring Griffin, and got to him for a late sack. Irvin very likely will have to step into a starting role this week and his performance gave reason to hope that might not be a bad thing.

Brandon Browner returned and had an uneven game in coverage, but played a pivotal role in establishing the Seahawks physical style of play. Pierre Garcon tries to play a tough guy on TV. Browner had him begging out of the game by the third quarter. I can't help but think back to that Seahawks loss to the Bears in 2010 when Seattle receivers complained about the physical play of Charles Tillman, and I dreamt of having other teams complain about our team's physical play. That day has arrived.

Earl Thomas was a force. Not only did he pick off that pass, but he was delivering haymakers in the run game all night. That was great to see.

It was clear to anyone who really studied these two teams that if the Seahawks showed up and played to their standards, they would win. A big part of that was the overall team efficiency, and that includes special teams. The Redskins average start of their first two drives was the 33-yard line. The Seahawks average start on their first two drives was the 24-yard line. After that, the Redskins average start was their 18, and the Seahawks average start was their 45. That was a key to the turnaround.

Seattle now turns their attention to the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons. They are a much more complete team than the Redskins, and will develop a similar chip on their shoulders when Seattle gets a lot of attention heading into this game. People expect the Falcons to lose in the playoffs. That team is ready to prove the world wrong, and they have the talent to do it. It will be another quality opponent for Seattle. It will be another opportunity prove their mettle, and it is hard not to expect a win whenever they step on the field.

This is no longer the team that is has not won on the road in the playoffs since 1983. They are no longer the team that cannot win on the road, period. It has been one day since the Seahawks last road playoff victory, and the team has won three straight road games overall. Fear is transferring. Fear that the Seahawks won't show up on game day. Fear that this young team is not ready. Fear of the road. That fear is leaving Seattle and settling into their opponents. This team is bigger than you. They are faster than you. They will not blink. You are right to be afraid.
  

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