Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead
There will be those that will start their description of this game by pointing out the state of the Cardinals quarterback situation. Almost any result would have justified that caveat. Not this one. The Seahawks stopped Lindley as everyone expected, but it was the dominance of their offense against arguably the best NFL defense outside of Seattle that defined this game. A Seahawks team that was starting Alvin Bailey at left tackle, Patrick Lewis at center, and Robert Turbin at tailback put up more yards (596) than any offense in team history and more than any visitor ever has against one of the NFL’s oldest franchises. If all glory truly goes to God, last night was bountiful.
Marshawn Lynch missed the entire first quarter while suffering from what was described as an upset stomach. Cue the Skittles jokes. One would think that would spell certain doom going against one of the most stout defensive lines in football in their home stadium with everything on the line. Consider that only two running backs have totalled 100 or more yards against this defense in the past two seasons before last night and a healthy Lynch had just 39 yards and a season-low 2.6 yards per carry in their last meeting.
The Seahawks offensive line, a determined Turbin, and an irrepressible Russell Wilson did not miss a beat as they topped 100 yards rushing in the first quarter. When Lynch finally did return, he did not look like himself. I was worried what might happen on one of his signature runs when he is straining to get an extra yard. Instead, the only explosive run from Lynch came later when he made every Cardinals fan sick to their stomach as he rumbled an unforgettable 79 yards for a touchdown.
Wilson, Willson and Baldwin
On any other night, it would have been a highlight that stood alone. Not this one. Wilson played the best game of his pro career. The number one opportunity for the Cardinals to win this game was to force a bad decision from Wilson or strip the ball on a sack to give their offense a short field.
The final score does not indicate how close this game was through most of the first half. Arizona scored first. They were four yards away from a touchdown. Seattle started a drive at their 15 and at their 5 yard line in the first quarter. Those were the moments Bruce Arians had been craving all week. Just one mistake there could have shifted the outcome.
Wilson would have none of it. He perfectly drew the line between risk and reward all night. There were no needless sacks. There were no forced throws. He was decisive and dynamic. This was a team that notched seven sacks against the Seahawks in Seattle. The one sure bet seemed to be that pass protection was going to be a sore spot given the injury situation on the line and the charged atmosphere.
Wilson was not sacked until the fourth quarter. The one sack surrendered and just four quarterback hits allowed get my vote for most (pleasantly) surprising stat of the night.
Some of that was due to guys on the line stepping up, but a lot of was due to Wilson getting rid of the ball on time and being willing to throw the ball away. He was only completing around 50% of his passes early on, and that was due to a conscious effort to be safe with the football and get it out of his hands before Arizona defenders could make a play. Then everything changed when he rolled to his right and found Luke Willson behind the defense for one of the most beautiful pass-and-catch plays of the season.
Not many tight ends can outrun defensive backs 80 yards for a touchdown. Willson can. My concern about Tony Moeaki missing the game was clearly misplaced. Willson had a career day with two touchdowns and 139 yards receiving. He was fast. He was powerful. He was a monster.
Wilson also showed terrific trust and chemistry with Doug Baldwin, who caught seven passes in eleven targets for 113 yards. Baldwin is now just six yards shy of his career-high in receiving yards. These are the games that leave fans wondering why the Wilson-to-Baldwin connection is not a more central part of the offense.
Every NFL team who started the day with Super Bowl dreams had to toss-and-turn at the thought of facing this Seahawks team back in this building in 41 days. They can claim ownership of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but those players have won as many games against the Seahawks as Ryan Lindley, and have thrown more interceptions against them. Dallas probably feels equipped to beat Seattle as they have done it once before. They did not beat this team. They beat a facsimile.
This game was the equivalent of the 58-0 win in 2012 or the 42-13 beatdown of the 49ers where the Seahawks reached another gear. As good as this defense has been over the past six games, the offense has averaged 411 yards and has two games over 500 yards of offense. They are the only NFL team since the merger to throw for 329+ yards and rush for 267 yards in the same game. They are special. The thought that this is more than a historically great defensive team will start to take hold in the coming days. Respect will become fear. Hope will become dread. The Kings have returned, and they have no intention of relinquishing their throne.
NOTE: Apologies for the abbreviated column today. I have a tee time! More later.