The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Chargers, 27-20

Do not ever apologize for beating a good team. If that had been the 2009 St Louis Rams that we needed to fight and claw to defeat, some measure of frustration and criticism about “how” we won could be understood. This is a Chargers team that won 13 games last year and was 7-1 on the road. Their quarterback is in the conversation with players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in terms of talent. The Chargers have won 11 or more games in four of the last six seasons, including a 14-win season to compliment last year’s 13 wins. This team is not searching for an identity. They have one. They overwhelm defenses with an unrelenting passing attack to impossibly tall receivers and a power running attack. Their defense is as quick as the lightning on their helmets and creates pressure and turnovers. People will likely point to their 1-2 start and belittle this victory by saying it is not the same Charger team. Those people are wrong. The Chargers came in with a top 10 running game and passing game. They created six turnovers last week. They will still win this division and have more than 10 wins. Any apologies for this win by Seahawks fans, or dismissing of it as a fluke by Chargers fans disrespects what was a special afternoon of football turned in by the local boys in blue.

Do not forget where we are coming from, folks. This was one of the worst teams in all of the NFL the last two seasons, with close to zero talented youngsters. They do not have established identities on offense or defense like the Chargers. They haven’t proven they are winners, or that they have any Pro Bowl players. Wins against talented teams with great quarterbacks are extremely hard to come by. Winning those games when their great players prove their greatness is almost impossible. Getting one when your team is still in its infancy is something to savor.

Many fans were beside themselves during the second half watching the offense look completely ineffective. It was certainly ugly. The team gained only 26 yards after halftime, and I believe less than 5 in the last quarter-and-a-half. The play calling was highly suspect, especially on short yardage and red zone situations. Too often in this young season have seen Jeremy Bates call for cutesy pass plays on short yardage. The Deon Butler fade route in the end zone was silly. I have tons of patience for a team that is learning how to come together on offense, but absolutely no patience for “hopeful” play-calling. Of course, the worst call of the entire game was the QB draw from the two-yard line before the first half clock expired. There is no defense for the call. None. Even if you could craft some argument for why a running play was worth trying, a QB draw from the two is not that play. Any way you look at it, Pete Carroll cost the team three points with that decision. Those missed points very nearly cost the team the game. With all the positive developments going on throughout this franchise right now, Carroll’s game management has been questionable at best. It is not something worth dwelling on yet, but put a pin in it and come back to it when the Seahawks are contending in the coming years. Carroll will lose us a critical game or two.

Hasselbeck had a solid, almost great first half. His pass to Deion Branch was a beauty, as was his look-off and throw to John Carlson up the seam. Mike Williams got hurt early, and he seemed to be a big part of their game plan, which contributed to their scuffling. Justin Forsett got all the carries at running back. Julius Jones was nowhere to be found. Let’s hope the coaches have finally realized where Jones belongs. The offensive line once again deserves a ton of credit. Yes, they surrendered a safety, but that was the only quality sack the Chargers recorded. The other two included a coverage sack where Hasselbeck dove to the ground and got touched down and another dive down on the team’s last possession to keep the clock moving instead of throwing it away. Both were avoidable. Even the safety wouldn’t have happened if Hasselbeck had completed the simplest of throws to Chris Baker on the preceding play that would have moved the ball well past the 10-yard line. It was not a banner day for the offense, but it was also not as bad as many will tell you. Branch’s fumble and Bates play call right before half cost the offense at least 10 points, and possibly 14. The game plays out very differently if the score is 20-0 at halftime, and possibly goes to 27-0 on Washington’s opening kickoff return of the 2nd half. We should get our starting offensive line back this week, and there is reason to believe the offense will start gaining some momentum with the bye week to practice together.

Rarely will you hear someone say a defense played a special game when they give up over 500 yards. The Seahawks defense played a special game. To appreciate how well they played, you need to never forget just how talented the Chargers and Philip Rivers are. It’s also critical to note the massive injuries the team suffered and the total lack of 2nd half offense. Aaron Curry getting hurt mattered, and that’s great to say. He was playing a solid game when he went down, and was a big reason the Chargers were having trouble running the ball. Marcus Trufant going down didn’t matter as much as one would have expected, and that’s a credit to Roy Lewis, Kelly Jennings and especially Walter Thurmond. Brandon Mebane went down and that was the injury that changed the make-up of the defense. Pressure from the four-man fronts ceased. Running room up the gut was suddenly available. You can’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone. Mebane is having a breakout season, and cannot be replaced. Remember that.

Chris Clemons was a beast, but he’s a smart beast (like the one in X-Men). He is not the try-hard pass rusher we’ve been forced to cheer for in times past. He is a physical talent that also knows how to setup his opponent. Listen to his post-game comments and you’ll hear him tell you the queues he picks up from the offensive tackle that help him craft his attack plan. After yesterday’s game, he said, “The guy was giving me a lot of choices for how to attack him.” I’m not sure Darryl Tapp or Lawrence Jackson would have either seen those options or had the talent to exploit them.

Red Bryant also deserves mention for another disruptive game.

David Hawthorne had his best game of the season, with multiple “Heater” moments, including a critical forced fumble deep in Seahawks territory in the 1st half. Lofa played a solid, if not spectacular game. There were some questionable moments of coverage in his zones.

The safeties stole the show. Earl Thomas got the headlines with two great picks, but Lawyer Milloy played the better game. He was the tip of the spear on many of the Seahawks blitzes, led the team in tackles and knocked fools silly. The team is using him wisely. Make no mistake. This is his defense.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the game was the constant pressure applied by the defense. It appears that Carroll and Gus Bradley looked at the 3-man fronts and coverage-based game plan they put together for Denver last week and realized that’s not who they are. Lawyer Milloy in coverage is not a good thing. Lawyer Milloy knocking lineman and running backs into their quarterback is a very good thing. This defense is built to lean forward, not backpedal. For all the criticism of Bates on offense, give Bradley credit for dialing up blitzes all the way to the end of the game that had a major impact on the outcome. On both of the Chargers final possessions, the Seahawks blitzed on 2nd, 3rd and 4th downs. They got pressure and forced early or errant throws each time. It’s easy to cheer for a defense like that.

Special teams were the story, and I won’t bore you with too much detail there. Don’t overlook the near punt return for a TD by Golden Tate and the forced fumble and recovery in the 1st half. This was a complete team performance. When I wrote in my “what a win would look like” game preview, I said any win would include a player or unit turning in a performance that would have people buzzing. Check.

Something special is happening between the fans and this team. I can’t quite explain how or why, but it is there. The first two games have produced as electric a crowd as I’ve seen at Qwest since 2005. With so many new faces around the team, it’s a perfect time for this renaissance. Each home game is becoming an event to behold. There is a camaraderie building that almost feels as if the crowd is part of the team, a true 12th man. Every player with a Twitter account lauded the crowd’s effort, much the way they would a teammate who turned in a great performance. And that appreciation is reflected right back in the city’s most inspired recycling program.

The rest of the season will be unpredictable, but it will be hard to match the first two games at Qwest. For my money, this was the most impressive home victory since the classic OT win over the Giants in 2005. The upcoming game in St. Louis will tell us a lot about how impressive this season may become.