It was a game and an experience that deserved more than the abbreviated Morning After post this morning. I’m sitting here on a flight back to Seattle, surrounded by Seahawks fans, on a flight piloted by a man who told us he stayed up until 2AM watching the game on DVR because he was flying during the live broadcast. This was not just a big win, it was another step down the path toward establishing the Seahawks as one of the NFL’s best franchises.
Seahawks Nation becoming a real thing
The one constant on my trip to Arizona was questions by residents about all the Seahawks fans in the area. I was waiting to exit the rental car dealer and the guy checking me out asked me whether we all knew each other or were part of some group. He couldn’t believe that we all just chose to come down for the game.
Our hotel was in Scottsdale and had enough Seahawks fans that I could see the disgust on Cardinals GM Steve Keim’s face when he arrived with his family for a Christmas lights show and saw blue jerseys and hats.
I organized a get-together at the Saddle Ranch Chop House, and it was full of Seahawks fans for most of the afternoon. It was so slanted toward Seattle that Cardinals fans felt compelled to try and start “Let’s Go Cardinals!” chants. At least three of the waitresses were wearing Seahawks gear.
We decided to walk and see the scene outside after a while. The bar next door was the official gathering spot for 12s, and not only was it bursting at the seams with Seahawks jerseys, but there was a line at least twenty deep with more waiting to get in. It was roughly 50/50 at the other bars.
As we walked toward the stadium, I was stunned to see Seahawks gear for sale side-by-side with Cardinals gear by the vendors. We explored the Great Lawn tailgating area, which was really cool, and there were Seahawks tents set up smack dab in the middle of a sea of red. Imagine an opposing group tailgating in Hawk Alley.
When we finally got to our seats, the Cardinals fan sitting next to me asked the same question that the rental car guy did. He refused to believe this just happened without any organization.
“We always see opposing fans, but the stadium is usually 95% Cardinals fans,” he said. “It feels like it is going to be 50/50 tonight.”
It wasn’t. But the Seahawks presence was powerful. It was loud. It was confident.
I had seen the aftermath of the Seahawks win in Arizona last year in prime time when at least a thousand 12s lined the seats just behind the post-game show and drown out the commentators. I stuck around to see if we could do it again. Cardinals ushers were overwhelmed with Seahawks fans rushing to position themselves behind an NBC post-game show with Cris Collinsworth.
Collinsworth started clapping for us as an acknowledgement for the level of passion from the fans and the dominance of the team we support. His co-host smartly seized the moment and found an adorable little 12 named Liam, who was probably 7-years old and hoisted him out of the stands (with his father’s permission). Liam sat on his lap and helped to interview Luke Willson as fans moved between chants of “SEA-HAWKS!” “RE-PEAT” and “L. O. B!”
Russell Wilson and Kam Chancellor had been interviewed at mid-field and you could see the thoughts going through Wilson’s mind as he finished. He wanted to go straight to the locker room, but he could not deny all the fans. After running for nearly 100 yards during the game, he found the time and energy to jog another 50 to slap hands with all the fans lining first row. Chants of “Russell Wilson! [clap] [clap] [clap clap clap]” broke out.
Finally the ushers insisted that we leave. As we cooperatively stated filing out, I was reminded of the song that came on Pandora while I was jogging that morning, “Our House.” Indeed.
Cardinals fans and defense are very good
More than a few people (I’m looking at you Mike Salk!) have been dismissive of the Cardinals home field advantage and their team. First of all, that is an uninformed opinion. And second, it diminishes the near perfection of the Seahawks play last night.
This was not an example of a helpless team that the Seahawks simply took advantage of. That defense is legitimately one of the best in football. They made it very hard on the Seahawks in Seattle, and are incredibly stout against the run. Cardinals fans rightfully should have been licking their chops to see Patrick Lewis, Alvin Bailey and a hobbled pair of guards entering their field.
All it would have taken was one strip sack or interception in the first half of that game to completely change the complexion of it. And this place was loud. It was louder than some of the Seahawks home games this year. Their fans stood the entire game. The ENTIRE game. Well, at least until they left with 10 minutes to go, but the point remains. This was a legitimate home-field advantage that might have been the toughest venue the Seahawks have played in this season.
They have their own false start counter, and claim to have more false starts than any stadium since it opened in 2006. The Seahawks counter includes the 2005 season, which explains the disparity, but it has been a long time since an opponent came into CenturyLink Field and piled up any meaningful number of false starts.
Even if you do not respect Ryan Lindley as a quarterback, and you really should not, that has nothing to do with how good the Cardinals home-field advantage is or how good that defense is. What the Seahawks did was that much more impressive because of where they did it and the defense they did it against. Do not undercut that by selling their opponent short.
Simon injury could be a big one
One of the more curious parts of the Seahawks game plan was that they employed Jeremy Lane at nickel and moved Byron Maxwell back outside. This left Tharold Simon on the bench for most of the game. It obviously worked out okay, but Simon outside and Maxwell inside has been a terrific combination during this dominant defensive run.
It is not clear if the change was due to a specific matchup or whether Lane has battled his way back to the top nickel spot. What is clear is that Simon injured himself late in the game, and Pete Carroll has been coy so far about whether he will return this season.
Seattle can hope that they earn the bye week and the extra time gives Simon what he needs to heal, but losing him would be significant.
Offensive line gymnastics
Another surprise was Patrick Lewis starting at center instead of Lemuel Jeanpierre. Tom Cable said it was because they thought Lewis might be more stout in this game. I have an alternate theory. Lewis got the snaps at center all week because J.R. Sweezy was too injured to practice. That meant Lem was playing guard.
Carroll let slip this morning that James Carpenter was also a potential scratch. The uncertainty at guard likely forced Cable to keep Jeanpierre focused on that position and less prepped for handling the line calls and communication in a week when the team was facing a defense that requires maximum communication and prep work.
Should Max Unger be unable to play again this week, we will know whether Lewis has truly overtaken Jeanpierre at center or whether this was a move necessitated by injury.
Russell Okung is said to be on track to return this week which would free up Alvin Bailey for help at guard as needed.
Seattle started this stretch seven weeks ago in Kansas City. There were no breaks or easy games. Each one represented a unique and daunting challenge. The team was 6-3 heading into that gauntlet, and now stands 11-4. This final game will be far from easy against another physical team in the St. Louis Rams.
Yes, Shaun Hill is a bad quarterback with a massive head that dares his helmet to stay on each play. Hill is no worse than Austin Davis or Kellen Clemens. Yes, the Rams defense has given up piles of points to different teams, but they did the same last year and still made life miserable for the Seahawks. It should not be close. Seattle is playing in a world of their own making and dictating the outcome as they see fit no matter who steps on the field opposite of them.
One more win will provide the respite the team deserves and requires to refuel for the run back to the Super Bowl.
It was a glorious weekend in Arizona that earned them the right to play for the division title and the top seed in the NFC once again. Win once more and another great Arizona weekend is on the horizon.