The Morning After: Wilson, Seahawks, Pen a Masterpiece in 41-38 Thriller Over Texans
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Art is a serendipitous journey. Some would be surprised to learn that painters often set out on the voyage unsure of their destination. Each brush stroke acts as a waypoint, eliciting a feeling that either confirms the course or demands a new one. Ask an artist what they are painting in the middle of the project and he or she will tell you they are not sure yet. It is only when the work is complete that it can be given a name and contemplated for all its meaning. Such is the NFL season. Focusing on one game, one play, or even one aspect of a team would be like assessing a painting based on just a portion of the canvas. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense grabbed a hold of the brush Sunday and added a brilliant shock of color. It was a masterful performance that left the door open for what could become a masterpiece by seasons end.
Words and pictures are not capable of capturing the essence of this game. It was like jazz. Discordant at times, harmonious at others, it makes sense in retrospect that two of the finest off-script quarterbacks in the sport could riff off each other in such thrilling ways. Deshaun Watson struck first, doing what is not done. He beat Earl Thomas and the Seahawks deep. That does not happen. It certainly does not happen with a rookie quarterback in CenturyLink Field. But it did. Thomas struck back almost immediately with an interception returned 78 yards for a touchdown. Leave it to the defense to score the Seahawks first touchdown of the season in the first quarter.
Undeterred, Watson led his team right back down the field for another touchdown to take the lead. Now it was Wilson’s turn. He began what became an afternoon full of pinpoint deep passing with a 27-yard dart to Tyler Lockett before eventually seeing the drive stall at the Texans 31 after Wilson threw an incomplete pass while being hit. Except it was not incomplete, or a pass. In one of the stranger moments for what is perennially a strange team, Pete Carroll challenged the ruling that is was a pass, asking the referees to rule his team fumbled. Why would a coach want to prove his team fumbled? Techno Canadian tight end Luke Willson had fallen on the ball at the 20-yard line. The refs confirmed the fumble, and Seattle wound up with the wackiest of third down conversions. Two plays later, Wilson hit emerging star Paul Richardson for a 20-yard touchdown. Tied again.
Watson kept coming. After each team punted, the Texans rookie led his team on their third touchdown drive of 75 yards or more in the first half. The Seahawks defense was reeling, trying to get to halftime like a fighter trying to stay on his feet before the bell rings. Thankfully, this was a tag team match, and it was Wilson and the offenses turn to tag back in. He took the team 75 yards in six plays, including a 53-yard bomb to Tanner McEvoy and another touchdown to Richardson.
Tied again at 21, the teams almost miraculously punted three straight times before heading to the locker room equal parts confident and dazed. Both defenses appeared to make some adjustments after halftime. Neither offense scored a touchdown in the third quarter, but the Seahawks 6-3 advantage during those 15 minutes would become decisive by game’s end.
Watson led his team into the red zone at the Seahawks 13-yard line before the defense stiffened and forced a field goal. That would be the only unsuccessful red zone trip on the day for the Texans, but gave them another lead at 24-21.
Darrell Bevell made one of the games great play calls on the next Seahawks drive when he created an opportunity for rarely utilized fullback Tre Madden up the middle of the field. He was so open that it almost appeared as if the Texans forgot he was on the team. Madden raced 66 yards to the Texans 12-yard line. That play was a great example of a tendency breaker. Offensive coordinators never want to predictable, and are constantly looking for evidence that they are creating predictable patterns in their plays. Madden has not been a player defenses needed to pay attention to. Now they do.
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Seattle was unsuccessful getting into the endzone on the first two plays, but had an easy touchdown on 3rd and 1. By the looks of Twitter, most fans blame Thomas Rawls for a drop in the endzone. What I saw was Wilson rolling left with plenty of time and space to throw, nobody between him and his receiver who was a few yards in front of him, and no defender near his receiver. Instead of the simplest pitch and catch of the day, he lost touch a bit and overthrew Rawls, making an easy play more difficult. Rawls still should have caught the pass, but Wilson has to make that easier. The Seahawks settled for a field goal and the teams were tied once again.
Watson made his second mistake on the next series when he threw another interception, this time to Richard Sherman, who returned it to the Texans 8-yard line. Again, the Seahawks were unable to convert the red zone opportunity for a touchdown. It felt like that might have been the difference in the game. It was, but not like any of us thought at the time.
Little did we know that the first three quarters were just the appetizer. Calling what happened next a quarter of anything would not do it justice. This was a game in itself. Just as the game had started, Watson landed the first blow. Hitting DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller for big gains on the way to a 71-yard touchdown drive that put the Texans out in front 31-27.
Wilson started the next series hitting Willson in perfect stride over the middle, only to have the tight end drop the ball. No worries. He uncorked his next throw 54 yards downfield to Lockett for his second 50+ yard throw on the day. Back in the red zone a few plays later, it looked like their demons were going to overwhelm them again when a touchdown pass to Richardson was called back due to a completely unnecessary chop block by Rawls away from the play. Instead of a touchdown, the team was now facing a 2nd and goal from the 22-yard line. Like a week earlier, Wilson looked to Baldwin in that moment and the unguardable receiver once again delivered. This time, drawing a pass interference penalty at the goal line. One snap later, Wilson hit Graham for the go-ahead touchdown, 34-31.
Now, the pace quickened. Watson needed just two plays and 48 seconds to take the team 75 yards and regain the lead. Hopkins was spectacular all afternoon. He took a short pass from Watson and raced 72 yards to make it 38-34 in favor of the Texans.
Just 4 minutes and 49 seconds remained in the game. It was becoming clear the clock was going to have to finish this game because neither side was budging. They were not just landing jabs. Each offense was swinging big, hitting each other with haymaker after haymaker. Wilson was the picture of poise through it all. With his team taking the ball at their own 25-yard line, he first went deep again to Baldwin, who looked like he was going to make the catch until the Texans defensive back made a fantastic play on the ball and knocked it loose.
Wilson used his legs to nab a quick first down. We all know what it means when Wilson starts to scramble. Now, an 8-yard strike to Nick Vannett. Then a gorgeous 15-yard connection to Richardson. After an incompletion, Wilson pulled out his wand and did his latest Houdini act, splitting a pair of defensive linemen on his way to a 21-yard scramble. Three minutes and six seconds remained. First down at the 20-yard line. This is going to happen. And then it didn’t. Wilson threw a ball directly to a Texans defensive back for what looked like the game-deciding interception.
Houston took over at their own 8-yard line with 2 minutes and 49 seconds left. They ran for four yards on first down, and something interesting happened. Carroll did not call a timeout. I questioned the logic at the time, but it turned out to be a game-saving decision. By preserving all three timeouts, Seattle was able to give themselves a chance to win even after allowing a first down. That is exactly what happened. Houston got a first down, and then the two-minute warning stopped the clock. The Texans win probability at that moment was 89.3%. Still armed with three timeouts, the battered Seahawks defense was able to rise up and stop Houston with 1 minute and 49 seconds left on the clock. Forced to punt, Shane Lechler unleashed a 63-yard bomb that Lockett returned to the 20-yard line.
Wilson and the offense needed to go 80 yards in just one minute and thirty-nine seconds. Hold my beer. Wilson drops back and enjoys one of many clean pockets on the day before unleashing a rocket down the middle of the field. Two men stood alone as it neared. One lept high off the ground and extended his arms high over head while the other remained in obedience of gravitational laws. Paul Richardson, a man who has battled back from two serious knee injuries and been doubted by many, was not going to be denied this catch. And so it was. A 48-yard vignette. First and 10 at the Texans 32-yard line. One minute, nine seconds remained.
A false start penalty cost the team five yards and 10 seconds. No matter. Wilson hit Lockett for 19 more yards, and the receiver raced the ball to the referee to save every precious second. The next snap came quickly. There would be no spike or time for the defense to gather themselves. That proved wise as Graham was left wide open down the middle of the field. Touchdown. Pandamonium. The impossible happened again. Seattle only needed roughly 60 seconds to frustrate mathematicians everywhere. You need a new win probability formula when Wilson and the Seahawks are involved.
Despite the heroics, the irrepressible Watson had 21 seconds and two timeouts to get a game-tying field goal. It would not happen. Frank Clark capped off a terrific day of rushing the passer with a sack on first down. Sherman nabbed his second pick on the next play. Game over.
There is much to dissect and absorb from a truly historic game, but some things we can say without reflection. This Seahawks offense, led by now-MVP candidate Wilson, is vastly improved. You may be shocked to know that only one Seahawks offense has ever gained more yards through its first seven games than this one. That would be the franchise-best 2005 offense. Wilson is the second-most prolific passer in the game at over 280 yards per contest. They have gone over 425 yards in four of their past five games. They have scored over 40 points in back-to-back home games. This defense was throttled by Watson, but anyone who watched that game had to come away thinking every defense is in trouble playing this guy. Lost in the avalanche of points was that the Seahawks defense made crucial plays including five sacks, three takeaways, and a defensive touchdown. Seattle does not win this game without those plays.
Special things happen during special seasons. You need your best players to play their best to win a championship. This was the type of win that builds belief and swagger. We have long wondered when we would ever see another display of greatness like what Wilson and his receivers accomplished in 2015. We are witnessing it now. There are flaws on this team, and some will fixate on them. Others will recognize those are just brush strokes on a vast canvas. Stand back and see what Carroll and team are painting. They are in first place, and to use a soccer term, have a game in hand over the second-place Rams in the division. The only team in the NFC (and NFL) with fewer losses has to travel to Seattle later this season. Seattle has an offense that can soar, a defense that can punish, and an unbending will that has turned countless losses into ecstatic wins. The ingredients for greatness are there. Enjoy watching the masters at work.