The Morning After: Seahawks Defeat the Undefeated, Stamp their Contender Card in 27-24 OT Win
Agony and ecstasy. Manic and depressive. We may find out one day that your Seattle Seahawks are actually a grand social art project meant to manipulate our emotions and create a world more empathetic with those who face bipolar disorder, or better understand those who derive pleasure from pain. The only other game in my four decades of watching the Seahawks play that really compares to what we witnessed Monday night was when these two teams faced off for the NFC Championship in 2013. There were aspects of the Dave Krieg game when he eluded Derrick Thomas’ eighth sack to throw the game winner to Paul Skansi, but this game may really stand on its own.
Seattle entered this game as clear underdogs. They were playing an undefeated team on their home turf in prime time. None of those things were the case in 2013. In fact, that Seahawks team lost when they went down to San Francisco that season.
The 49ers entered with clearly the better defense that has been dominant. Their running game has been almost unstoppable and they were getting back both of their starting tackles and their All-Pro fullback.
Seattle had one of the worst defenses in football, just as vulnerable defending the run as they have been in defending the pass. Despite having an MVP quarterback, they still had all sorts of trouble pass protecting and were facing the best pass rush on the planet.
Then, they spotted the favorites a 10 point lead after a first quarter in which they gained a total of 5 yards and had zero first downs. Seattle’s first seven drives went:
The offense did not score points until there were four minutes and thirty-seven seconds left in the third quarter.
They fumbled at the 1-yard line. They fumbled at their own 20-yard line and saw it returned for a touchdown. They threw an interception inside the 10-yard line.
In all, the Seahawks had as many drives end in a turnover as they did that ended in points.
And that’s just the offense. The defense dropped not one, not two, but at least three interceptions that likely would have ended the game. The referees also chipped in with crazy calls ranging from whistling Russell Wilson down while he was breaking free for an 8-yard gain to questionable decisions that took away a Shaquill Griffin interception early and turned a Quinton Jefferson sack into a 15-yard personal foul.
They lost Luke Willson and were left with only one true tight end. They lost Tyler Lockett. They lost Tre Flowers and Jadeveon Clowney for some time.
All that. All of that. And they won. They WON.
This game was like summiting Mount Everest to see the splendor of your surroundings, having a heart attack, flat-lining, being brought back to life, sledding back down, having another heart attack, and being brought back to life again. Hug your family. Hug your friends. Hug total strangers (as long as they are Seahawks fans). In an age where equivocation and over-analysis robs us of joy, this is a moment worth savoring, celebrating, and sharing.
How on earth did this defense do what they did? I took a ton of heat for this stance last week about how I would game plan for slowing the powerful 49ers offense:
Nothing has changed about my feelings in this topic. Arizona is in a ballgame with the 49ers by slowing their run game. It would be a blowout otherwise. https://t.co/xCOh1jGNJJ
I was lectured about why it was foolish to ever care about slowing the run and how Jimmy Garoppolo had been great this season. Some of those same folks are now talking about how terrible Garoppolo is and diminishing the effort and performance by this Seahawks defense. Stop. Please stop.
Seattle did what I have been begging for. They picked something, anything, to be good at on defense. They have the personnel to be a very good run defense. Poona Ford, Al Woods, Jarran Reed, Clowney, Bobby Wagner and more. This was the game to rise up and play together.
They did that. Pete Carroll put together a terrific game plan that put the whole game on Garoppolo’s shoulders, and he was not up to the task.
Matt Breida, who has been a game-breaking player all season, finished with 18 yards on 10 carries. The 49ers finished with a season-low 87 yards rushing despite being ahead by 10 in the first quarter.
Ford played his best game of the year. Finally. He was such an important part of why this defense was going to be good this season, and he has been almost invisible. Not last night. He made multiple plays behind the line of scrimmage and even rushed the passer a bit.
Woods continues to be one of the best free agent pickups of the offseason. And Reed finally showed up in the pass rush with 1.5 sacks, including the pivotal strip sack that led to Clowney’s second touchdown of the season and the Seahawks first points of the game.
Clowney was omnipotent. When he was not scoring touchdowns, he was making Pro Bowl tackles (Joe Staley) look like shadow boxers. It was one of the most dominant individual defensive performances in the history of the franchise.
I watched Cortez Kennedy play when he won defensive player of the year. I watched Kenny Easley. I watched Michael Sinclair and Patrick Kerney and Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. There were likely more statistically impressive outings, but only Kennedy had games of pure physical dominance that rivaled what Clowney did on Monday night.
Seattle finally cried uncle on Ziggy Ansah and gave Shaquem Griffin snaps as a pass rusher. He did not record a pressure, but at least pushed the pocket a bit. It was a good sign that the team was willing to explore other options.
Quandre Diggs saw his first snaps and had a big interception. He is a good tackler and has the potential to be a major upgrade in a secondary that really needs it.
It was disappointing to see Marquise Blair benched. The hope has to be that the Seahawks use the bye week to work on Diggs sliding to nickel corner so Blair can play safety. That is the configuration that gets the most talent on the field.
Anything to remove Jamar Taylor will be a positive. He struggled mightily. If the team will not play Diggs at nickel, they have to give Ugo Amadi some reps. Taylor is untenable.
Shaquill Griffin played another marvelous game. He had a great early interception that was nullified by a Taylor penalty, but his best play had to be his game-saving pass breakup 40 yards downfield in overtime. It was the picture of effort and athleticism that is becoming the hallmark of his game.
If the defense can play that disciplined, that together, and with even half that pass rush, this team legitimately moves into Super Bowl contender status. The win was incredible and important, but the performance of that defense was a potential season-changer.
Wilson had multiple chances to put his stamp on this game. He ultimately did what was needed to get the team in position to win. He was so close to having the signature finish he needed to burn his name in the minds of MVP voters. That interception in overtime was a gut punch for a variety of reasons.
He was able to make things work with a patchwork crew at receiver and tight end. Jacob Hollister was absolutely amazing. His touchdown catch was marvelous. Josh Gordon looks like he could be a real upgrade even though he was use sparingly. The bye week will help there as well.
D.K. Metcalf had a very good game that could have been a great game had he not fumbled before halftime. That he put up 70 yards receiving against that secondary is incredibly encouraging.
Seattle is now 8-2. They trail the 8-1 49ers by a game, but hold the tiebreaker. They need to be one game better than San Francisco the rest of the way and beat them in Seattle to win the division. The schedule is tough for a while now, with quality opponents at Philadelphia, home against the Vikings and at the Rams. All those games are at night in primetime.
None of them will be easy. None of them will bring out the best in Seattle the way this game did. The challenge now shifts to figuring out how to sustain this defensive performance while knowing the offense will be much better. There are no other defenses that match the 49ers left on the schedule (other than the 49ers). Minnesota is good. San Francisco is elite.
This offense has the potential to gain momentum with Gordon fitting in, Metcalf improving, and the return of Ed Dickson. Prayers up for Tyler Lockett to recover from what sounds like a serious injury to his lower leg. Losing him would be a massive blow.
Reed and Clowney must continue their tandem of terror. Michael Dickson and Jason Myers must continue their resurgence. Myers deserves a ton of credit for kicking not just one, but two game-winning kicks after being a liability all season.
There are many valleys and peaks left this season, but Seattle now legitimately has its sights set on the highest mountain. There is a ring up there waiting for them if they can make the hike.