Monday, November 13, 2006
Last Monday, the Seahawks were hosting the Raiders. No one questioned whether the Seahawks had to win that game. Rather, it was more that the game shouldn't have been in doubt. Thankfully, the Raider offense was completely inept, partly thanks to the Seattle defense performing much better than they had in weeks, possibly since the third quarter of the game against the Giants.
Against the Raiders, the mission was to win and dictate the tone, all that jazz. When it's Saint Louis on the schedule, home or road, all I'm looking for is a win. I don't care how they do it or what happens, I just want a W. Would I like the Seahawks to just blow out the Rams 65-3 and have nothing but third-stringers play the final three quarters of the game? Of course I would, but that'll never happen in this rivalry.
Against the Rams, a win is a win, no how weird the circumstances may be or how they might unfold. The Rams led 16-14 late in the third quarter after a Jeff Wilkins 35-yard field goal. The Seahawks got the ball back and went from their own 26 to the Saint Louis 35 in four plays, two of which were lengthy Mo Morris runs. Before the Raider game, we'd all grown accustomed to the same ol' Morris draw plays on first and second down that got absolutely nowhere and put the Seahawks in 3rd-and-forever situations. That happened for weeks. From the Rams' 35, the ball didn't find itself in Morris' hands for another chunk of yards. Instead, it went to Deion Branch on an end around/receiver pass play that ended in a three-yard loss.
Two plays after the trick play, Seneca Wallace was in the shotgun as the play clock ticked down to zeroes, and not just the kind of thing where the clock ticks to double zeroes and the officials let them show for one second before flagging the play -- those zeroes were up there for a while. I was fully anticipating the flags coming out, but the snap went off without laundry on the field. The Rams brought a ton of guys up to the line before the snap, and the play appeared doomed even before you consider the high snap. Wallace was driven back way too far and fumbled for the second time in the game (I'll get to the first later), giving the Rams the ball at the Seattle 33.
The Rams needed only 33 yards to give themselves a nine-point lead. They appeared well on their way to doing just that, converting a 3rd-and-1 with a Steven Jackson three-yard run to the left side, putting the ball at the Seahawks' 21. Jackson dragged a tackler on the next play and got four yards. On 2nd-and-6 from the Seattle 17, a Marc Bulger pass intended for Torry Holt near the 5 absolutely should have been picked off by Jordan Babineaux. That set up 3rd-and-6. Bulger fumbled the snap and dumped off to Kevin Curtis along the left sideline, who had the ball bounce between his hands and incomplete (in baseball, sort of a one-hopper). The Rams lined up for the field goal and Scott Linehan red-flagged the previous play before the snap, which would have resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Wilkins and a 19-14 lead for the Rams. Despite the fact I thought none of the replays showed indisputable evidence of a catch, the play was overturned, giving the Rams a 4th-and-1 chance from the Seattle 12.
Steven Jackson averaged 5.2 yards a carry in the game. With a 4th-and-1 at the Seattle 12, you figure it's going to the former Oregon State Beaver, right? What everyone saw was a pass to rookie tight end Joe Klopfenstein that went incomplete. The built-in reaction was "all these playmakers and you're throwing to Klopfenstein?" With the benefit of a few hours and Sando at the postgame press conferences, I'm able to see that if the play went off as scripted, it's "a two-man route off of play-action." To me, it's not the fact that they were throwing the ball to Klopfenstein on 4th-and-1, it's the fact they were throwing the ball at all. That'd be eating at me on Monday if I were a Ram fan. Maybe the throwing in that situation instead of running even though Jackson had been getting big chunks all game is a byproduct of Scott Linehan being a rookie head coach. And with all the talk of the Rams running the ball this season, the call didn't go to Jackson in a key situation when the run had been working throughout the game for the Rams.
Thus, Seattle had the ball on their own 12. How did they take advantage of this giftwrapped possession? By going three-and-out, of course. On the first play of that possession, Darrell Jackson should have had a catch past the chains on the right sideline, but couldn't hold on after Corey Chavous popped him. The Seahawk defense responded by forcing a three-and-out from the Rams, keyed by Chuck Darby's second sack of the day on 3rd-and-7.
Darby and the Seattle defense had bailed the Seahawks out yet again. How did the offense respond? Another three-and-out, of course, ending with a sack of Wallace by Leonard Little, who for some reason is not in jail (really).
Yet again, the Seahawk defense saved the bacon of the offense. The Rams started with the ball on their own 43. On 2nd-and-7, Julian Peterson snuffed out a Jackson run play, and Rocky Bernard and Darby finished it off.
On 4th-and-2, the Rams were forced to punt from the Seattle 49. What happened next was the purely electrifying Nate Burleson 90-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Seahawks up 21-16. My immediate reaction was that I'd never felt that great after a special teams return since Charlie Rogers was a member of this team. It turns out Rogers has the franchise record for a touchdown return with a 94-yarder.
The Rams then got the ball on their own 31 with 8:13 to go and all three timeouts remaining after the kickoff. Obviously, the Burleson return had netted the Seahawks seven quick points, but the defense would have to trot right back onto the field. Up to that point in the second half, the Seahawk offense had the ball for four possessions. One of the possessions was the one that ended with the sack of Wallace and the fumble deep into Seattle territory. That happened on the seventh play of that particular possession. The offense went three-and-out on each of the other three possessions. The defense had bailed the offense out so many times in the second half, and it turned out they finally reached the breaking point, allowing an 11-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, ending in a 14-yard run by Jackson on which he dragged four Seahawk defenders to the end zone with him.
The Seahawks' saving grace at this point was Richie Incognito getting flagged for 15 yards after the touchdown play was over for a shove on a Seattle defender, apparently after some Rams claimed a Seahawk tried ripping off Jackson's helmet. The Rams tried a two-point conversion that would have put them up 24-21, and it appeared to have done so as Bulger found Holt in the end zone. Incognito was called for holding. The second try at the two-point conversion was incomplete to Isaac Bruce.
From there, Incognito's penalty backed the kicking tee to the Rams' 15, more than likely giving the Seahawks pretty decent field position to begin with. The planets aligned, however, and the Seahawks got a second consecutive good return as Josh Scobey got 33 yards, putting the ball at the Saint Louis 49 with 2:23 to play, and with the Seahawks having two timeouts and the two-minute warning on their side. From here, Morris got two good running plays in to move the chains once, and Darrell Jackson had a catch past the chains on the right side to move the chains again, putting the Seahawks at the Rams' 22. Three short running plays were called, then Josh Brown came out to nail the 38-yard field goal to put the Seahawks up 24-22. After the crazy field goals Brown has hit to win games, a 38-yarder almost seems like a chipshot, doesn't it? We as Seahawk fans are so spoiled with this guy.
I love how NFL.com reads the final play of the game: "J.Brown kicks 46 yards from SEA 30 to SL 24. K.Harris to SL 42 for 18 yards (J.Scobey). Series of laterals: Harris had the most yardage on the return." Series of laterals? I love it. Still, the hook-and-ladder series should have never gotten that close to midfield. I was on the edge of my seat there.
There were countless times during the game where I thought, man, I hope we're not looking back at this as the difference of the game in a Seahawk loss. The one that lingered the most, however, was the first Wallace fumble and the resulting touchdown return. Boy, that was a horrible feeling. The Seahawks had just used nine plays to march 77 yards down the field. They had 3rd-and-goal and needed only a yard when Will Heller got flagged for a false start, so that was boo-boo number one. Apparently the play on the fumble was one where Wallace needed to run the draw or quickly get rid of the ball, and that didn't happen (again, citing the Sando link). What ran through my mind at that point was, "here we go...another f'd up game against the Rams." Luckily the offense went 50 yards on their next two plays from scrimmage on that first touchdown drive that tied the game.
Though I'm almost spent, kudos to Wallace on that 31-yard scramble as well. That was some good stuff.
The point? Tons of weird crap seems to happen in these games against the Rams. The replay challenge went against the Seahawks, but that may have saved them. Ken Hamlin picked a pass on fourth down that he resulted in a big negative swing in field position for Seattle. Josh Brown had a 2004 flashback and put a kickoff out of bounds. The Seahawk defense had another slew of near-picks which hopefully someday turn into actual picks. Like I brought up, delay of game should have been called before the snap on the play resulting in Wallace's second fumble. Penalties to Incognito moved back the ensuing kickoff and wiped away a two-point conversion that would have made it a game that could have gone to overtime. And, of course, the Rams not running the ball on 4th-and-1 when they were 12 yards from the end zone. Any amount of weird crap can happen, but as long as the Seahawks come out with the win in these games, that's all I care about.
So, the Seahawks are 6-3. They are 3-3 without Shaun Alexander, are 2-1 without Matt Hasselbeck, and are 3-2 without Bobby Engram. Let's say you went around the Seattle area before the season asking a bunch of people whether they thought the Seahawks would beat the Rams at home in Week 10. A lot of people would have probably said yes, especially given the fact the game was a home game. I'm sure if you would have asked anyone before the season the same thing, except thrown in that Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, and Bobby Engram would all have been out of the game, those people probably would have answered with an emphatic "hell no."
I remember saying I didn't expect the Seahawks to retain their division lead with Seneca Wallace at the helm of the offense. A few weeks later, here we are talking about the Seahawks with a virtual three-game lead on the Rams. Furthermore, since the Rams lost to the 49ers earlier in the season, the Rams are technically in third place in the NFC West right now.
Speaking of won-loss records, thanks to the Giants' night loss to the Bears, Chicago is now the only team in the NFC with a better record than Seattle. The Bears are 8-1, with the Seahawks, Giants, and Saints all at 6-3. Presuming I'm reading tiebreakers right, the Saints are second, Seahawks third, and Giants fourth. The Saints have a 5-1 record against NFC teams to the Seahawks' 5-2, and the Seahawks have the head-to-head over the Giants.
Where can this team go once they get Hasselbeck, Alexander, and Engram back? It'll be something if those guys work out the cobwebs. As Tom Jackson brought up, Alexander will be running with fresher legs in December if all goes as planned. I just hope he's still sharp.
The way my mind works is just great. Why? Five paragraphs ago, I said I was spent. I swear I really am this time.
It's a win. It's 6-3. It's good.