The 2015 Seahawks Re-Watch: Super Bowl XLIX, The Catalyst.
A funny thing happened to the Seahawks on their way to beginning the 2015 season at 2-4, and it was how nothing was working. On a team with a young core of super-talent, a ton of postseason experience, and a reputation for closing games, the wheels were coming off the wagon. The running game evaporated. Third down become an impossibility for the offense. The pass rush disappeared. Getting third down stops became an impossibility for the defense. At moments, the Hawks looked like their old selves, and any man or woman or child could be forgiven the thought that this was when they would, “turn it on,” but it was not coming. Slowly, sourly, the Seahawks tasted something they had not tasted in ages—desperation. It was time to try anything, do anything, change anything, whatever it took, if it took the entire kitchen sink, the Seahawks would do it.
No one could know. Russell Wilson was about to go on an historic hot streak unlike any the NFL had seen.
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The 2012, 2013, and 2014 Seahawks were always a team that betrayed conventional explanation. In an age when defensive holding, pass interference, defenseless hits, going at the knees, going at the head, and leading with the crown all led to yellow laundry being frequently tossed about the field, the Seahawks had taken an interesting strategy in defending the pass. It was to be a physical, man-on-man defense, using tall, long, big defensive backs, who would form a core known as, “The Legion of Boom.” But that wasn’t the only area where the Seahawks defied the pass-proliferated National Football League. On offense, the team had turned to its superstar tailback Marshawn Lynch to carry a unit whose young and promising quarterback, Russell Wilson, still lacked the experience to helm. Using both power-running and the read-option, Lynch and Wilson became a powerful one-two punch that left defensive-ends and linebackers in fits.
In a league where teams were running up the score and marching down the field, the Seahawks were trusting their defense, killing time on the clock, and most importantly, playing their best football in the fourth quarter.
The duality of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson, as personalities, one fiercely individualistic and the other corporate-ready, fostered the sentiment that Seattle was a team of misfits. Other teams needed one alpha-dog, they needed one football philosophy, they needed to be rigid and disciplined, whereas the Seahawks were ballers. At times, it seemed like they were playing playground football. Read-option? Why not. Wheel-routes? Sure. Jet-sweep? Absolutely. Sell-out for that interception? Of course. Fake field goals? Yeah. Random onside kicks? Fun! A team of rebels and risk-takers formed, where you could be as fierce and bombastic as Lynch, but it only worked if you could stay cool and confident, like Russell. However, the Seahawks could be terrifyingly streaky, and fans came to accept this premise, saying, “They’re a second half team,” or, “Marshawn will turn it on in the fourth quarter.”
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For three quarters, the Seahawks style of ball was too much for the timed, disciplined, somewhat boring and repetitive nature of the Patriots. Tom Brady and Co moved down field methodically while Russell Wilson threw deep bombs. The Seahawks had out-risked the play-it-safe, play-it-smart Patriots, with no clearer example being a 1st and 10 on the Patriots 11-yard line with six seconds left in the half. The Patriot Way says, in a 14-7 game, you kick the field goal, make it 14-10, and take the second-half kick-off. Instead, the Seahawks held their resolve through back-to-back timeouts, threw to Chris Matthews on a go to the end zone, and four seconds later, the score was 14-14. The camera cut to Tom Brady, and his expression was telling.
The Patriots were doing everything right. It wasn’t enough.
The problem was the football minds on the Patriots were unparalleled—Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and their field general, Tom Brady. It took a while, but they figured it out. Almost without resistance, the Patriots drove the length of the field twice for touchdowns, while Seattle’s run-heavy and slow fourth-quarter style hit consecutive three-and-outs. It was impossible to believe that the Patriots would win, not when the Seahawks were so strong the fourth-quarter, but the first of many fourth-quarter surrendering acts was brewing. We all know the story. After a miracle catch by Kearse, and the Seahawks on the one yard line, a minute left, the Seahawks chose to throw instead of run.
The rest is history.
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Emotionally, the throw felt like the antithesis of the Seahawk identify. The Seahawks needed one yard—just go up the middle. Going at the Patriots big-boys, especially Vince Wilfork, hadn’t worked for the entire game, but this time it would’ve worked, it would’ve, because that was how destiny works, that was what destiny felt like. As the world, and more specifically the fans and the players, came to grip with the incident, many narratives developed. It was Pete Carroll who made the call. Or it was a conspiracy. The coaches didn’t want Lynch to have the glory—they wanted Russell Wilson to have the moment. Yet, no one wanted to state the obvious: It was a bad throw. The throw was so high and wide that its trajectory put it above and outside of Lockette’s shoulders on an inside slant, a football no-no. High and at the shoulder works at the side-lines or in jump-balls, but bunched together at the goal line, in tight throwing windows, the throw goes at the numbers, low where the defender can only swat it away but never catch it. This wasn’t a chuck it deep pass to Mathews. This was a finesse throw. Wilson put too much juice on it, and he released it too late, and it sailed.
Little did the Seahawks know, as they healed through the off-season and mailed in the pre-season, NFL coaches for 30 other teams had been watching Super Bowl 49 on repeat. They watched how the Patriots marched down the field on Seattle’s vaulted defense. They watched how Seattle struggled through the first quarter, managing only one first down, and how Seattle was unable to get a first down in the fourth quarter, until, of course, they had already surrendered the lead. The greater-Seattle area was so convinced the Seahawks lost the game that no one considered if the Patriots had won it. Even though it took longer than three quarters, the New England Patriots had exposed the Seattle Seahawks. The defense-first, run-first, clock-killing, NFL pass-happy defying Seahawks died that day during Super Bowl 49.
Were the Seahawks ready to be reborn?