18to40 is happy to report that football will exist at least one more week in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Seahawks (11-5-1) defeated the Detroit Lions, 26-6, meaning the Hawks advance to the NFC divisional game against the Atlanta Falcons (11-5).
Century Link Field
Even though the Seahawks had a far better defense than the Lions, had finished the last three games with a record of 2-1 (whereas the Lions were 0-3), had a 10-0 win/loss count in playoff games at Qwest/CenturyLink since their last loss in 2004, and even though I personally believed, like the rest of the planet Earth, including Detroit fans, that the Lions would absolutely lose, I found myself wound up all Saturday with playoff jitters and was unable to effectively kill time leading up to kickoff.
Maybe two hours before the game, I visited the r/seahawks subreddit to see if there was any pertinent team news. There, a Reddit user was offering his ticket in row F of the 100-level for a price so fair this user must be a rocking dude. For a moment, I debated things like, “What about fiscal responsibility?” and, “You’re a grown up. You don’t do irrational things like buying a ticket for a football game less than two hours before it begins. That’s aughts-Justin. His impulsive behavior has been bred out by maturity and age.” Then, I wrote the user and inquired about the ticket, thinking, “Someone else already bought this great ticket. I’ll just ask so I don’t have to be curious any longer.”
Well, turned out no one had bought the ticket and, according to the OneBusAway app, the number 5 bus was mere minutes from my stop. It was a high-pressure situation, with no time to prepare, but I made an executive decision. I told this user I wanted the ticket, and then I proceeded to find as many cold weather clothes as I could, trying to layer but really just making sure I could scare up enough Seahawks gear, and hurried to the bus.
I got to CenturyLink in time, secured my ticket, and I headed into the stadium. I was getting settled in my seat when I thought, “This could mess up my blog. I won’t get time to watch the game closely because I’ll see everything from only one angle (and when they win, I’ll party all night, sleep in until noon, eat too much hangover food, and not start writing until late Sunday evening).” Anyhow, I decided I would watch the game professionally, just ignore the euphoric atmosphere of Century Link and be all business. Then, this young kid sitting two seats next to me said, “Hey, I have some cinnamon whiskey to keep warm. You want some?”
I declined. I was going to be a serious blogger. Then, Paul Richardson did this on 4th down, dead-on in my sight line:
And I did this:
Okay, not exactly that, but bear with me, gentle reader, you’re about to get a blog post based solely on everything I could see from the south sideline with cinnamon whiskey making me feel like I was swimming in a fish tank.
Defense Wins Championships
Since the Lions’ offense never entered the red zone, the only opportunity I had to closely watch Detroit play on offense was if they were backed up field position wise. Luckily, due to the teams switching end zones between the first and second quarters, I got a great view of this fourth down stop from behind the Lions.
Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) looked like he would hand off to running back Zack Zenner (36) but ended up passing it instead. The defense was prepared for a run, with ten defenders inside the numbers and all three linebackers and safety Kam Chancellor (31) within four yards of the line of scrimmage. At this point, the Lions were actually looking pretty good, but they ended up losing two yards and turning the ball over on downs. Why did it fail? Instead of Stafford and Zenner selling the fake ball exchange, this play calls for Zenner to immediately exit from the backfield toward the sideline. (Even from my vantage point, I could instantly see this would not be a hand off). KJ Wright (50), who had come down to stuff the run, never followed through on his threat, dumping out to the sideline. Bobby Wagner (54) was not far behind, moving to undercut Zenner, and linebacker Mike Morgan (57) got out ahead of Zenner.
Perhaps Stafford could make a run for it, hoping it might spring a small throwing window to Zenner, but it was not to be. Michael Bennett (72) was in his grille. Why? Because the fake hand off was so flaccid that Bennett gave up on powering through Matthew Mulligan (82) and put a spin move on him, allowing Wagner to stay back on Zenner. Stafford did all he could, throwing a prayer at Mulligan, who was seven yards behind the first down marker.
Mulligan was tackled by Wagner and Wright.
Note to the Lions’ coaching staff: If you’re going to test the lateral quickness of the Seahawks defense, you have to sell the fake exchange.
The final score made it feel like this was a blow-out victory, but at the top of the fourth, it was a one possession game, 13-6. The defense still had work to do, and the way to help was to give the offense field position by holding the Lions to a three and out at their own end zone. Thanks to an absolute pop from special teamer Jeron Johnson on Lions’ returner Andre Roberts—a play in which 18to40 made its blurry national television debut—the Lions were starting at their own 16, with their backs facing me. What the Lions were showing was rather standard, and at the hand off, I was expecting a two or three yard gain. Instead, I got a fantastic view of Chancellor breaking through the line and taking Zenner down solo for a measly one yard gain.
While Chancellor looked like lightening on this play, the credit goes to defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (77). Rubin was lined up as an interior lineman with Frank Clark (55) beneath him and Jarran Reed (90) above him. Clark was lined up against Lions’ offensive tackle Taylor Decker (68) with Reed having Larry Warford (75). Rubin had Laken Tomlinson (72). During this play, neither Clark, Reed or Rubin lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. What separated Rubin, however, was him getting the double team from center Graham Glasgow (60) and Tomlinson. Despite two men, who weigh a combined 620lbs, pushing on Rubin, Rubin didn’t surrender a yard, using one arm per lineman and forcing Zenner to cut inside, where Chancellor leveled him.
It might seem odd that the “good work” play isn’t one of Richardson’s or Baldwin’s catches, but is instead Russell Wilson taking a time-out. Television coverage of football games rarely pays attention to the space between plays, filling it with replays or commentary, so the television audience couldn’t see what I saw. The offensive lineman, oh wow, they were sucking wind, almost like they were hyper-ventilating. (This was plays after Baldwin’s 42-yard reception). They all had their hands on their hips and looked limp. Garry Gilliam, in particular, had most of his profile facing me. He looked beyond exhausted, almost to the point that I wondered if he might vomit.
I thought, “Man, these guys are gassed. Can we get this first down?”
Thankfully, with three seconds left on the play clock, the whole play set, Wilson took a look at the right side, at what was coming for Gilliam and Ifedi, and he killed the play, burning a timeout.
That’s what we refer to as “intangibles.”
The Offense Brings The Wow
Paul Richardson made the catch of his life when he snagged a touchdown on the opposite end of the end zone where I stood. I knew it was a catch because I saw was the back of Lions’ cornerback Tavon Wilson’s white jersey juxtaposed to the ball. From that angle, it was obvious. The catch I also saw from the ball angle was not the best but certainly the least probable catch of Doug Baldwin’s career, a ten-yard pass that came in so behind Baldwin that he had to secure the ball against his leg as he rolled on the ground.
Flabbergasted as I was, unwilling to believe that my eyes had actually seen the ball not touch the ground, I was stumped at how to describe what had transpired. The only image I could conjure up was an astronaut trying to make a morning movement in a futuristic spacecraft when a large, mysterious blast shook the ship, followed by a loss of the artificial gravity system. Now poor astronaut Baldwin was spinning in zero gravity, still in his sitting position and unable to unfurl because doing so would mean losing his tenuous hold on the toilet paper roll, which he was barely keeping applied to his thigh.
I told one of the guys in the stands and we cracked up about it. For us, all we saw was Baldwin’s butt while desperately trying to secure the ball.
Seriously, Doug Baldwin is a good football player.
For this play, I saw Baldwin (89) in the slot and then him emerging from behind Paul Richardson (10). Given the route, I knew this first down was due to Baldwin’s most lethal trick, his left step. It looks so simple. Baldwin takes one step forward, then slows up, preparing to do his crossover. Shuffling his feet, Baldwin leans the top of his body to the right, usually utilizing an incredible head fake, while his lower body begins shifting his balance to the left. And no matter how many times Baldwin does this move, the defender always steps inside. In this case, it was cornerback Crezdon Butler (41) who was made a fool. Butler never had a chance at Baldwin.
On a night when Thomas Rawls secured 161 ground yards, there were five guys who didn’t get a single ground yard who slept just as soundly as Rawls. Their names are George Fant, Mark Glowinski, Justin Britt, Germain Ifedi and Garry Gilliam. I’ve had several friends, including a few Redditors, be rather critical of my leniency on the offensive line this year, but I can’t get mad at these guys because I feel sorry for them. As an organization, the Seahawks are elite, but for this season, the mismanagement of this offensive line snowballed into a toxic situation that cannot be placed solely on these players. Regardless, if the Seahawks want to win the Super Bowl, these five guys need to shake some demons and find some confidence. Perhaps this game was the fresh start they needed.
I hate writing about NBC games because I refuse to cover a play that Chris Collinsworth covers during the broadcast, which is hard because, man, that guy leaves nothing to the imagination. However, since I was at the stadium, I didn’t know Collinsworth covered it and I had a bird’s eye view of this touchdown.
The two guys to pay attention to are center Britt (68) and guard Ifedi (76).
At the snap, Britt caught some good fortune. Lions’ defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (92), who could either attack to Britt’s left shoulder or his right, went left. With this play design, Britt now only had to continue to push Ngata left and not overpower him. Even with this lucky break, Britt was unable to hold Ngata and fell to his knees, but did obstruct Ngata enough for Rawls to get past. Ifedi did not get it so easy but was able to display his strengths in run blocking. Ifedi needed only three steps to get leverage on defensive lineman Kerry Hyder (61) and to extend his left arm to twist Hyder’s upper body away from the play.
Rawls got through the line untouched.
Offensive line play is a bit like hitting in baseball. What good are a bunch of hitters who all put up solid numbers but never manage to go on a run where three or four of them get contact in one inning? When it comes to o-line, it’s not enough for one guy to do an exceptional job on a single play if the other four are terrible. If the Hawks line is to be successful, they must have uniformity. While we can’t expect these guys to transform into Pro Bowlers in the next few weeks, we can hope that, when one lineman chooses to be terrible, the other four choose to be terrible, and when one lineman chooses to be great, the other four choose to be great.
When you see an offensive line succeed and fail together, as a unit, it can be a subtle sign of cohesion. Maybe we saw that on Saturday. Maybe.
I saw the game from this vantage point and, when I snapped this picture, I didn’t realize the lights were going to create this beautiful effect, as if cones of light were shining down from Heaven. Since I’m Catholic, and since I got this great seat and saw three touchdowns in that end zone, I’m choosing to believe God did actually intend to do this and it was sort of His way of telling me, “Hey, like the 2016 Seahawks, I know I didn’t always pull through for you during the regular season, but I totally made up for it in January, huh?”
Anyhow, I’m not going to talk about the Atlanta Falcons. Too busy loving this victory. I’d like to close by just saying how remarkably lucky I was to see this game. To have seen any Seahawks game. I’ve seen Jay Feely miss three consecutive field goals to surrender a game to the Hawks. I’ve seen Shaun Alexander go for two hundred yards against the Green Bay Packers. (I was at the south end zone, exposed to the snow, soaked to the bone for the whole game). I’ve seen Jordan Babineaux and Marcus Trufant both take INTs back for touchdowns against the Washington Redskins. (Then I went back to school and was broke for a few years). I’ve seen Richard Sherman tip a pass meant for Michael Crabtree. I’ve seen Jermaine Kearse pull in the game-winning touchdown during the Rain City Miracle. And now I’ve seen all these catches, Thomas Rawls setting a Seahawks playoff record for yards, and Steven Hauschka’s sixth missed extra point. (By the way, what is going on there?) Basically, this blog post is intended to reach Seahawks fans who’ve never gone to a game at Century Link. If you’re a Seahawks fan, and you live in the Pacific Northwest, and you’ve never been to a home game, it’s time to pick a game, set a budget and start saving.
Century Link is a special place. Amazing things happen there.
18to40 will be normal next week, but if the NFC Championship game ends up being in Seattle, I make no promises.
In case you missed it…
Week 1, On One Leg | Week 2, The Spread Will Save the Seahawks, Exactly Like It Did Last Year | Week 3, Could Trevone Boykin Be The Future? With Doug Baldwin, He Might. | Week 4, Kam Chancellor’s Modified Role Improves Entire LoB, Takes Defense to New Level | Discombobulated But Still Dangerous, The Cardinals Lie Ahead – Seahawks Bye Week Special | Week 6, Seahawks Defense Comes Up Strong, Team Passes First Test | Week 7, Defense Wins Championships But This Vanilla Offense Needs An Attitude | Week 8, As Injuries Mount, Seahawks Still Poised For A Super Bowl Run | Week 9, The Hawks Deal Blows To The AFC East, Real Test Comes This Sunday | Week 10, Bam Bam Kam Is Prosise-ly What The Hawks Need, Finally Time To Put The Hurt On The NFC | Week 11, Seahawks Dash Eagles Playoff Aspirations, Red Hot November Continues | Week 12, Seahawks’ Offense Was Outgunned and Outcoached, Did Buccaneers Call Psychic Hotline? | Week 13, Redemption Win Against Panthers Proves Bittersweet; Minus Thomas, Team Must Overcome Greatest Challenge Yet | Week 14, The Seahawks Are A Dark Horse To Win The Super Bowl. They Probably Like It That Way. | Week 15, Seahawks’ Defense Does It Again. Curse Against Rams Finally Broken. | Week 16, Loss To Cardinals Full Of Silver Linings, Still Hope For Our Seahawks. | Week 17, Seahawks’ Second Season Begins, Signs Point To Victory Against Lions