Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
If you can believe Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, as Peyton Manning was leading his Denver Broncos on that miraculous, last minute, game tying scoring drive in last week’s much ballyhooed Seattle-Denver Super Bowl rematch game, he was hoping for overtime. Wilson stopped short of saying that he wanted the Broncos to score on that drive, but from his words you can see that is exactly what he wanted:
“I know I shouldn’t say this,” the Seahawks third year quarterback said after the game, “but I actually wanted overtime. I live for those moments.”
The facts actually bear Wilson out. Who can forget the Houston game last year, when Wilson ran JJ Watt and the Texans ragged in the 2nd half as the Seahawks rallied for an overtime win; or last season’s Tampa Bay game, when he led a 2nd half comeback to defeat the Bucs, also in overtime, while overcoming the largest deficit ever in a Seahawks victory? And what about the game against the Chicago Bears during Wilson’s rookie season, when he lead the team on a 97 yard drive to take the lead late in the 4th quarter and then won it in overtime when he culminated an 80 yard drive with a game winning touchdown pass to Sidney Rice. Counting this 26-20 OT victory over the Broncos the Seahawks’ third year quarterback already has 11 game winning drives and 8 fourth quarter comebacks to his credit. God knows how many he’ll have if he plays as long as Manning has. As you can see, Wilson doesn’t just live for those moments, he revels in them.
Despite Wilson’s propensity for “those moments”, there was nothing in the game’s first three quarters to indicate the high drama to come. From the opening kickoff at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field the Seahawks dominated, taking a 17-3 lead at the half and holding it to the end of the 3rd quarter. In the 2nd quarter the Seahawks offense steamrolled the Broncos, rolling up 175 yards in that quarter alone as Wilson threw 2 touchdown passes, a 39 yard beauty to Ricardo Lockette and a 6 yard slant to Marshawn Lynch just before the half. Meanwhile Seattle’s defense was stonewalling the Broncos, forcing them to punt on 7 consecutive possessions through the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Once more it looked like the Seahawks were having their way with the Broncos—the Super Bowl all over again!
And then, at the beginning of the 4th quarter things started to swing the Broncos way, and ironically it was two Russell Wilson mistakes that opened the door. The first occurred right after the Hawks held the Broncos, again forcing a punt. Seattle punt returner Bryan Walters made a fair catch deep in Hawks territory at the 7 yard line and with 14:53 to go in the game Seattle had the ball, first and ten with a 17-3 lead. The first play was a Marshawn Lynch run which the Broncos stuffed for no gain. On the 2nd play Wilson retreated to his own goal line looking for a receiver to throw to and simply held the ball too long, which Broncos defensive lineman Demarcus Ware took full advantage of, beating Seattle’s rookie right tackle Justin Britt to sack the Seattle quarterback and force him to fumble. For what seemed an eternity Wilson and Ware struggled for the ball in a pile at the 1 yard line, but finally it was Wilson who emerged with it, leaving the Hawks with a 3rd and long a mere yard from their own goal line.
We Twelves barely had time to recover from that near disaster when another one reared its ugly head. Following a false start penalty, which backed Seattle up half the distance to the goal (in this case a penalty of 18 inches), Wilson took the seemingly safe option and handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch. Spurning what looked to be a crease in the Denver defense up the middle, Lynch instead cut to his left, only to encounter the ubiquitous Demarcus Ware about a yard deep in the end zone. Lynch was able to break Ware’s tackle, but in the process was slowed down, which allowed a host of other Denver tacklers to finish him off, giving the Broncos a 2 point safety.
Wilson’s next mistake occurred after Seattle’s defense held the Broncos following the Seahawks safety mandated free kick—and I must make a comment here about Seattle’s punter Jon Ryan. All through the game his booming punts pinned the Broncos deep in their own territory helping the Seahawks win the field position battle. On a free kick following a safety the team that had been on offense and was stopped in their end zone must kick the ball to the team that had been on defense. This kick can either be a place kick or a punt at the discretion of the kicking team and takes place at the kicking team’s (in this case the Seahawks) own 20 yard line, a full 15 yards further back than regular kickoffs, which occur at the 35 yard line. All of this is designed to reward the team that scored the safety with the ball and good field position. On Seattle’s free kick Ryan was assigned to punt the ball, and punt it he did, booming the kick a mile high and an astounding 80 yards down field to the Denver goal line. The result was that the Denver kick returner could only return the ball to his own 22 yard line, denying the Broncos field position and forcing them to go the long field. Ryan’s punting was invaluable to Seattle’s effort the whole game.
After Ryan’s incredible kick Seattle’s defense held the Broncos and forced a punt which gave the Seahawks the ball at their own 14 yard line. On the first play of the possession Wilson tried to hit Percy Harvin on a 12 yard square out pattern only to have Denver’s excellent cornerback Aqib Talib drop off the man he was covering and stop right in Wilson’s passing lane to Harvin. The ball was thrown high and Talib had to jump to get his hands on it, but he did, tipping the ball into the air. When it finally came down it was into the arms of Denver’s other cornerback Chris Harris Jr. who returned it to the Seattle 19 yard line. (Remarkably, the pick was Wilson’s first in his last 6 games, a stretch extending all the way back through last season’s playoffs to the Arizona Cardinals game last December at the Clink.)
With the great field position after the turnover the Broncos were able to take it in for a score on a Manning shovel pass to Denver tight end Julius Thomas. The extra point brought the Broncos to within one score of Seattle at 17-12 with 9 minutes and 20 seconds left in the game.
Seattle took the ensuing kickoff and moved the ball to their 41 yard line before the Broncos stiffened and forced the Seahawks to punt. Peyton Manning and co. took over at the Denver 19, and then Manning began to show the greatness within him. Hitting something like 7 passes in a row, he moved the Broncos smartly to the Seahawks 23 yard line and it looked for all the world like Denver would go in for the lead grabbing touchdown. But the Hawks defense has greatness within it too, as everyone watching this game at the Clink and on TV was about to witness.
On first down from the Hawks 23 yard line Manning tried a running play which was stuffed for a yard loss by Seattle’s veteran defensive lineman Kevin Williams. On the next play Manning tried to hit Demaryius Thomas on a crossing pattern and Richard Sherman played it perfectly, stripping the ball from the Denver receiver as he tried to pull it in. Then Seahawks lightning struck the Broncos. On third and eleven from the Seahawks 24 yard line Manning retreated to throw and tried to float a pass down the right seam to Denver receiver Wes Welker. Lurking in the ball’s path about 10 yards down field and unseen by Manning, was Seattle safety Kam Chancellor. As the ball was about to pass over him Chancellor made a perfectly timed jump, intercepted Manning’s pass, landed on his feet and started running in the opposite direction. He stopped running 52 yards later when he was downed at the Denver 35. Seattle now had great field position with just over 2 minutes to play. To most Hawks fans the game looked to be over.
But it wasn’t.
Playing conservatively, the Hawks kept the ball on the ground via Lynch and moved to the Denver 10 yard line before they stalled. To conserve the clock the Broncos used all 3 of their timeouts during this Seattle possession and with 1 minute and 4 seconds left in the game Steven Hauschka kicked a 28 yard field goal to give Seattle a 20-12 lead. With less than a minute to play after the kickoff and no timeouts to use, even Peyton Manning would not be able to move his team 80 yards to a score AND get the 2 point conversion—not against Seattle’s defense. Once again Hawks fans thought the game was over.
But once again—it wasn’t.
To pull this off Manning and the Broncos used a play they had probably been saving the whole game for just such a situation; and they used it twice in the game’s last minute. The play called for a wide receiver and a slot receiver to the left side. On the snap of the ball the wide receiver runs straight up the field taking the defensive back with him and after 20 yards or so the wide receiver breaks right toward the middle of the field. The defensive back, in this case Seattle’s Byron Maxwell, stays with the wide receiver thus vacating the area from the numbers out to the left sideline 20 yards down field. Meanwhile the slot receiver runs a shorter route, going about 5 yards down field before he cuts left toward the sideline and then breaks down field right into the area vacated by Maxwell. The first of these plays took place with 52 seconds left in the game with Demaryius Thomas split wide to the left and Emanuel Sanders, who had a great game for the Broncos (10 catches and over 100 yards receiving) in the slot. On this play Thomas went deep as described above and pulled Maxwell with him; while from the slot Sanders went up field, broke to his left and then broke down field right into the vacated zone. Maxwell desperately tried to get back to Sanders but was too late as the Broncos receiver hauled in a 42 yard strike from Manning.
The next time Manning used the play was on the scoring pass with seconds left on the clock. In this instance Thomas was again split to the left but Emanuel Sanders was on the right side. In his place in the left side slot was tight end Jacob Tamme. Again the play worked to perfection, with Maxwell following Thomas and Tamme running into the vacated zone to haul in the touchdown pass from Manning. When Manning then hit Damaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone for a 2 point conversion Hawks fans everywhere were in a state of shock. The Broncos had done something we did not think possible against our defense—going 80 yards to a game tying TD in less than a minute with no timeouts. Unbelievable! Seattle had dominated the Broncos for three quarters but due to Wilson’s mistakes, shoddy pass defense and the brilliance of Peyton Manning and the Denver play calling and execution in the 4th quarter, this contest was going to overtime.
According to the NFL’s rules regarding overtime the first team to score a touchdown wins. Should the team receiving the ball first drive down the field and kick a field goal then the other team gets a chance on offense. If that receiving team scores a touchdown, however, the game is over and that team wins. As hot as Peyton Manning was at the end of regulation, it would be way easier for the Seahawks to win this game if they could win the coin toss to determine who gets the ball first in the overtime period. Then they could just drive the length of the field, score a touchdown to end the game, and Peyton Manning would never touch the ball. Simple.
So, when Manning as the Broncos captain called heads and the coin came up tails, we twelves knew our team would have the ball first, and the first chance to win the game. Russell Wilson knew it too. As he gathered the offense around him to call the first play he delivered a message:
“This is what we live for fellas: championship moments,” Wilson said. “Let’s go out and embrace it.”
Wilson and the Seahawks then went out and did exactly that. Starting from their own 20 yard line the Wilson led Hawks went 80 yards in 13 plays, the last 6 yards coming on a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run—a play in which Seattle’s offensive line literally destroyed the Broncos interior defensive line, giving Lynch a huge hole to run through, and the Hawks a 26-20 victory. During the drive Wilson completed 4 of 6 passes and also rushed for 2 key first downs when his receivers were covered. There was no way he would let the Hawks lose this game. It was as if all the misfortune of the 4th quarter just melted away as Wilson exerted his will on the Broncos.
With the victory Seattle completes a 3 game stretch in which they faced three of the best quarterbacks in football: Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning. They emerge from that stretch with a 2-1 record, which considering the competition, is pretty good. Following this bye week the Hawks get back to work next Monday night on the road against the Washington Redskins and then will play every week for the next 13 weeks against the best the NFL has to offer.
Nobody said defending this Super Bowl title would be easy.
Copyright © 2014
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved
 JJ Watt is an All Pro defensive lineman for the Houston Texans, possibly the nest in the league.
 “the numbers”: on a football field the yard lines every 10 yards are indicated by numbers on the field, 10, 20, 30 and so on. These numbers are located closer to the sideline than the middle of the field. If a player is “outside the numbers” he is between the numbers and the sideline. If he is “inside the numbers” he is between the center of the field and the numbers.