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 →
It has been said by some philosophers, physicists and students of this universe we all inhabit, that the primary manifestation of time is change. Apparently this universe does not admit of a static state—in other words nothing is staying the same, but is always changing. Even when it appears to be staying the same, it is really either expanding, however minutely, or diminishing, however slightly. Lately, in the instance of the San Francisco 49ers, it is obvious which of these applies. There is nothing subtle about the decline we are witnessing in this team. For Pete Carroll, the Seahawks and us “twelves”, this is a bittersweet situation. Carroll’s philosophy of football and life is utterly dependent upon competition. To him the opponent is not the enemy, but the person or team that inspires him and his team to peak performance; and for the Seahawks no team or coach has done this better than Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers. That is why earlier this week, in talking to Fox broadcaster Troy Aikman, Carroll said, “Hey, Jim Harbaugh has made the Seahawks a better team.” He also called Harbaugh a “stud,” a “great competitor,” “and a “fantastic football coach.” From his words you know that Carroll is acutely aware of the impossible situation Harbaugh is in with the dysfunctional 49ers front office, and he wishes it wasn’t that way.
So do I and many “twelves.” We treasure the great moments and thrilling plays these two teams have provided us. I will never forget last year’s NFC Championship game as long as I live; and it was the competition and the toughness of the 49ers, and the Seahawks response, that made that game great. The Seahawks had to reach deep for the greatness within to defeat Harbaugh’s team that day. It was a very tough game to win, and it calls to mind Tom Hanks’ great quote from the movie “A League of Their Own,” when his best player decides to leave the team on the cusp of the playoffs because, “it just got too hard.” On hearing this Hanks looks her square in the eye and says, “It’s supposed to be hard—it’s the ‘hard’ that makes it great!” Both Carroll and Harbaugh know this, and for all the supposed animosity between them and between their teams, they appreciate and respect that about each other.
All of that said, the football field is no place for sentimentality. The Hawks are on a mission to repeat as Super Bowl Champions and on this particular Sunday at “The Clink” the 49ers were in the way. To have a shot at again claiming the NFC West Championship, as well as home field advantage through the playoffs, Seattle had to beat San Francisco. They managed to do this by a score of 17-7, but once again, it wasn’t easy. I was able to attend this game in person with a friend, and watched as the 49ers in the first half did what no team has been able to do over the last 4 weeks—and that is run the ball on the Seahawks. By late in the 2nd quarter San Francisco had accumulated not only a 7-3 lead, but also over 100 yards rushing as a team; more than any of Seattle’s last 4 opponents had rushed for in a whole game. The 9ers offensive line was firing off the ball and opening big holes for running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to run through; and quarterback Colin Kaepernik also was looking for, and finding, some room to run, something he didn’t do when the Hawks faced him in San Francisco on Thanksgiving. In addition Harbaugh had the 49ers running a very up tempo, almost no huddle offense, which took Seattle by surprise it seemed; and which imparted a great rhythm to their offense. To be blunt, they were taking it to the Seahawks and almost pulled off a play right at the end of the half that would have put Seattle in a deep hole.
With two minutes to go in the half, and after a long 49ers drive, the Seahawks finally held and forced a punt; taking possession of the ball at their own 15 yard line. From there Russell Wilson got the offense moving with a mixture of runs and passes, including a beautiful 35 yard pass to Doug Baldwin; finally arriving at the 49ers 29 yard line with no timeouts and 8 seconds left on the clock. At that point prudence dictated a field goal attempt, but Carroll and Wilson wanted to take one more shot at the end zone, figuring they could do it and still have time for the FG if the pass was incomplete. My friend and I had our seats on about the 30 yard line in the lower deck toward the stadium’s south end, the direction the Seahawks were driving; and the next play took place right in front of us. From the shotgun Wilson took the snap, retreated to throw, and then stepped into a bullet pass intended for Doug Baldwin on about the 6 yard line. Baldwin was open, but Wilson put too much arm into the throw; the ball sailing over Baldwin’s head and right into the arms of 49ers safety Eric Reid. Reid made the pick on about the three yard line and we watched with increasing alarm as he returned the ball in the opposite direction, evading tacklers and picking up blockers as he went. He crossed the 50 yard line and was streaking down the opposite side line with blockers in front—my Gawd—could this be possible? He just might score, and that would be devastating.
There was no way Russell Wilson would allow that. By now Reid was at the other end of the field on its opposite side and we could not see what was happening. It wasn’t until I made it home and watched a recording of the game that I was able to see the incredible play Wilson made to stop Reid from scoring. The 49ers safety had 3 blockers in front of him when Wilson caught up with him on about the Hawks 40 yard line and tried to fight his way through the blockers to make the tackle. One of the blockers was Chris Borland, the 49ers rookie linebacker who was Wilson’s teammate when they both were in college at Wisconsin. At about the 35 yard line Wilson gave Borland a solid hit which sent him sprawling, directly across Reid’s path, and injuring the linebacker in the process. With the clock now expired, Reid had to slow down to avoid Wilson and Borland which allowed other Seahawks to come up and make the tackle. While Wilson’s interception took points off the board for the Seahawks, he stayed in the moment and made the play at the other end of the field which prevented Reid’s pick from becoming devastating. Leave it to Russell to first “screw the pooch” and then redeem himself in the same play—just one more thing that makes the guy so great!
In the 2nd half the Hawks defense made some adjustments and returned to form, shutting down the 49ers running game and holding them to something like 68 yards for the half. Meanwhile the Hawks got Marshawn Lynch involved and it was the Hawks offensive line’s turn to fire off the ball. The Seattle running back finished with 91 rushing yards and 1 TD. Seattle got another score on a 10 yard Wilson pass to rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson (the first TD reception of his career) and the defense held San Fran scoreless over the last 30 minutes to make the 17 to 7 final count. The loss knocked the 49ers from playoff contention and all but guaranteed the end of the Harbaugh era in San Francisco. There will be other rivalries developing for the Seahawks in the future, and other teams that will play Seattle tough, but I don’t think we will see anything like this Harbaugh-49ers rivalry for a while. As far as I am concerned it’s too bad.
Now the Seahawks turn their attention to a date in the desert with the Arizona Cardinals and their dominant defense. Four weeks ago the Hawks had a 6-4 record with an impossibly tough stretch of 6 games coming up to end the season, 5 of which were against NFC West foes. Seattle has performed brilliantly in winning the first 4 of those games. Russell Wilson and the offense are doing enough to win and the Hawks defense is playing at historic levels in terms of points and yards allowed. Seattle’s pass rush is revitalized and humming on all cylinders, linebacker Bobby Wagner has been a monster in the middle and the Legion of Boom has been blanketing receivers. With Arizona being forced to start 3rd stringer Ryan Lindley at quarterback it is difficult to see how the Cardinals can win this game. Lindley was under center for them when Seattle beat them 58-0 in 2012. He has a 1-3 record as a starter in the NFL and has a grand total of 0 TD passes in something like 180 passing attempts. Those stats do not strike fear into Seahawks hearts.
That said, Arizona’s defense is excellent and their pass rush can be terrifying, as Russell Wilson found out when he was sacked 7 times by the Cardinals a few weeks ago at “The Clink”. Wilson and the offense will need to play errorless ball with no turnovers, but I see the Hawks defense dominating this game, scoring at least one defensive TD in a Seattle victory by something like a 20-10 score.
There you have it Hawks fans. To continue their run to a 2nd consecutive Super Bowl Championship, something that has not been done since the New England Patriots a decade ago, Seattle needs to win this game against the Cardinals on Sunday. If they do, they will have the inside track to home field advantage through the playoffs, just like last year.
The laws of the universe notwithstanding, I think they’ll do it.
Copyright © 2014
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved