Note: Last year when I was doing research on the history of the “Bank for International Settlements,” I ran across the remarkable and heroic story of a man named Raoul Wallenberg, who virtually single handedly led a mission that saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from certain death in the Nazi concentration camps toward […]Read the Rest →
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 team. Then came last week’s 24-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles; the team most NFL pundits were anointing as the NFC’s best due to their 10-1 record and the stellar play of their young quarterback Carson Wentz. In what has to be Seattle’s best game this season, the defense, even without their injured stars, was able to control Wentz and the Eagles offense; while Russell Wilson simply destroyed the Philadelphia defense with an incredible array of scrambles and throws—and even a well-timed lateral for good measure. It was quite simply an amazing game to watch, and it got me inspired. Could we be in for another great Seahawks end of season and playoff run? It’s tantalizing to contemplate. At any rate, here are my observations on last weekend’s win, plus a look ahead to tomorrow’s big game against the Jaguars…MA
Going into last Sunday’s game against the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles it was obvious that our Seattle Seahawks 2017 season had arrived at a make-break point. The team had managed a 7-4 record despite the rash of devastating injuries on defense, and the well-documented offensive line and running game problems on offense. They sat one game behind the rejuvenated LA Rams in the NFC West and a full 3 games behind the 10-1 Eagles in the race for best record in the Conference and home field advantage through the playoffs. Word amongst all the ESPNers and Fox Sports pundits was that the Hawks, despite the continued brilliance of Russell Wilson, are not the team they used to be, and one and all were predicting an Eagles win. Indeed, Philadelphia was coming in to CenturyLink Field as a 6 point favorite; something which, until this season, would have been sacrilege during the Pete Carroll era. As well, the Hawks had lost their last two home games (against the Redskins and Falcons) and it seemed their once vaunted home-field advantage was slipping. Overall, there were many reasons to think that Seattle’s consecutive season playoff run could be coming to an end.
But, for some reason, as game time approached last Sunday I had a premonition. I sensed that the Seahawks would bring their “A” game and play like champions against the Eagles. A couple of hours before kickoff I even posted on social media that I thought this would be the case. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
Russell Wilson and company took it to the Eagles right from the start, scoring a field goal on their first possession and taking a 10-0 lead by the end of the first quarter on an 11 yard Wilson scoring pass to Jimmy Graham. The Eagles got a 2nd quarter field goal to make it 10-3 at the half, and then took the opening kick-off of the 2nd half and drove right down the field to a 1st and goal at Seattle’s 4 yard line. At that point it looked like the Eagles had come to life and that the media pundits were possibly right in their assessment of this game.
But then, shockingly and suddenly, with 9:46 left in the 3rd quarter, the game turned…
After a running play lost 2 yards, Carson Wentz brought the Eagles to the line of scrimmage for a 2nd and goal play at the Seattle 6 yard line. From the shotgun the Eagles quarterback took the center snap, faked a handoff to running back LeGarrette Blount crossing right to left in front of him, and took off through a hole that had opened in the center of Seattle’s defense. As he crossed the 4 yard line he was tripped from behind by Seattle’s Frank Clark and started to fall forward toward the goal line. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas then crashed into Wentz from the quarterback’s right, and a split second later Seattle defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson made the play that changed the course of this game, and perhaps Seattle’s season. With Wentz carrying the ball in his left arm while lunging toward the goal line, Richardson, who was to the left of Wentz, pivoted off the player blocking him, reached down to the Eagles quarterback and literally ripped the ball from Wentz’s grasp. As stunned “Twelves” everywhere watched, the ball then bounced crazily through and out the back of the end zone for a touchback, at once thwarting the Eagle’s scoring opportunity, while giving Seattle the ball at its own 20 yard line.
Sometimes, in football, it’s hard to believe one’s eyes; and such was the case with Richardson’s remarkable play. That he could free himself from the player blocking him and have the presence of mind to do what he did, when he did it, is…well…simply incredible. His play will take its place in Seahawks lore, right along side three similar plays, two by Earl Thomas against the Rams (one of which was earlier this season) and one a couple years ago by Kam Chancellor against the Detroit Lions. All four plays saved touchdowns and resulted in touchbacks, thus turning the ball over to the Hawks. I don’t recall what happened with Seattle’s possessions following those earlier touchdown saving touchbacks, but this time Russell Wilson and the offense took full advantage of the gift.
Starting from Seattle’s own 20 yard line Wilson took 9 plays to move his team to a 3rd and 10 situation at the Eagles 48. The stage was now set for another unbelievable moment. As the Seahawks quarterback brought his team to the line of scrimmage for that 3rd down play, upon seeing the Eagles defensive alignment he must have licked his chops; for Philadelphia had chosen for this play an all out, “Casino”  blitz formation, with 7 players on or close to the line of scrimmage. That meant the Eagles would be in “Cover Zero” (meaning no safety help in the middle of the field) and man to man coverage on Seattle’s receivers. (You may recall a similar play against the Packers in the NFC Championship a few years back, in which Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for the game winning TD.) Whatever play had been called, upon seeing the Eagles defense, Wilson quickly used hand signals to change it to take full advantage of the situation.
It is amazing to me how open Doug Baldwin gets at times. In that regard he reminds me so much of two all time great receivers: Seattle’s own Steve Largent, and Raymond Berry ; who both, while not particularly fast, ran great routes and got great separation. Baldwin is cut from the same mold. On this 3rd and 10 play he was covered one on one by Eagles safety Rodney McLeod, and it was a mismatch. Lined up in the left slot, with the snap of the ball the Seahawks receiver immediately took off straight up the field, gave McLeod a little head and shoulder fake to the inside, then broke outside on a diagonal to the end zone, and was wide open. All Wilson had to do was loft the pass out in front of Baldwin and let him run under it. The completion carried 47 yards to the Eagles one yard line, igniting an amazing roar from the “Twelves” at “The Clink” in the process. Seattle scored 2 plays later on a one yard Wilson pass to Tyler Lockett to take a two touchdown lead on the Eagles they would never surrender.
Because it was so Wilson-esque, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge one other great play by the Seahawks quarterback in this game. The play took place with 10:06 left in the 4th quarter and with the Seahawks facing a 3rd and 9 situation at their own 41 yard line. The Eagles had scored a touchdown on their prior possession to close the score to 17-10. If they could stop Seattle now they could get the ball back with a chance to tie the game. From the shotgun Wilson called the signals, took the snap and briefly looked to throw; but suddenly a huge hole opened in the center of the Eagles line, and the Seahawks quarterback took off through it. Trailing the play, a couple yards to Wilson’s right, was Hawks running back Mike Davis, who was following Russell down the field about a yard or two behind him. About 4 yards short of the first down the ever-aware Wilson sensed he could not make the sticks, and so lateralled the ball to his right to Davis, who then took off down field for another 15 yards and a 1st down.
It was an incredible play to watch, pulled off by an incredible football player—Russell Wilson. Both NBC announcers, Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels, spent the next few minutes debating whether Wilson’s lateral actually went forward and so was illegal, finally concluding that it did and therefore was. The ruling on the field, however, was that the lateral was a legal play; and so to change the call the Eagles would have to challenge it; which, having already lost a challenge earlier in the half (and therefore a valuable time out), they chose not to do. I watched the play over and over and it sure looks to me like Russell pitched the ball slightly backwards, even though Davis hauled it in about a half yard beyond the point that Wilson pitched it. The whole situation was rendered moot when the Eagles didn’t challenge and the Seahawks went on to salt the game away with another Wilson scoring throw to JD McKissic.
Though the issue was resolved on the field, the controversy over whether Wilson’s lateral was forward or not remained as a discussion point in the various NFL shows on TV.
Did the refs make a mistake?
Should the Eagles have challenged?
Leave it to Pete Carroll to come up with the solution. Pete, who seems to know pretty much everyone, placed a call to an acquaintance of his, the internationally renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and asked for his help in resolving the matter. Tyson studied the play and then described what happened as a “legit ‘Gallilean Transformation.’ In their reference frame the ball went backwards. It’s not their fault they ran faster than the ball.”
Not sure what Tyson is saying there, but it kind of makes sense to me. The ball definitely looked like it traveled backwards out of Wilson’s hand as he let it go.
In the end, though, none of this physics-lateral stuff matters. What does matter is that Seattle won this game when everything except the “Twelves” was stacked against them. They delivered their best game of the season when it really counted; and they once again are tantalizing us with amazing possibilities. To make those possibilities realities the team will have to keep playing like this, starting with this Sunday’s game against the surprising Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars, with the league’s number one defense, will be very tough to beat. They lead the league in sacks; they lead the league in passing yardage allowed; and they lead the league in scoring defense.
To win, the Hawks definitely have their work cut out for them. Once again, they will have to play like champions.
I think so…As Russell Wilson says, “It’s December, and it’s time to be great.”
And…I’m getting a premonition…
Copyright © 2017
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved
 “Casino” blitz is so called because the defense is gambling it will get to the quarterback before the quarterback can make a play.
 Raymond Berry is a Hall of Fame receiver who played for the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s through the mid ‘60s. During those years he was the favorite receiver of all-time great quarterback Johnny Unitas.