It's the NFC Championship Game. The Seahawks trail by two in the 4th quarter, but a great punt return by Golden Tate sets them up deep in New Orleans territory. A field goal would give Seattle the lead, but a touchdown would force Drew Brees to reach Seattle's end zone in order to win the game. Would our offense put seven on the board?
It's the Super Bowl. The Seahawks are clinging to a one-point lead over Peyton Manning and the Broncos late in the 4th quarter. Would Seattle's top-ranked defense rise to the challenge and secure a World Championship?
Did the Seahawks play well in San Francisco yesterday? Of course. Did the officials give the Niners a substantial boost? Obviously. Was this a far less important game for the Seahawks than it was for the 49ers? Totally. Twelves shouldn't gnash their teeth over this loss, but situations like the ones our boys faced yesterday are going to happen again in the playoffs. Did the Seahawks pass those tests? Sadly, they didn't.
Seattle is still (rightfully) a prohibitive favorite to secure the NFC's number one seed, and then represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII. Unfortunately, our march towards hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 2nd won't be filled with low-stress 34-7 Seahawk blowouts. There will white-knuckle, nauseous moments where our boys will have make a big play against elite opposition to survive. Yesterday's game doesn't mean they WILL fail when those moments arise, but it does show us that Seattle will have to play at the peak of their abilities to become Champions. Yesterday, even though they played well, it wasn't good enough against a motivated opponent, on the road, and up against less-than-impartial officials.
That sounds EXACTLY like the environment we're likely to face in XLVIII, doesn't it?
Up until that final San Francisco possession, the Seahawks slightly outplayed San Francisco, and it looked like they'd be rewarded with a hard-won 17-16 victory. Then two plays and a fairly inexplicable strategic decision kept San Francisco's slim hopes for another NFC West crown alive. First, after holding Frank Gore to a relatively quiet 60 yards rushing, the Hawks' normally stout defense broke down and allowed him to gallop 51 yards into field goal range. I'm sure I wasn't the only Twelve who immediately had flashbacks to Gore's gashing and slashing of the much weaker Seattle defenses of 2007-2010 vintage.
Even then, if the Hawks defense held on a crucial 3rd-and-7 later in the drive, Russell Wilson would have been left with plenty of time to whip the offense down the field into Steven Hauschka's range. For the only time all day, the defense allowed The Detestable Colin Kaepernick to make a truly important play: On a designed run, The Detestable Colin Kaepernick slithered through our defenders for 8 yards and a first down that allowed them to run out almost all of the time left on the clock before Phil Dawson's go-ahead kick.
The final Seattle breakdown was strategic. After that Kaepernick run, the smart play would have been to concede a touchdown immediately. Seattle would have gotten the ball back down by 5-7 points, and with ample time to answer the SF touchdown. I heard plenty of people on twitter talking about forcing a turnover, or Red Bryant blocking the field goal, or that conceding a touchdown "just wasn't in our DNA." Bullroar. Just think about it: Which of the following probabilities is highest:
A) Forcing a fumble. B) Blocking a 22-yard field goal attempt. C) Driving 80 yards in two minutes for a touchdown.
If you picked A or B, you're doing it wrong. In similar situations, Mike Holmgren and Bill Belichick have "wussed out" and conceded scores, and they're aren't exactly coaching dunces. Hopefully we won't be in another situation like that this season, but if we are I hope Pete Carroll handles it differently.
Even though Russell Wilson outplayed Kaepernick, it wasn't his finest hour. He simply missed on a couple of big throws, and his pedestrian 81.6 passer rating should silence all the "Wilson for MVP" talk for the moment (admittedly, I was pushing that angle HARD after his otherworldly performance against the Saints). Golden Tate was Seattle's standout performer against the Niners- He caught 6 passes for 65 yards, and contributed a 38-yard punt return that put the Hawks in position to score a soul-crushing 4th quarter TD. Unfortunately, Seattle's offense fizzled short of the San Francisco goal line.
Thankfully, even after yesterday's frustrating loss, the news is almost all good for the denizens of the VMAC today. The Seahawks simply need to win two of their last three contests (@ NYG, v AZ, v STL) to secure home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. When those playoffs begin, Seattle is likely to have access to the services of Percy Harvin, Walter Thurmond III, and perhaps even Brandon Browner. It will still be a nearly impossible task for an enemy team to venture into Seahawks Stadium and leave victorious.
I expect this Seahawks team to finish with a franchise-best 14-2 regular season record. I expect them to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII. I expect them to be World Champions. But for that to happen, they'll need to pass the same kinds of tests they failed in that Candlestick Point toilet yesterday. They are hungry enough, talented enough, and tough enough to pull it off.
"Disarm the settlers The new drunk drivers Have hoisted the flag We are with you in your anger Proud brothers Do not fret The bus will get you there yet" - Guided By Voices, A Salty Salute
This Sunday's game in San Francisco has turned out to be much more important to the 49ers than the Seahawks. The Niners are still in some danger of missing the playoffs entirely, and they are absolutely desperate to show that the team that lost their last two meetings with Seattle by a aggregate score of 71-16 wasn't the "real" 49ers. Their panic is evident in the helpful email the front office sent out to SF season ticket holders instructing them how to give their team home field advantage (Wait... I thought Niners fans held a deep conviction that crowd noise was unsportsmanlike).
The Seahawks only need to win two out of their last four games to secure the #1 NFC seed and home field advantage through the playoffs. This isn't a game Seattle NEEDS to win. At all. Even if SF drops a 50-0 shutout on us this Sunday, they'd still need to win a game at Seahawks Stadium to reach another Super Bowl, and they've shown NO indication that is a challenge they can handle.
Despite this asymmetrical motivation, the Seahawks will win Sunday, in part because they are simply a more talented team. More importantly, Seattle is the mentally tougher team and they hold a distinct psychological advantage over their Northern California rivals. In a close game in the 4th quarter, who would you rather have as your quarterback? Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick? If you pick a certain bicep self-lover, I'd wager heavily that you're wearing red and gold right now.
A Seattle win this Sunday would clinch the franchise's 6th NFC West Championship since joining the division in 2002. Since realignment, this division has been Seattle's property, with the Niners only winning the division 3 times ('02, '11, '12), the Cardinals winning it twice ('08, '09) and the Rams winning it once ('03). No divisional foe can match Seattle's level of overall success since realignment either, and it certainly appears that the dawn of a new era of Seahawk dominance is imminent.
This is where Niners fans screech about their five Super Bowl trophies, right? Well, they won the last of those titles in January 1995. If that Lombardi Trophy was a person, it would be old enough to vote by now. That glorious history gets more faded and yellowed with each passing year, doesn't it? Look at it this way: If the Hawks win XLVIII and Twelves are still bragging about it and using it to lord over rival fans in January 2033, that would be supremely douchetacular, right? Even President Chelsea Clinton would probably be appalled by such behavior.
As I've said before- The Niners and their drunken acolytes can have the past. We'll take the future AND the present. You should have won that sixth ring last year, because your window has slammed shut until Russell Wilson retires to focus on fighting crime and curing cancer. Just for fun, here's the latest iteration of our Top 10 wins over the 49ers:
10. September 26, 2004: Seahawks 34, 49ers 0 Ahh, the good old days of just straight-up beating the shit out of awful Niners teams. The Seahawks forced four SF turnovers, Shaun Alexander scored thrice, and San Francisco was shut out for the first time since 1977.
9. December 21, 1997: Seahawks 38, Niners 9 The Niners came in with the NFC's #1 seed locked up, and treated this like a glorified preseason game. Despite that, this was still a rousing win. Warren Moon wrapped up his spectacular 1997 Pro Bowl season with four TD passes, including two to Joey Galloway. 1997 was my first season as a Seahawks season ticket holder, so that game has an added bit of personal significance...
8. November 20, 2005: Seahawks 27 @ Niners 25 This was one of the shakiest performances of Seattle's 2005 NFC Championship season, but it showed the Hawks' ability to pull out a victory even when they weren't playing their best football. The Seahawks had a 27-12 lead going into the 4th, but they allowed Ken Dorsey (Wait... What?) to rally the 49ers to within a 2-point conversion in the final seconds. But this was 2005, NOT 2003 or 2004- This lead wouldn't get blown. Under pressure Dorsey's pass fell harmlessly to the turf and Seattle's sprint to XL continued unabated.
7. October 12, 2003: @ Seahawks 20, Niners 19 This was a big early-season ESPN Sunday Night test for the 2003 Seahawks. Even though the Hawks came in 3-1 and SF was 2-3, the Niners were defending division champs and just a year earlier T.O. had humiliated Seattle on MNF with his Sharpie stunt. The boys in blue ran out to a 17-0 lead, which evaporated into a 19-17 4th-quarter deficit. The Twelve Army watched anxiously as Josh Brown booted Seattle to a 20-19 lead with five minutes left, which was immediately followed by a Frisco march down the field.
Thankfully Chad Brown forced a Garrison Hearst fumble in the final minutes, and the Seahawks' march towards the 2003 playoffs continued.
6. September 30, 2007: Seahawks 23 @ Niners 3 Remember a few years ago, when the national football press seemed to insist every fall that the glorious revival of the 49ers was jusssssst around the corner? Early in the 2007 season, a trip to Candlestick was supposed to be the changing of the guard. Then this happened:
Yup, I have no problem reveling in the memory of Rocky Bernard smashing Alex Smith's shoulder into meat-flavored goop. I'd love to see Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril do likewise to Colin Kapernick.
5. December 6, 2009: Seahawks 20, Niners 17 The Niners arrived at Seahawks Stadium needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive against the (frankly pathetic) MoraHawks. Though 2009 was an unmitigated clusterfuck, this was a spectacularly satisfying win... As I wrote in this space back then:
Let me say this clearly: Fuck the Niners. Fuck 'em. For all the bluster and chest-beating and media slobbering over them, these Niners haven't accomplished DICK yet. Nothing. Zilch. 2009 will be ANOTHER season that will end with them in their usual place: sitting at home, watching the playoffs. Once again, with feeling: FUCK the Niners.
All week all we heard about was how Coach Bug Eyes and the big, mean 49ers were going to come into Seattle, pistol whip our players, pillage Pioneer Square and generally lay waste to all things Seahawks. Mr. Commercial Star Mike Singletary would motivate his talented minions to subjugate our poor, defenseless Seahawks on their way to reclaiming what the media sees as the SF birthright: the NFC West title.
The Seahawks decided not to play the victim in this perfectly composed narrative. Of course, it helped that Singletary passed up 3 sure points by arrogantly going for it on 4th and goal early in the game. It also helped that the over-rated Frank Gore killed a Niners scoring drive in the 4th by coughing up the ball, and that Michael Crabtree was scared shitless by a charging Lawyer Milloy on what could have been SF's winning TD in the waning minutes.
It was rapturously awesome to see the Seahawks not just beat the 49ers, but physically punish and abuse them. Alex Smith was never going to be the next Montana or Young, but today we saw him just as lost and helpless as he was in 2007. The only difference between today and that game at the Stick three years ago was that Smith's shoulder survived. When was the last time the Hawks delivered such a cathartic win? Such a statement that not only would Seattle win the day, but that the future belonged to us too? Simultaneously, our hated rivals tumbled back into Limbo, into the dreary knowledge that the glorious Niner restoration STILL isn't happening. In the words of R.E.M., The Future Never Happened.
There's already a lot of Seahawks fans trying to downplay this win. Fuck that. I predicted that the Seahawks would win the NFC West, and now I GUARANTEE they will... You, my friends, will have a home playoff game to watch in January. I will be at Qwest screaming until my soul spills out, and Mike Singletary and his Niners will be at home, watching on television. And indeed, my prophecies of 2010 came to pass...
3. December 27, 2003: Seahawks 24 @ Niners 17 The Seahawks went to Candlestick Park for a Saturday afternoon game just after Xmas, needing a win and some help the following day to qualify for the postseason for only the 2nd time since 1988. Seattle entered the game at 9-6, but sported a pathetic 1-6 road record coming into the game. Niners coach Dennis Erickson was hoping for a win to finish the season 8-8 (which was a habit he picked up back in Seattle during the 1990s), and to exact vengeance upon his old employers and the coach who replaced him in Seattle.
The Hawks quickly fell behind 14-0, and lamentations of "same old Seahawks" rang out across the land like church bells. Another winning but playoff-free season loomed.. It was '78, '79, '86, and '90 allll over again... but the Seahawks clawed and gouged back into the game, and then something amazing happened late in the 3rd:
Matt Hasselbeck threw a PERFECT pass to Koren Robinson in the back of the end zone... and K-rob (for once) HELD ONTO IT and got both feet in bounds. 21-17 Seahawks. Josh Brown extended the lead to 7, and Shaun Alexander ate up most of the 4th quarter on the ground. The D stopped a last-gasp Niners drive, and Seattle triumphed in a game very few expected them to win.
Colin Kaepernick, darling of the national press, anointed for greatness by Jaworski, had ANOTHER atrocious evening at Seahawks Stadium, leaving him without excuses to lavish kisses upon his biceps. Frank Gore, who once provided a steady stream of nightmare fuel to faithful Twelves, was rendered irrelevant. Anquan Boldin, who ran through Green Bay defenders last week as if they were dandelions sprouting from the Candlestick Park turf, had one catch for seven yards... in garbage time. Seattle forced five Niner turnovers, and the defending NFC Champs started losing their cool in a manner not seen since the darkest days of Mike Singletary's reign. Against the rest of the NFL, they look like Champions. Against us? They're just a collection of posturing chumps. Marshawn Lynch has become the eater of Forty-Niner souls. He BARELY (by 2 yards) missed out on another 100-yard rushing day against SF, but his three TDs (and spectacular trolling of the Niners after TD #2) earned him offensive MVP honors in my book. Richard Sherman deserves special recognition for erasing Boldin, hauling in an interception, and even lowering the boom on a hapless SF wideout with a perfect, explosive tackle late in the game. Walter Thurmond III, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett also stood out, but it took a total team effort to snuff out one of the NFL's elite offensive attacks.
1. December 23, 2012: Seahawks 42, Niners 13 This game was our announcement to the football world: The Seahawks have arrived, and they are going to lay waste to the NFL. After the Hawks had already run out to a 14-0 lead, Kam Chancellor DESTROYED Vernon Davis with a clean (but unfairly flagged) hit. The Niners were in range for an easy field goal that would cut Seattle's lead to 11, but Red Bryant and Richard Sherman had other plans. Big Red blocked the kick, and Sherm scooped and scored. Seahawks Stadium was delirious and deafening, and the rout was ON.
Russell Wilson threw four TD passes (two to Doug Baldwin), and Marshawn Lynch gashed the Niners vaunted defense for 130 yards and two TDs. Seattle defense ERASED Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore, and 67,000 (or so) Twelves went home happy and hopeful.
I have a feeling that we have two victories left this season that will end up HIGH on the 2014 version of this list, don't you?
Seattle sports fans are accustomed to heartbreak and pain. As a sports town Seattle is a more picturesque Cleveland or Buffalo, experiencing more mediocrity and downright torment than ANY fanbase could be expected to endure. They've seen World Championships wrestled away via incompetent officiating. They've seen MULTIPLE ownership groups pilot their franchises into hopeless, non-competitive despair. They've seen a beloved franchise with a storied history bolt for the middle of Red State Nowhere, with a huge assist from the league's commissioner. Seattle fans have plenty of reasons to think that the game is rigged against their teams, and they'd have plenty of excuses to withdraw in disgust... But they don't. If a Seattle team is merely competitive, if they simply give fans some HOPE, they're rewarded with the most rabid support one could possibly imagine.
Seattle fans, your reward for all those decades of perseverance is here. That reward is the 2013 Seattle Seahawks.
I can already hear the cries of "Don't jinx it!" I can feel people recalling other Seattle teams that reached the brink of championships (the 2005 Seahawks... the 1996 Sonics), or those who had great regular seasons only to unexpectedly fail in the playoffs (the 2001 Mariners, the 1994 Sonics). As Mom said once, "Jam a bastard in it, you crap!" These Seahawks are different. There's nothing gimmicky or fluky about them. They are simply BETTER than every other team in the NFL. They are stronger, faster, smarter, and meaner than any team they're going to face this season. They're our '85 Bears... Our '89 Niners... Our '92 Cowboys... Our '03 Patriots.
They're going to win the Super Bowl, and they JUST MIGHT also go down as one of the greatest teams in NFL history. There, I said it. I've said plenty of stuff on this blog that made me look like a boob later on (COUGH... Wilson shouldn't start... COUGH), but I have zero fear of that statement boomeranging on me later. These Hawks are that fucking good.
How good? So good that the defense held future Hall of Famer Drew Brees to 147 irrelevant yards passing, and one of the NFL's most potent offenses to seven meager points. So good that the offense blasted through the Saints' 5th-ranked defense like they were 11 black and gold pinatas. So good that people are going to have to recognize that the rightful NFL MVP is our sub-6-foot, 3rd round quarterback.
No quarterback in the league is playing better than Russell Carrington Wilson right now (Nope, not even Peyton Manning). In a duel with his idol, Wilson didn't just win decisively. This was a Mortal Kombat-style Fatality/Perfect Victory. The only thing Wilson didn't do (he just threw for 310 yards, 3 TDs, had a 139. 6 passer rating, and led the team in rushing) was rip out Brees' spine and smack his corpse around with it. The WolfBadger was in total command, and unlike RGIII/Kaepernick/Luck, he keeps getting better every week. There's NO player in the league I'd trade Wilson for under any circumstances, and if he does indeed lead us to a XLVIII win, he'd have to be anointed as the greatest QB in Seahawks history... after 32 regular season games. That's how amazing DangeRuss is, kids.
Obviously, Wilson is surrounded by talent. Seattle has so much talent that they can be missing multiple key starters and still dominate the 2nd best team in the NFC. If the only info you got was from ESPN, you KNEW the absence of Harvin, Browner and Thurmond was going to doom the Seahawks last night. Twelves knew better, and sure enough Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Zach Miller didn't just compensate for that missing talent- They rampaged. They marauded. They KILLED.
Seattle's defense should terrify every offense coordinator and quarterback in the league. Earl Thomas is the Defensive Player of The Year, Richard Sherman is the league's best corner, and the front seven has become a whirling cyclone of fury destroying anything and everything in their way. How can Peyton Manning or Tom Brady look at film from last night and have any reaction other than "fuuuuuuuuuck?"
Oh, what's that? Brady or Manning won't have to play the Seahawks in Seattle, and the home crowd gives the Hawks their mutant powers? Yeah, it's true that us Twelves help make it nearly impossible for visiting teams to leave Seattle victorious. It's also true that home field advantage will give the Seahawks a clear path to New Jersey next February. The awful truth for the rest of the league is that on a neutral field (particularly one where weather might be a factor) Seattle is STILL going to be the better team. The Hawks are 9-1 in prime-time games under Pete Carroll, and there will be no time more prime than XLVIII.
Your Seahawks are the best team in football, and might just be HISTORICALLY great. Revel in this glory, Twelves! Two more wins = the #1 NFC seed. Two more wins means I'll be there at Seahawks Stadium for the NFC Championship Game. I'll be there with y'all to send our boys off to MetLife Stadium and the greatest moment in Seattle sports history.