Every week of the NFL season a few games go completely off-script. The Chargers will beat the Broncos in Denver; an AP-less Minnesota will put up 48 in a win over Philly; the Rams will bum-rush the Saints. These are the games people remember, and they’re the reason the NFL is the undisputed alpha dog among American sports leagues. But, of course, there are also the games that go almost exactly as predicted. These games aren’t so interesting to the general fan, but you need them to make the other games seem special by contrast. Plus, they are quite fun if your team is involved, and they’re the favorite.
Indeed, one of these games went down today in New Jersey, as the Seahawks, to the puzzlement of nobody, smacked down the New York Giants, 23-0. And it wasn’t just the result that was completely unsurprising. It was the also the way the result came about. It followed a script that could’ve been written by an amateur blogger in his basement.
On offense, the Seahawks had to fight for everything. They didn’t steamroll the Giants D, by any means. They scored points — if a competent NFL offense gets the ball enough times they’re going to score — but it was hardly a virtuoso performance. The Giants D-line did a decent job hounding and haranguing Russell Wilson, who missed more passes than I can remember in some time. He made a few no-other-quarterback-in-the-league-can-make-that-play plays*, because he’s still Russell Wilson, and I definitely wouldn’t say he had a bad game (he was the game’s leading rusher with 50 yards), but his scope was a bit askew today. Among other inaccurate throws, he missed Golden Tate early on a slant that could’ve been a big play, and his poor pass to a wide-open Zach Miller in the end zone cost the ‘Hawks four points.
Marshawn Lynch couldn’t bring out Beastmode today (save one beastly touchdown run), but he contributed as the team’s leading receiver (6-73). No complaints with Lynch, especially given the competition. The only really problem I had with the offense is the consistent punting in enemy territory. Coach Carroll called for punts on 4th-and-2 on the Giants’ 45, 4th-and-1 on the Giants’ 48, and 4th-and-5 on the Giants’ 48. That’s just bad, gutless coaching.** In a blowout, you can get away with it; in a close game in the playoffs, these suboptimal, fraidy-cat decisions could be the difference between moving on and being eliminated. I think it’s time for “Passive Pete” to start emulating “Riverboat Ron” on 4th down decisions.
On defense, well, as one can surmise from the score, it was a complete and utter ass-whupping. The Giants couldn’t do diddly-poo. They couldn’t run the ball a lick (25 yards on 14 attempts), and it felt like an interception was eminent every time Eli Manning dropped back. In actuality, the ‘Hawks “only” picked Eli five times (Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell each had two), but it seemed like 35. Eli’s grand total on the season is now 25 INTs, which is getting dangerously close to Bad Brett Favre range. A lot of those have to be on Manning, anyway you slice it, but his team certainly isn’t helping him out much. His offensive line is a turnstile; his running backs belong in the CFL; and his receivers act like they’re being attacked by a bear when he throws it up for grabs — they practically play dead. Contrast this with what Golden Tate or Jermaine Kearse do when Russell gives them a one-on-one shot (they catch it or commit assault on the defender trying), and it’s hard not to feel a bit — just the tiniest bit — bad for Lil’ Eli. His biggest weapon today was the hard-count.***
So the ‘Hawks win big and nearly clinch the division and the number one seed. They aren’t there yet, but they’re about as close to clinching as you can possibly get without actually doing it. If the Seahawks’ march to home field advantage is a vapid ’80s comedy about a teenager trying to lose his virginity, then we just saw the scene where the main character is just about to seal the deal, before having to climb out his girlfriend’s window naked because her dad came home unexpectedly.**** The big moment is on the reel; we just have to watch the movie a little bit longer.
*Wilson has to be the league leader in “What? There’s a receiver there. I thought he was throwing that ball away.” completions.
**To be fair, Carroll was going to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1 at one point, before a false start penalty forced his hand in bringing out Steven Hauschka.
***Manning baited the ‘Hawks to jump offside at least twice. Sloppiness that, like the chicken-sh*t 4th down calls, might matter in a closer game.
****Of course they would do the obligatory bit where the square old-lady neighbor who is out watering her flowers stares at him agape as he climbs out the window (causing her hose to miss the flowers and water the walkway next to them). He’d nonchalantly say, “Good day, ma’am” and run down the street covering his junk.