Cigar Thoughts, Game 15: Zombie Seahawks eat Cowboys’ brains, keep playoff hopes undead

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The Seattle Seahawks leaned on a dominant defensive performance to eliminate the Dallas Cowboys and breathe life into their postseason hopes.

The 2017 Seattle Seahawks were pronounced dead on arrival after a humiliating home blowout against the Rams last week. And why not, they were beaten like a cartel turncoat in every phase of the game by a young team that had seized the division crown right from their grasp. Fans and media, local and national alike, spent the week shoveling dirt on their corpse and arguing over who was gonna get which parts of their estate. And it made sense; the 35-point loss last week was not only embarrassing on every level, it meant the playoffs started early for Seattle this year, as this matchup became a de facto elimination game for both teams.

And yet, seven days and a thousand eulogies later, that winter-hardened lump of dirt in the cemetery started to move. The flowers, laid upon the grave by everyone with a microphone or a Twitter account, began to shift, and then fall. The subterranean rustling slowly increased, the displaced soil shifting with increasing activity. Finally, a hand breached the surface — bloody, worm-eaten fingers clawing at the cold December sky from out of Hades. Then an elbow appeared, deceased sinew flexing as the zombie Seahawks pulled themselves from the earth with the irreversible force granted to those unfortunate souls by a God who’s declared their work is not yet done.

It took three hours, and looked positively grisly throughout, but by the time this game was over, the undead Seahawks found themselves standing over their open, uncovered coffin holding the Cowboys’ head by the hair in it’s mud-soaked grasp. It was as incredible as it was unlikely, and now this new NFL landscape is forced to deal with a version of the Seahawks they assumed was forever consigned to memory. A ghoulish Christmas miracle.

The first thing that stood out about this game remained the most notable all afternoon. The Seahawks defense was extremely physical all afternoon, getting pressure constantly and leveling almost everybody who dared venture into the second and third levels. Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Dion Jordan, and a well-poured concoction of blitzes put Dak Prescott on his ass on what felt like every drop back. On one scramble in the first quarter, Earl Thomas and Bobby Wagner combined for an enormous hit on Prescott then started making out on the field. Those two are now the most important players on this defense and it is crucial to the future success of this franchise that they be on the same page. Great to see them rekindle their affection for one another after last week’s lover’s spat.

Unfortunately for Seattle, Dak’s inability to get the passing game going was fairly inconsequential, thanks to the return of Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke came into this game on the heels of his prediction that he’d rush for 200 yards against Seattle’s defense, a claim that was once ludicrous but after the last two weeks, seemed more and more plausible. Elliott, for his part, spent most of the first half on pace to do it, with 51 yards in the first quarter and 70 on his first 14 carries.

Compounding that issue was Seattle’s total implosion on offense during their first four drives, as those possessions resulted in 1 net yard, 14 of which were in the run game. Yeah, you read that right- the Seahawks had -13 passing yards on their first 11 drop backs, thanks to nobody getting open and Wilson running into sacks every chance he got. Perhaps the only bright spot in the game’s first 25 minutes was Dallas’ inability to turn any of this into touchdowns, as they were forced to settle for six points on two field goals despite dominating yards and possession.

Unlike last week, when Seattle collapsed like a carport in an earthquake, the defense played their balls off despite the offense’s struggles. On Dallas’ fifth drive, Prescott found a pouting Dez Bryant in the flat for his first catch of the game. Bryant had time to lumber two steps before Byron Maxwell jabbed the ball free, where it was pounced on by a pile of teammates; it’s as if he was put on this earth for that very purpose above all else. Byron Maxwell is to forced fumbles what Mother Teresa was to charity.

Gifted terrific field position, Seattle finally capitalized. A dump off to Mike Davis treated all of us to the enormous running back juking some poor jerk into the first row in the open field. That was followed by a pass interference in the endzone and then, after a fumbled handoff that Wilson heroically recovered, Russ found his main man Jimmy Graham for a box-out touchdown and an improbable 7-6 lead.

With a minute and a half left, the Cowboys put together a significant drive that resulted in yet another field goal before the end of the half and the two teams headed to the half with the ‘Pokes up 9-7 and boasting an enormous 179-44 advantage in total yards. At that point, it seemed more lucky than anything that the ‘Hawks were even in this game. A season of poor offensive first halves had reached its nadir with this one and it appeared that Dallas was merely on the brink of breaking the dam. But “seems” and “appears” are often much different than “is”.

The third quarter got off to an inauspicious start, with Seattle facing another 3rd & 20+, leading to a punt. Dallas’ first drive of the second half was even more abrupt and far more consequential, as the Seahawks were able to pressure pressure Prescott into airmailing a short screen pass. His quacker was scooped out of the air by a sprinting Justin Coleman who took it back for his second pick-six of the year before donating himself to the Salvation Army jar in the back of the endzone and getting flagged 15 yards for being too awesome. Put his jersey in the Ring of Honor immediately.

On the very next drive, Coleman artfully broke up a deep ball but was again flagged only this time it was for letting his facemask get ripped around by receiver Cole Beasley. That travesty of a PI call gift-wrapped another field goal for the Cowboys and brought the score to 14-12. Once more, the Seattle offense did nothing and once more it was up to the defense to do something about it. And something about it they did.

Their harassment of Prescott continued, biting at his ankles on every pass play like a bunch of teething puppies. Incredibly, he continued escaping sacks and on one particularly impressive play, shrugged away both Michael Bennett and Dion Jordan to complete a fall-away 40-yarder to a diving Dez Bryant. That play put the Cowboys in field goal range once more and it looked like it was just a matter of time before they retook the lead. That’s when the constant Seahawks pressure manifested itself in the form of a ghost who spooked a nervous Dak into whipping a short pass behind Bryant and off his hands. The deflection was caught by KJ Wright for a huge interception and a much-needed change of possession.

Perhaps it takes a turnover to inspire the Seattle offense, or maybe it’s just because 4th Quarter Russell Wilson finally got his cue, but either way the Seahawks ripped the ball right down the field after KJ’s pick. A chunk gain to Baldwin, a couple of slick scampers by Russ, and a huge slashing run from Thomas Rawls put Seattle in scoring range. A facemask on a Tyler Lockett sweep followed by a pass interference in the endzone gave Seattle 1st & Goal from the 1. Another busted goal line run set up 4QRW for his 34th overall TD of the season. On 2nd down, Baldwin lined up in the slot. At the snap, he vaporized the defender at the line of scrimmage and coasted under Wilson’s lob in the back corner of the endzone to make it 21-12. Despite being the size of a house cat, Doug Baldwin is an insanely effective goal line receiver.

The Cowboys’ next drive was inflated by a big completion followed by a pass interference call against Maxwell and a clutch 3rd down pass to Jason Witten. That set up 1st & Goal from the 3 and the Cowboys obliged Seattle’s playoff aspirations by inexplicably not giving the ball to the best short-yardage runner in the NFL. Instead of handing it off to Zeke, the Cowboys tried a couple of rollouts. The first was unsuccessful, as was the second — only on that one there was also a holding penalty. That was followed up by an animalistic sack from Frank Clark and all of a sudden it was 3rd & Goal from the 35 or some shit. A short dump off set up Dan Bailey for his fifth field goal attempt but unlike his first four, he pushed this one way right and Seattle’s lead stayed at 9.

From there, it was just a matter of adding salt to this seasonal victory, courtesy of a couple more sacks and another Bailey miss. Wilson knelt twice before the sun set on Jerry World with Dallas headed towards an offseason of reevaluation and Seattle returning home for a season-defining matchup against the Cardinals.

SMOKE RINGS

-Russell Wilson finished with a weird stat line. 14 of 21 (good!) for 93 yards (career low!) with 2 TDs (woo!), no interceptions (WOO!) and -33 yards in sacks taken (sigh). His 29 rushing yards led the team but even so, Seattle’s MVP candidate netted just 89 yards with the season on the line. But somehow, this was still a pretty good game from him. Don’t ask me to expand on that cuz I’m not sure I could. Wilson now has a ridiculous 34 of Seattle’s 35 offensive TDs this season and he’s only not the Most Valuable Player if your definition of “valuable” is wrong.

-Other than Wilson, Seattle’s offense was crap. What’s funny is it seemed like Davis had a pretty good game until you check the stat line and see that his “pretty good” meant 43 yards on 19 touches. Further complicating matters, it seemed like literally no one was getting open, Baldwin’s goal line magicianship aside. Russ was forced to try and wedge passes into receivers that couldn’t get free of whomever was covering them. Lockett had 7 yards on 1 catch. Paul Richardson had 21 on 2. Graham finished with just the three-yard teeder, giving him a grand total of two yards in the last three games. Doug led the way… with 35 yards.

-It’s funny what a week does. After leading the NFL in points allowed for four consecutive years, then finishing third despite missing Earl Thomas, then losing five Pro Bowl defenders, Seattle finally laid a defensive egg against the Rams last Sunday. All of a sudden everything was broken and in need of a complete overhaul. Go ahead and check the comments from this article last week. Firing Kris Richard was the nicest thing y’all wanted to do to him. I get it, it was a completely uninspired performance, but one game does not a reality make.

Despite all of those injuries and a loaded Cowboys offense, the defense straight up dominated today. They held Prescott to a passer rating of 51 for the game, and kept Elliott to 46 yards on 14 carries after the first quarter. They were on the field for 68 plays and only allowed 283 yards. They forced three turnovers, recorded 4 sacks, and tattooed their snarling images into Dak’s nightmares. The offense does not look prepared for a postseason run but if they right the ship, this defense looks good enough to back them up. Just a sensational performance.

This was, in my opinion, one of the most impressive wins of the Pete Carroll era and an all-caps reminder that the NFL is a week-to-week league. Destinies change in a matter of hours and very often, the difference between a good team and a bad one is simply a few feet scattered across thousands of plays in a season.

With this one, and the Falcons’ loss, the Seahawks enter the final week of the season with a very real chance at the playoffs. Again. All peripheral routes have been blocked off now — there is only one road to the postseason left: a win against Arizona next week and an Atlanta loss vs the Panthers.

I’ve said it so often you guys are sick of reading it, but we are so damn lucky to root for a team as resilient as this one. Onward, upward, and merry Christmas!

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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The 2017 season of Cigar Thoughts is proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners.

Celebrated the season with a fat Gispert stogie and an indulgent amount of Chuckanut Bay Distillery’s Krampus. Delicious.

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