GLENDALE, AZ- What started with a pair of three and outs by both teams quickly led to a rushing TD by Seattle’s Christine Michael. A Field Goal would give Seattle a 10-0 lead in the very stadium they’d come so close to winning Super Bowl 49 in. Arizona would respond with a TD strike off of the arm of QB Carson Palmer, but the point after the kick fell flat. From that point on, Arizona’s offense remained flat, and Seattle completely obliterated the Cardinals en route to a 36-6 win to finish the regular season at 10-6. The game was effectively over by the end of the first half, with Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians benching Carson Palmer in order to keep the signal caller fresh for their divisional playoff game in two weeks.
What more could you ask from the offensive line? Mark Glowinski and Alvin Bailey filled in for J.R. Sweezy (Concussion) and Russell Okung (Calf), and it appeared to make the ‘Hawks none worse for the wear. After providing precise blocks for Bryce Brown to squeak in for a 1 yd. score that give Seattle the first lead, the line blocked so well that Wilson threw three touchdowns in the second quarter, was 22-32, with 205 passing yards, and had no interception. This put the game out of reach for the Cardinals, effectively making an Arizona comeback all but impossible. The blocking was so good that the Seahawks rushed for 145 yards, 102 of those yards coming from Christine Michael. But while you may think it was business as usual for Wilson (throwing three TDs in a game), it was the manner in which he did it that drew amazement. 290 pound fullback Will Tukuafu caught a 7 yd. TD pass from Wilson, and rumbled his way into the end zone. Recently resigned tight end Chase Coffman caught an 8 yard score on the exact same play two and a half minutes later. The third score came on a 24 yd. floater to Jermaine Kearse in double coverage at the goal line.
Wilson ended with a day full of accolades: First, he broke Matt Hasslebeck’s single season passing record of 3,966. Second, he recorded his first 4,000 passing yard season (with 4,024 yards) becoming the first Seahawks QB to ever pass for that many yards in franchise history. Third, Wilson had the highest average Quarterback Rating (110.1) of any NFL signal caller this season. Fourth, he tied, than broke, the franchise record for passing TDs, ending the season with 34. Fifth, he became the first NFL player in history to pass for 4,000 yards, rush for over 500 yards, and throw 30 or more TDs. Wilson would play up until the final seconds of the 3rd Quarter. His game was nothing short of complete, and historic.
Defensively, this game was all Seattle, early, often, and all day. Three interceptions were recorded: one by Earl Thomas (returned for 10 yards), another by Jeremy Lane (returned for 6 yards), and the final one from DeShawn Shead (returned for 40 yards). Shead’s interception came at the goal line while Arizona (led in the second half of the game by backup QB Drew Stanton) marched down the field and looked to at least hang points on the ‘Hawks with 5:25 to go in the game. Shead, completing the interception, gave the ‘Hawks a fourth consecutive season with the least amount of points scored on defense, matching the 1950’s Cleveland Browns (and becoming the first NFL team to do it since the AFL/NFL Merger) record from 1954-1957. The defense also recorded a pair of sacks to dampen the Cardinals hope at locking up the #1 seed in the NFC, should Carolina lose their game against Tampa Bay. The defense’s game was nothing short of complete, or historic, limiting Arizona to 27 total rushing yards. Allowing only 205 yards through the air (with Carson Palmer accounting for 129 of those 205 yards), Seattle again draped opposing receivers in coverage and defensed 10 passes, solidifying their status as a premiere defensive unit.
Of course, with all of the records being broken, the special teams outfit applied constant pressure and produces a blitzkrieg the Cardinals. Tyler Lockett tallied 139 return yards (in the first half!) to break the single game record of 106, set by Charlie Rogers 17 years ago. He could have had even more yards on the day, but had a couple of returns called back due to penalties. Lockett’s 66 and 42 yard returns set up a pair of scoring drives for Seattle, and a 34 yard reception latter on in the half helped Seattle’s case even more. When Lockett returned the ball, it took multiple Arizona defenders to slow or stop him. On the opposite side, John Ryan punted deep almost every time, and the returners couldn’t get a lot going when defensive end Cassius Marsh absolutely wrecked Arizona returners on two separate occasions within seconds of them receiving the kick. Linebacker Brock Coyle, in his first game back from landing on the injured reserve in October, notched three critical tackles that kept Arizona returners from going any further down the field.
Steven Hauschka did make a pair of 52 yard field goals, a 33 yard field goal, and a pair of point after touchdown kicks. He would miss one point after touchdown kick, and a field goal, which could have opened the lead on the Cardinals and given the ‘Hawks a chance to rival the biggest blowout in Seahawks/Cardinals history, the 58-0 trouncing in 2012.
Next for the ‘Hawks is the first playoff game, a Wildcard matchup at Minnesota against the Vikings in what looks to be the coldest game played by either team. The forecasted temperature looks to hover right around 0 degrees, with a possible wind chill of -15. The last time these two teams met, Seattle routed the Vikings, neutralizing Adrian Peterson (the eventual NFL season rushing yards leader) to 18 yards off of 8 carries. The Vikings were down a few key defensive players in that contest, and are coming off of a dominating performance against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field to win the NFC North Division title. This is the first of many road games the ‘Hawks will need to win in route to a Super Bowl 50 berth. All phases of Seattle’s game are clicking at the right time, and a throttling of the NFC West champions will do wonders for their psyche. Look for a defensive battle with the game in Minnesota, as the temperatures favor protecting the ball, emphasizing the run game, and clock management, this game may be a low scoring affair.