Once again, the league’s top rated defense went up against the top rated offense. I’m sure you know how this one ended up, even if it wasn’t the same blowout as the 2013 Super Bowl.
Head coach Dan Quinn brought Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and the hottest offense in the league in the Atlanta Falcons to Seattle after going on a 4-0 win streak to open their season. Seattle was 3-1 and coming off of a much-needed bye week to allow many injuries to heal. The situation was ripe for a game of great expectations. After Jones and Ryan absolutely shredded the Carolina Panthers for 500 total yards in Week 4, a lot was made of the looming matchup between Jones and Richard Sherman. It was one that wouldn’t disappoint.
Seattle got off to decent start, with Christine Michael punching a score in from 9 yards out with 2:02 to go in the first quarter after trading punts with the Falcons. In the second quarter, they continued to pour it on, adding another run score from rookie Alex Collins and a field goal from Steven Hauschka. The defense was looking particularly strong, keeping Jones from finding the end zone and neutralizing the deadly running/pass catching combo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. As the ‘Hawks went into the tunnel at halftime, they commanded a 17-3 lead. This looked like vintage Seahawks football.
After the half concluded, Atlanta capitalized on defensive miscommunications that occurred in the secondary between the Legion of Boom, who was without Kam Chancellor (groin injury), and defensive line that was without Frank Clark (hamstring), and later lost Michael Bennett (knee). They drove three separate times down the field, scoring off a 36 yard strike to Jones at 11:00 minutes in the 3rd quarter, tying the game at 6:11 to play with a lofty route to Mohammed Sanu, and taking the lead with a devastating 46 yard catch and run by backup tight end Levine Toilolo.
It was not the type of Seahawks football we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, especially after Cliff Avril and the rest of Seattle’s defense was chowing down on Matt Ryan, earlier forcing a strip sack that would set up Michaels touchdown. Ryan would be sacked 4 times in that game.
At this point, the analysts covering the game pointed back to Seattle’s fourth quarter collapses of the previous season, and it appeared as if the momentum had swung in favor of the visiting team. The 12’s had quieted down in disbelief. Kelsey McCray was the backup safety who in place of Chancellor last year, gave up last-minute scores on communication breakdowns. While these scored occurred in the 3rd quarter and not the 4th, it was still concerning.
Richard Sherman exploded into a fit of rage, screaming at teammates and coaches alike, after miscues from the line allowed Seattle to hemorrhage yards to Atlanta players for scores. It looked like a disaster had come to roost in Seattle. But you can never count out the power of positivity in this team. The defensive squad circled around Sherman, got in his face, cheered loudly, and chanted to try and change his outlook. Did it work? Sherman brooded on the sidelines, but later Matt Ryan heaved a desperation throw to Jones that was tipped by Sherman and brought down by Earl Thomas III.
Successive drives of holding the Falcons to punts brought the intensity and cheers back to Century Link field. It also didn’t hurt that Wilson rallied the troops and led the Seahawks back down the field, finding Alex Collins wide open on a broken play in which Wilson had two closing defenders and no affordable passing window. He threaded the needle to Collins for a key first down, just as Atlanta’s defenders tackled him from behind. With under 5:00 to go in the game, Christine Michael (previously sidelined on what was thought to be a concussion) rushed in for another 1 yard score, tallying the third rushing score Seattle had against Atlanta. Hauschka would put a field goal through the uprights after another successful drive by Wilson and accompanying 3-and-out by the defense, and with under 2:00 to play, the Seahawks were back in the lead.
Then came the play that will be talked about all week; a blown double call on Jones and Sherman that sealed the games fate and handed Seattle their 4th win. After smothering Ryan and forcing a 4th and 10 from deep within their own territory, the Falcons heaved yet another desperation throw down the field to Jones, who was in coverage with Thomas and Sherman in hot pursuit. All three made an attempt at the ball, and the instant replay showed what appeared to be clear defensive pass interference on behalf of Sherman.
The ball fell incomplete, and Seattle took over on downs and kneeled twice to secure the victory. What cameras didn’t show at the time (and the wonders of the internet later revealed) was an illegal hands to the face of Jones against Sherman at the line of scrimmage. It could be believed that the inability to call that first penalty, and possibly the alignment of the officiating staff down the field, lead to no call for pass interference, which if called, would have put Atlanta on the other side of the field, in position to deliver a knockout punch.
Dan Quinn was livid, screaming and motioning to the referee for the call. But it would not come. Quinn, the former defensive coordinator for the Seahawks, knew this team’s offense inside and out. The Falcons played a mighty game, but at the end, they could not undo the mistakes that had befallen them.
The day after the game, Pete Carroll remarked that, when in reference to the way the team played with anger, frustration and other emotions that “I really like living on the edge with these guys, and dwelling there. We try to find how far we can go, how far we can take it. And pull out everything we have to offer, and still maintain poise that allows you to play like you’re capable. It’s a fine line.”
Fine attention to details made sure the Seahawks were never in danger of being blown out or losing this game, so long as they trusted each other and the plan.
Seattle’s offensive line, the butt of many preseason commentators, allowed clear and consistent running and passing to happen throughout the game. After only giving up one sack, it’s clear that the line is coming together after taking many licks from superior lines earlier in the season. Jimmy Graham once again came within spitting distance of 100 receiving yards, further proving that the hype of last seasons Wilson/Graham connection is legit.
The defense is looking particularly strong, and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is playing like a man possessed, accumulating 14 total tackles in this contest. DeShawn Shead was second on the team with 8 tackles, further cementing his incredible lore within the Legion of Boom.Wilson didn’t throw a touchdown in the game, but he didn’t turn the ball over either. This team looks to be forming up for a big stretch of wins.
Next, the ‘Hawks travel to the desert to face a resurgent Arizona Cardinals team in Prime time Sunday Night, a team that desperately needs a win after starting the season poorly. The last time these two teams played, Seattle throttled them, 36-6.
The Cardinals are looking up at the ‘Hawks in the race for the NFC West, setting up the game’s expectations to be greater than some we’ve seen on most Sundays. The Cardinals are anchored by running back sensation David Johnson, who had averaged over 5.0 rushing yards/per carry in the first six weeks of the season. Even with wide receivers hurt for the Cardinals, you know that division opponents are some of the toughest games on the ‘Hawks schedule, and that Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians want to prove they aren’t cooked bird. Tune in to NBC Sunday night to see how it turns out.