Tuesday, January 20, 2015

NFC Championship Game Recap

Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (OT)

I still haven't really wrapped my head around this game.

- That was, without a doubt, the worst first half (first 55+ minutes if we want to get specific) of the Russell Wilson era. I'd say it was the worst first half of the Pete Carroll era, but the 2010 season saw Seattle lose 9 games by double digits, including once to Josh Freeman (which was rendered acceptable once Beastquake happened), so that's probably not true.

That being said, I never fully lost hope in this team. I don't say that to pat myself on the back, I say that to pay tribute to this Seahawks team under Pete Carroll and quarterbacked by Russell Wilson. If you get these Seahawks down, you had better finish them off, because if you don't they will find a way to get it going and come back at you.

The best example of this is the one year Seattle did not go to the Super Bowl with Russell Wilson at quarterback. In the divisional round, Seattle traveled to Atlanta, a team with a great offense and no defense to speak of. Despite that, Seattle's defense gave up 20 points and their offense scored zero. Down 20-0 at halftime, and 27-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, Seattle's offense finally got going. And they came back to take the lead with 34 seconds left! Why wasn't this a bigger deal? Because their defense let Matt Ryan drive down the field for the game-winning field goal and the Falcons won, buying Mike Smith 2 more years before he finally got canned.

Anyway, I did not handle that Falcons-Seahawks first half well. I had high expectations, and Seattle just didn't show up for over a half. I was displeased, and had you been watching with me, you would have known it. Considering one person who was watching with me was my almost-2-year-old son, the optics weren't great. I couldn't believe the "lack of heart" (my words at the time) Seattle was showing by no-showing. Then the comeback happened, and I was on cloud nine...until they lost it right at the end. And then I was kind of in a state of shock. I was absolutely disappointed...but I knew I had been unfair with the character assassination during the first half, and I vowed that I would give this team the benefit of the doubt in the future.

So like I said, I handled the first 55 minutes of this game fairly well. It didn't hurt that this team won it all last year, either. I'm not going to pretend I was sure they'd win throughout, but I was okay letting the game play out, knowing the Seahawks wouldn't stop fighting until the final whistle. I knew that if Green Bay left an opening, Seattle wasn't going to go away on their own.

- How could the Packers not put that game away? A combination of all of the following:

  • Seattle's defense held them to just 306 yards of total offense
  • Seattle's defense held them to just 4.9 yards per pass
  • Mike McCarthy coached scared, including taking the points with 4th and goal on the 1 yard line twice in the first quarter. 
  • The Packers refused to try and target a clearly one-armed Richard Sherman. Sherman said Seattle sent him back out on the field in last year's Super Bowl even though he was clearly compromised with an ankle injury because they knew the Broncos would just ignore his side of the field. Here, Sherman wouldn't even let anyone on the sideline take a look at his arm to ensure he'd stay on the field. 

- Seattle is probably less dependent on their quarterback to win games than anyone else in the league. Between their talented roster and their offensive philosophy, they actively try to avoid needing Russell Wilson to throw it 40+ times or for 350+ yards to be competitive. But the first half showed what happens to any offense when the quarterback is off his game: it grinds to a halt. Wilson was off on many of his throws, and the Seahawks simply couldn't sustain any sort of drive. That meant Lynch couldn't get going, and none of the receivers could get into a rhythm either.

- When I looked up at the end of the game, I was surprised to see that Seattle had more rushing yards, more passing yards, better YPC, and better YPA than the Packers! Seattle's offense did nothing outside of one drive for 3.67 quarters! And they did more on offense than Green Bay did! Seattle's defense has had far better games statistically, but this performance should be the signature game of this Seahawks defense. Four first-half turnovers, including three drives that started within 33 yards of their end zone, and the Seahawks defense held Green Bay to 16 first-half points.

- If you had told me Seattle would need giant contributions from their special teams to have a shot to win this game, I would have probably started drinking heavily right after our conversation. Their special teams has been, ahem, uninspiring all season long. Losing both of their return men from last year's team has resulted in a recalibration of what makes a return successful. Last year, success meant a long return. This year? Simply catching the punt/kick and not fumbling it qualifies (and we didn't even get that this weekend). What we did get was a fake field goal attempt that culminated in Seattle's punter throwing a touchdown pass to a backup lineman, and a successful expected onside kick.

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