Sunday, November 27, 2005
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
Play Of The Day: Several plays come to mind, but I’ll have to give POTD status to Shaun Alexander’s 4-yard fourth-down TD run with less than five minutes left in regulation. Not only did it reinforce Shaun’s rep as a TD machine (ranking him as one of only four players in NFL history to score 20 or more TDs in consecutive seasons), it showed Mike Holmgren’s faith in his best player.
Runner-up: Alexander’s 20-yard run with 5:08 left in the third quarter - this was the play that loosened New York’s constrictive defense and got the Giants thinking. On the very next play, the threat of Alexander allowed Matt Hasselbeck to go play action and hit Joe Jurevicius for his second touchdown pass of the game.
Zebra Hunt: Well, that Jeremy Shockey TD with 1:07 remaining in the first half appeared bogus to me – and there are conflicting opinions from different sources as to how possession in the end zone is treated. Shockey took the ball in the end zone on a 7-yard pass from Eli Manning, but before he could get both feet on the ground, safety Marquand Manuel just poleaxed him. The hit sent the ball out of Shockey’s hands before his second foot could hit the ground, but the play was called a touchdown even after a booth review. I’d like to hear what the NFL has to say about this one before I weigh in too heavily – I’m just glad it didn’t cost the Seahawks the game.
That play aside, I’d give Larry Nemmers and his crew a very rare “Thumbs Up” from the MMQB head office. Calling false start after false start on the Giants throughout the game goes against the grain of some officials, who will tend to slack off if a team commits the same infraction repeatedly. They got the Amami Toomer touchdown right, in my opinion (Toomer made a brilliant play on his 18-yard TD catch from Manning with 1:59 left in regulation, stretching to get both feet in bounds against his body’s momentum). The officials availed themselves well on several bang-bang calls that were very close.
It doesn’t bother me when officials make the occasional mistake – what infuriates me is when they appear not to be trying. Nemmers and his crew were giving their best effort out there today.
Handouts To The Standouts: As a friend wrote to me right after the game, there should indeed be a special “Handouts To 70,000 Standouts” (67,102, specifically). Seattle’s 12th Man was in full voice for most of the game, rattling the Giants’ offensive line into many of their ELEVEN false start penalties, and creating some unnerving feelings in the young Jedi Manning. On this day, it wasn’t just the Seahawks who proved to be the class of the conference – their fans came in first as well.
Other handouts – Joe Jurevicius, for proving to be one of the biggest free agent acquisitions of the year…Lofa Tatupu, for leading all defenders on both teams in tackles with 11 (2 assists) and once again appearing to have been playing football at the NFL level for a good decade or so…Rocky Bernard and Seattle’s line, for providing pressure in the first half without reinforcements, which allowed the linebackers and secondary to keep the G-Men out of the end zone for the first 28 minutes…Mike Holmgren, for knowing when to call time out on another questionable Shockey catch, D.J. Hackett, for once again coming through with the deep threat when his team needed him; and Shaun Alexander, for persisting through a defense playing out of its collective mind and keying on him all day…and dumb luck, for allowing New York’s Jay Feely to miss three field goals (one at the end of regulation, two in OT) to keep the Seahawks in the game.
Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: Might as well start with the Dick Stockton/Daryl Johnston goopfest over Eli Manning. The kid was decent at times and impressive at others…but he threw up more than his share of goat balls and gophers (as most kids will do) Nevertheless, Stockton and Johnston were resolute in their love for Manning the Younger, and it got a bit nauseating at times. Perhaps it’s just cumulative – I haven’t seen an athlete get a push from the media to this extent since Derek Jeter became whatever Tim McCarver seems to think he is. Let’s wait for Elisha to become a king before we crown him, okay? You guys wouldn’t even be talking about him if he played for the Dolphins, and you know it.
Other toe-stubbers: Walter Jones (???) for getting bested by underrated Giants DE Osi Umenyiora (am I really writing this???)…Matt Hasselbeck, for making some really questionable decisions…that all-too-familiar prevent D down the stretch, which allowed the G-Men to erase an 8-point deficit and send the game into the fifth quarter…the alarming number of three-and-outs late in the game, and the Seahawks and Giants in overtime overall. Did either team WANT to win this game? Sure didn’t seem so at times…
Oh, yeah. Sean Salisbury just said the word “Tizight” in reference to LaDanian Tomlinson on ESPN. I’m including that because pseudo-ebonics from a BattleBots reject really does make me want to go, “Blech!!!”
Offense: It threatened to be a ScoreFest – Seattle came into this game with the #1 offense in the NFL in yardage, and New York countered with the offense that had scored the most points in the NFC. It was surprising, then, that the defenses dictated the tone and tempo through the first half. The Seahawks and G/Men combined to punt on seven of their first eight drives, the only break in that action coming with Seattle’s first TD, a beautiful 35-yard rainbow from Hasselbeck to Jurevicius at the end of the first quarter. Of Seattle’s 16 total drives, 9 were three-and-outs and 10 didn’t even last two minutes. The Giants, for their part, found it to be rough going though the game until Shockey’s questionable TD at the end of the first half.
Both defenses played very well – in New York’s case, it was their interior line and blitz packages that made the difference. Hasselbeck was under pressure for must of the day, and Alexander rushed for only 16 yards on seven carries in the first half. Walter Jones, unquestionably the finest tackle in the NFL, got schooled by New York’s Osi Umenyiora (perhaps the most explosive DE outside of Indy’s Dwight Freeney and Tampa Bay’s Simeon Rice) for two sacks, reportedly the first sacks Jones had given up in two seasons. Umenyiora had an amazing ability to get around Jones even when Jones’ feet were set. This matchup gives Jones something to think about before he faces Freeney on Christmas Eve.
On the other side of the line, second-year tackle Sean Locklear did a decent job of stopping Michael Strahan, but he needed chips from Mack Strong as the game went along. Not a surprise there, but it was Jones’ uncharacteristically porous protection that tilted the line battle in New York’s favor. In case any of you have ever underestimated the enormous value of a dominant left tackle – you got a taste of what most other teams have to deal with.
Alexander came alive in the second half. Following a Michael Boulware interception of a Manning pass halfway through the third quarter. Alexander rushed 4 times for 40 yards on the drive that ended with 4:42 left in that quarter when Hasselbeck went play action and hit Jurevicius in the end zone for the second time. Little doubt that Alexander’s ability to break it open changed the game’s complexion – for a while. Alexander was later rewarded with Mike Holmgren’s faith – the coach went for it on 4th and 1 from the New York 4-yard line with 4:44 left and his team up 14-13. Why? Because Holmgren has the NFL’s most productive running back, and the result was predictable – Alexander bulled his way into the end zone for Seattle’s third and final TD.
In the remainder of the fourth quarter, and throughout overtime, the Seahawks lost a great deal of that efficiency. Repeated pass plays went wayward as New York’s D clamped down again. It wouldn’t be until Hasselbeck’s 38-yard pass to D.J. Hackett with 6:00 remaining in overtime that Seattle would break the ice. And after three missed field goals by the Giants, the Seahawks would finally redeem one of their chances when Josh Brown kicked a 36-yard field goal with 2:49 remaining in the extra period.
Defense: One fear coming into this game was how Seattle’s trio of “Mighty Mite” corners (Marcus Trufant, Kelly Herndon and Andre Dyson) would stack up against literal Giants Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer. Giving up anywhere from 5 to 7 inches, Seahawk corners were threatened by the prospect of jump balls and coverage mismatches all day long. In the end, New York’s trio got the best of Seattle’s defenders from a yardage standpoint (racking up 298 yards on 22 catches), but only saw the end zone twice.
The Seahawks continued their season-long “bend-but-don’t-break” credo, although the concept was taken to a near-fatal point late in the fourth quarter when defensive coordinator John Marshall called off the dogs and let Manning run his offense with impunity on the drive that tied the game.
At the game’s beginning, the Seahawks’ four down linemen impressed by getting pressure without blitz help. This allowed linebackers and defensive backs to stay in their coverage routes, and proved to be a key difference in the game. Along with the incredibly loud crowd, the main factor in New York’s amazing eleven false start penalties was a bewildering set of pre-snap looks brought about by Seattle.
New York fared little better than Seattle in total drive efficiency, punting seven times – but they did have only one three-and out to Seattle’s nine. In the end, the Giants’ penalties killed them.
This game could easily have been a blowout on either end.
Running back Tiki Barber is that rarest of creatures – an underrated New York athlete! Nonetheless, he broke Seattle’s season-long streak in which the Seahawks had not allowed a 100-yard rusher. Gashing Seattle’s interior defensive line on several occasions for 101 yards in regulation and 151 overall (outgaining Alexander by 41 yards), Barber proved his worth as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Of course, in the NFC, there can only be one king running back. Sorry, Tiki – he’s ours.
Special Teams: No disastrous special teams maladies in this day, which is always a pleasant surprise for this team. Tom Rouen punted nine times (!!!) in the day for an average of 45.6 yards – the longest, a 54-yarder. Josh Brown gets major props for nailing the game-winner, especially after watching Feely implode (can we give Josh a break on the Washington miss now?) and punt returner Jimmy Williams only fumbled once – a muff he himself recovered.
Summary: Winning ugly is still winning – and for those who find themselves distressed by the thought of further national disrespect because the Seahawks didn’t blow the G-Men out by forty points, keep in mind that you’re putting your belief behind a team that’s one victory or a St. Louis loss away from a division championship. And unlike last year’s division championship, there are no hollow rings here. In addition, Seattle is now in the driver’s seat when it comes to NFC home field advantage through the playoffs, and they can lay claim to the title of elite team without question.
They have accomplished all of this despite bring mired in a “two-game slump”.
Think of what it will be like when they’re “firing on all cylinders” again.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.