Season to Date: 39-51-1
Playoff Results: 4-4
Hawk Picks: 5-5
Well, well, well, here we are, eh. The Seattle Seahawks are playing at home for a 60-minute shot at the Super Bowl. Continuing last week’s theme – we’ve reached the 30 and are edging our way to the goldzone. My, my, my… salt tastes like sugar, don’t it?
Last week, NFL fans watched the MVP hit the turf early and spend the game on the sidelines. At one point in the 2nd Quarter, players were dropping like raindrops in the Puget Sound. Darrell Jackson, Andre Dyson, Leroy Hill… (I had a few injuries myself as a matter of fact). Surely we can all do away with the Seahawks now and get on with a more pragmatic football environment. And yet - it appears they don’t want to go away, those silly birds.
How ‘bout we throw 3 turnovers into the mix. And give the Seahawks no such advantage. Certainly, no team this ‘average’ can overcome a 3-0 turnover ratio - in the Playoff’s no less! Yes, yes, we can now turn our attention to the Denver/New England game (where the Champs could not overcome such a handicap). But wait… the bluebirds will not go away. In fact, they appear to have complete control of the skirmish. How can that be so? Could it be that they’re actually…
Determined. Resourceful. Spirited. Talented. And most importantly – United? Could that be the reason the road to the Super Bowl goes through Qwest, and will continue to do so?
You’re DAMN right that’s the reason. And anyone who thought otherwise has simply not been paying attention.
While television viewers across America continually reached for their volume control, 67,000+ fans in the stands put together a fist that claimed “We will NOT be denied”. And so it was. That is what can happen when the spirit of togetherness maintains itself in the face of adversity. Some may have failed to note… there were 2 Touchdowns scored by the Seahawks in the contest. Where did the ball go for each score? Did it go into a bag with tape on it that said “I scored a TD?” No. Both balls went right into the stands and the hands of the 12th Man. Clearly, the players have not failed to recognize the value of each and every member of OUR team (nor the front office for that matter. Well done, mates! Ah… wisdom at last).
While the rest of the NFL media darlings ran at the mouth about “under-appreciation”, “overlooked”, and “disrespected”. The Seahawk roar, bound and gagged for 20yrs, simply waited until game time to bust out a 2-ton can of ‘We like to win this year. And you’re in the wrong house, mister. Nexxxxxxxxxxxt!’.
And that was good.
That was very, very, very good.
After the game, Mike Holmgren (who can be credited with identifying a more interactive and less arrogant approach to his roster this season) told the team, “This is a relentless bunch… You battle and battle… You’re a pleasure to coach…” and “You’re an inspiration to me. So thank you. THANK you”. I mean, they say it’s a long, long way to Tipperary. But maybe it ain’t that far! Let’s go for it! You lead the way, Mike! I can tell you it’s certainly a pleasure to hear you say such a thing. (I’m wondering if perhaps an impromptu airplane conversation with Brett Favre following our wk17 game up in GBay didn’t have something to do with that sentiment?).
And so, the streak of apathy, stagnation, and perpetual neglect has clearly ended in Seattle. This Sunday – we get a chance to carry that forward to glory. In doing so we’ll have to face the Carolina Panthers. Far and away the most frightening team we have faced all season. I expect it will take our finest game to get into the goldzone. I think we’re ready…
Let’s start with the AFC:
DEN –3 vs PIT
Last week the Colts showed up to disprove everything I said about them leading up to the game. They appeared sluggish, unprepared, and well behind the speed of the other Playoff teams. Did a month away from true competition affect their performance? Well, did they appear anything like you had seen them up to and including the Chargers game? Nope. And therefore the answer is ‘yes’. Yet still, they had a chance to win it at the end if not for perhaps the most glaring shank in the history of the NFL, considering the value of it. (Garo Yepremian can now relax. He’s no longer the owner of the most embarrassing kicker moment of all time. At least Garo didn’t dork it with his foot).
And therefore how much credit does Pittsburgh deserve? I’d say plenty, actually. You have to offer them full credit for an inspired performance and brilliant execution on Defense (as well as an opening offensive salvo that set the tone in earnest). Does that mean I think they have a chance against Denver? Nada. Fogeddabout it.
Denver met the champs head-on without apology. As they have done to everyone throughout the season (save Miami opening day). But my respect for them has already been well documented here so let’s put the focus on Pittsburgh. What is it the Steelers do that brought them such unprecedented post-season success (the #6 seed has never, in the history of the NFL, beat the #1. Not ever. Until last Sunday).
First of all, Bill Cowher is the truest football coach in the game today - a master motivator that I personally admire to an exponential degree. There may be some considered greater from a ‘genius’ perspective, but no one gets your hand in the sand and your teeth chewing away at a face mask like Barnacle Bill. In 14 seasons, Bill Cowher has succumbed to a losing record only 3x and has now made the Championship game 6x. In this age of football - that’s astonishing. Players come and players go, but Bill remains. And so does the winning formula. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in the Title game once every 3yrs… for a decade and a half?! The only constant in that success has been ‘The Chin’. If you can’t play for him? You’re no good to anybody.
That – is a factor.
Having said that, you can’t win on motivation alone. Which may be the reason his over-achieving teams have not won the Big One, and failed one step before - 4 out of the previous 5. To carry that rock, week after week, running on the fumes of spittle and particularly willful bone marrow… is exhausting. You’ll need more than that when meeting the finest team in the Conference.
Denver, does not face the concern that crippled Indy. Their schedule had them playing solid football opposite solid opposition all the way through to today. Only, they’ve been home for the mend while the Steelers have been on the road since the calendar struck 2006. While Denver is conditioned, rested, and riding momentum – Pittsburgh is tired, sore, and back on the road to suck on the thinnest oxygen in the NFL (though coming from factory city – perhaps that’s debatable). Anyone telling you the Steelers are happy to be on the road this week and favor that position – is blowing smoke to make you choke. If the 6 seed has never beaten the 1 on the road in game2, what are the odds of withstanding aNOTHER road game facing a team that many (including myself) had owning more than a chance against Indy? Slim and none, senior. Ain’t gonna happen.
But just for kicks let’s look at some circles and crosshairs.
The Steelers have had great success with mastermind Dick LeBeau’s cascading succession of blitz packages. While this poses a problem for any team – Denver runs a play-action/misdirection/roll-out scheme that does just as much to confuse and separate a Defense as the Zone blitz does to an Offense. While S Troy Palamalu plays Defense like a Quarterback, and wants to force where you’ll go with the ball – he can’t do that while diagnosing the myriad of movement behind the line that Denver is doing. There are games where Poppin Polly disappears… this may be one of them.
Swapping things, Denver also runs an attacking Defense designed to confuse the QB. And while their Pass Defense ranks 29th (under the moronic NFL measure of yards allowed), they are ranked 4th in yards PER/pass (a stat that many in the know consider the true measure of a Quarterback’s effectiveness). Add to that rankings of 3rd in completion % (56.1), 4th in QB rating (72.2), and 6th in INT’s (20). It appears that while Denver can’t seem to coral and sack the QB, they are doing PLENTY to frustrate and compromise his intent. Last week Tom Brady took a beating back there, did he not? Total QB sacks by Denver? Zero. It will be interesting to see how the uncanny agility of Ben Roethelburgesa handles the speed of the Bronco Linebackers (plus S John Lynch). And he WILL have to handle it. Because Denver is NOT going to allow Pittsburgh to grind it out on the ground with their 2nd ranked Rush Defense (which actually does make some sense as measured by yardage).
Lastly, the line on this game is preposterous. To have it called even (with 3 for being at home), in Denver – who have the most successful home field advantage in the history of football – facing a team that’s been up against it for over a month? Hey, take full advantage of a foolish public perception.
I find it very difficult to expect Pittsburgh to maintain the fumes they’re livin’ on – particularly facing a team that has busted their asses each and every week to be here and is not about to let that effort slip away…
I know another team in that very situation:
SEA –3.5 vs CAR
Folks, this is the most anxiety-inducing match-up we could possibly be facing. The Panthers are grooving when it counts and by all appearances - settled their inconsistencies with an eye on the prize. There is no team in the NFL more dynamic than the Panthers (and that includes Denver). They have been there before, just 2 seasons ago. Many of those players remain on the roster. Last season they endured a M*A*S*H* unit of injuries that made the Patriots of this season tame by comparison – only to win 6 of their final 8 and miss the playoffs by a sliver. They’ve already dealt with all of our struggles and they know precisely what they’re doing right now. They don’t give a damn about where we come from or who we are. There is no sympathy. There is no caution. And there is no fear. They are a grindstone group of individuals - admirably nasty, determined, and in many areas freakishly talented – who see us only as that thing in the way. ‘They are in our way. Crush them, stomp them, slaughter them, we have unfinished business on the other side.’
That’s what we’re lookin’ at. I ask you again, are you prepared?
Having been up and down the win/loss list with varying degrees of success both Offensively and Defensively, the Panthers have dispatched the media favored Giants 23-0 (a team we struggled with mightily at home), and scored 29pts on a team that allowed a paltry 61 in 8 games at home this season (Chicago. Who allowed less than 10pts in 7 of those contests).
The Carolina Panthers are ranked 3rd overall in Defense, 4th against the Rush. They have scored 20pts or more in every single contest this season except 3 (two of which were against the great Defenses of Chicago and Tampa Bay), five times they scored in excess of 30. It is Halloween EVERY time you play the Panthers because you never know trick for treat and everything at the doorway is horrific and alarming. They are aggressive, while running a disciplined approach. And capable in all areas of football. Furthermore – they burn to win.
Listen to a guy like Steve Smith talk. This is a player of immeasurable skill who talks not with arrogance, but dignified sincere belief in himself and where he is going. If you choose to question his supreme beliefs and right to glory - you are more than welcome to step on the 100-yard distance and prove that he’s flawed. He will encounter that challenge like a pitbull offered a gnarled up bone (with some meat chunks on it even). With a league leading 103 receptions for 1563yds, Steve Smith is nearly impossible to deny.
Smith gets his chance to shine fed from a dichotomy personality known as QB Jake Delhomme. Off the field, Jake will do everything possible to assure you and anyone else in the room they are every bit as much of a man as he is. I truly believe his sincerity in that presence. But on the field? He’s a rabid dog that, much like Smith, wants to chew apart anything that thinks to deny his right to greatness. There is NOTHING you can throw at him to question his internal belief. The ONLY thing that can happen… is time runs out on the clock. Cuz he will NOT stop coming until that happens. There was a time when he had slipped away to NFL Europe and that is NOT going to happen to him again, ever. Jake Delhomme – will not let go. He is a true leader, who demands as much as he supports - and expects the same from himself.
On Defense they possess a particularly dynamic mix of Pass Rush ability, Run stuffing mentality, and an exceptionally athletic Secondary. Youth and veteran leadership can be found throughout. The big play is at the ready in any moment with this group. And if you fail to run a disciplined, persistent, and patient approach? They’ll gobble you up and bark for some more. If these are panthers? They are twisted and diseased - rabid. There is nothing static and secure about Carolina. They are sickenlingly complicated and mightily… I have to say it again – frightening.
And on the other side of the ball… you have us. Are you sure you’re prepared?
What we have is togetherness. And a steady ship. Where Carolina has run the gamut of success and disappointment, losing alternately to the Saints, Dolphins, Bears (regular season), Bucs, and Cowboys – we have not lost (for all intensive purposes) since our initial meeting with the Skins. It’s been said that our schedule was annoyingly simple during that stretch – and I would have to agree. We have not been sufficiently tested. But we can only take what you give us. And we ground that corn down for an 11 game win streak with SEVEN games in excess of 30pts. Our record at Home is unblemished (more on that later).
What this team has done is step it up in every area that was required. The very same hardships occurred this year as in any other – yet we endured and surpassed. We’ve been pointing the finger at injuries for years. Was this year any less brutal? Don’t be ridiculous. The difference is this depth chart stepped it up. The same was true for areas of the team in response to other areas of failure or success – possession to possession. Every piece of the team that needed to match another piece did so. (I cannot fail to say, there’s a lot of the lessons of a Trent Dilfer left in this team. And I will credit that individual for a lasting affect on those that remain. Including the coaching staff. It doesn’t go away, Trent. You just keep on doin’ what you’re doin’. It matters).
What we have… is a Quarterback every bit as secure in his fanatic will to win as the other guy. I say this with a firm sincerity – there is NO ONE in today’s NFL I would prefer at QB over Matt Hasselbeck. No one. I have absolute faith in his ability to lead, and find his skills dynamically athletic and often times astounding. For this team to function at a high level – none of it happens without him. And most of it happens because of him.
Behind that we have a core group that has been together on Offense for several years now, understands each other uncannily, and knows precisely what to expect. The value of that cannot go unnoticed. They know they can depend on each other (as does the rest of the team). They’re the glue. And if we need a score? I trust we’ll go get it. Period. (We are more diverse, though perhaps less explosive than the other guys on that side of the ball.)
The Defense has risen far beyond expectations and they are most certainly going to have their hands full. RB Nick Goings was the starter during that 8 game stretch last season – so don’t you go thinking their running game went out the window with the injury to Foster. That’s a major injury, as Foster can really open things up for you Offensively, but Goings is going to slam at us like his life is on the line. Be prepared. And how we are going to contain Smith, with the continual problems we have with open space down the field (not to mention the quick slant) – I don’t know. Trufant did a decent job on Moss, but Moss to Smith is a leap of Renaldo Nehemiah proportions.
No, this game will not be easy. We’re staring down the barrel of a shotgun. Carolina is mean and nasty. Able in every area. Been here before. Know what comes next. And want another crack at that very badly. They’re coming into our house feeling very confident about themselves, I’m sure. But, they ARE on the road. For the 3rd week in a row. And we have unfinished business as well.
And that’s where YOU come in…
There’s one thing we can bring to level out Carolina’s playoff experience, weathered confidence, and explosive passing game. The intimidation factor. The roar of a crowd that never quits. We’ve spent 21 years recovering our voices for this game, and the plurality of the roar has never been more fierce. Seahawk fans are just sick and tired of being sick and tired. Word around the world is it’s a pretty hostile crowd in Seattle. Is that true? Can we hear it one more time?
For 3 hours and a few extra minutes… your voice can make the difference between our first ever Super Bowl appearance – and another season of not quite enough. I think we’ve had plenty enough of not quite, haven’t we? The Carolina Panthers need to understand we will NOT drop the decibels regardless of anything they face us with. There is nothing they can do to quiet us. Not a score too difficult to overcome. Not a damn thing they can bring. The only spirit that can break in that stadium this Sunday, is – their own.
Don’t depend on stats. Or history. Or anything else you’ve heard about ‘suppose to be’, ‘ought to be’, or any other form of hands-off expectation. That’s all bull. The only thing that matters is what YOU bring. Anyone who thinks that hasn’t made a difference is sorely mistaken. It makes all the difference in the world.
Be the difference.
And I know you will.
If Seattle wants to win on Sunday they’re going to have to play the game of their lives. What I want, is for Carolina to bring their A game. And for us to bust A+.
Enjoy the hell out of yourselves. We’ve been waiting for this forever…
This week’s demands:
DEN – 3
SEA – 3.5
“Beat The Man… because our time has come!”
G. Scott Jones is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to Seahawks.NET. Reaction of any sort is always encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org.