A key play late from Aussie punter Jordan Berry and teammate Johnny Holton helped the Pittsburgh Steelers to their second victory of the NFL season.
It’s easier to write the Seattle Seahawks off as dead than it is to put them in their grave.
The only consistent facet of Seattle’s season has been their inconsistency, with woefully uneven performances from week to week.
They finished with an uninspired 10-5-1 record, which could have been worse if they’d lost games they probably should have against Miami, Atlanta and Arizona, and could have against Buffalo and San Francisco.
Their losses, on the other hand, were mostly emphatic – on the scoreboard (Green Bay) or against the soul (LA, Tampa Bay).
Sandwiched in between all those erratic performances though, was a powerful fortnight, where the Seahawks handed Tom Brady his only loss of the season and then followed it up by looking like vintage 2013-14 Seattle in crushing the Eagles.
Those victories shone a kinder light on the narrow, error-laden escapes. Perhaps those games could be chalked up to the Seahawks’ championship pedigree, although one suspects the little demons inside Chandler Catanzaro’s head probably had more of a role to play.
When the Seahawks have been on this season they’ve looked like a Super Bowl team. The problem is that those ‘on’ performances came when Earl Thomas was still patrolling Seattle’s secondary, making it a no-fly zone. Political correctness necessitates the absence of a specific example, but suffice to say, since Thomas went down, Seattle’s secondary has become a land where enemies have shown no fear in bearing arms.
After never conceding more than 25 points with him in the line-up, Seattle gave up 38 and 34 to the Packers and Cardinals with Earl the Pearl in street clothes. The Seahawks also allowed San Francisco to score 23 against them, which prorates to giving up 46 to a real team.
With Thomas done for the year and the offence a year-long mess, oddly defined by its dreadful running game and pathetic offensive line instead of its superstar quarterback and dynamic receiving talent, the Seahawks looked finished, especially after they kissed away their first round bye with a loss to Arizona at home.
But then, in the first round of the playoffs, the Seahawks looked different – they looked like themselves. They suffocated Detroit’s offence, limiting them on third down and shutting them down on fourth down. They brought their famed physicality, getting to Matthew Stafford’s body (three sacks) and making sure that Detroit wouldn’t get to his passes (56 per cent completion for a mere 202 yards).
Seattle didn’t generate any turnovers, but when your opposition never runs a play inside your 33-yard line, let alone makes it to the end zone, you’re fine with them keeping the ball however long they want.
More impressively, and more importantly, the Seahawks looked enlivened on offence. Too often this season Seattle used Wilson as their entire universe instead of their brightest star, leaning on him to shoulder all of the offence when he’s best deployed as the game’s most damaging secondary option – the knife that finishes off a defence already bloodied on the ground.
Against Detroit, the Hawks got back to their ground and pound sensibilities with Thomas Rawls looking like Marshawn Lynch, on the stat sheet (27 carries for 161 yards) and on camera, with that uniquely low centre of gravity, all defiant, bitter hips and shoulders. Like Lynch and unlike, say, Jamaal Charles, Rawls doesn’t run or sprint as much as he powers, heavy on the ground instead of light on his feet.
Elsewhere, Doug Baldwin made big downfield plays and caught touchdowns, Jimmy Graham moved the chains as the unstoppable third down weapon he should be, and Paul Richardson stole Odell Beckham’s essence (seemingly, following what happened in Lambeau, at Beckham’s expense) for a night, making absurd one-handed catches. Wilson was the architect, creating time that doesn’t exist for others, and sending the ball deep with that improbable, iconic flick of the wrist.
For the first time since Thomas went down, the Seahawks played with force. On one hand, they did it against a Detroit team that DVOA pegs as the 27th best in football, playing with a wounded quarterback in a hopeless situation, and the Seahawks were only up 10-6 at home heading into the fourth quarter against this broken team.
But Seattle dominated the game so completely, and in such a recognisable way, that they have to be taken seriously as contenders again. Now they come up against the Falcons, a team with a defence almost as bad as Detroit’s, ranking fourth last in the league by DVOA against rushing attacks.
The Falcons’ offence is immense though, the best in the game, and without Thomas the Seahawks are deserved underdogs. But Seattle, already a proven champion, has nothing to lose, and go up against a team and a quarterback famous for their postseason failings. What looked a week ago like a bloodbath between unfairly matched teams now just looks like a bloodbath, which suits Seattle just fine.