9:38 PM: This is for so many people, I don’t even know where to begin. I know that I have been in this situation once before – as an eight-year-old football fan living in Denver when the Broncos beat the Raiders in the 1977 AFC Championship. Denver was thrashed by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII, and that was a crushing disappointment, but it didn’t hurt as much as it might have because even in my formative years, I understood what the Broncos had done then…what the Seahawks have done now.
It’s called erasing your futile past. It’s called building a future of respectability. Denver has been to seven AFC Championships, won two Super Bows and suffered only three losing seasons since that 1977 arrival. Before that magic year, only three seasons since 1960 had ended with more wins than losses for them.
I know when a team climbs that mountain – I have seen it before. I have seen the two teams this Seahawks squad most reminds me of – the 1997 Broncos and the 2001 Patriots – accomplish even greater things after that first Super Bowl victory. So, when I see the Seahawks welcome the tough, passionate and exceedingly talented Carolina Panthers into Qwest Field and witness the subsequent decimation, my eyes shine with recognition. When I think about Tim Ruskell and the team he has rebuilt and redefined in less than one full year, I nod knowingly, because this team is far from a one-year wonder.
I can see the signs.
When I moved to Seattle in 1985 and adopted the Seahawks as my new hometown team, that team was still in the throes of the Knox era, and the first conference championship game in franchise history had happened seemingly the day before. Who was to know that while the Broncos of my youth were beating their past back in the mid-1990s to finally carry two Lombardis home, the Seahawks of the post-Behring era would flounder in their own dysfunctional wake for nearly a decade until things got set right.
A franchise that nearly left this city forever. A team that abandoned the obligation to its fans. Players and coaches falling off their pedestals at warp speed, while a baseball team took the city by storm. The debacle of the first few months of 2005, with its barren front office and 16 unsigned free agents.
Who could have known it would be this way? Could it taste any sweeter now?
In the two weeks between this game and the Super Bowl, take some time and think back to the roots of your own fandom – your own passion. Think of all the people you’ve met along the way – perhaps this incredible occasion is the time to reconnect with those who have slipped away to other lives, just so you can talk of days gone by, and marvel at this day?
Think of all those who came before. Think of those who bled and fought and got up, over and over, in dismal, losing seasons because that is what must be done. Think about all the eras before, and how they must feel. This is for all of them, as it is for you.
This is for the Nordstroms.
This is for those first teams, the Patera Era, Jim Zorn slingin’ it lefty to Largent, and a franchise finding its feet.
This is for Ground Chuck, the Wave, that kid from Milton College, the unbending defense, and the first taste of championship fever.
This, with a tear in the eye, is for Dave Brown.
This is for the years that followed, as hard as they were – just for the hidden gems like Cortez Kennedy. Just to imagine guys like Tez in a time machine, 25 years old again, and hitting it every week – dignifying the Seahawks uniform when there appeared to be little dignity left.
This is for Mark Collins of Save Our Seahawks, and all the fans who founded the single most effective grass-roots campaign in the odiferous history of franchise removal.
This is for Mama Blue and all the “face-painted freaks”.
This is for Paul Allen and the years of reclamation.
This is for Mike Holmgren – a proud coach who came to the Emerald City with everything in hand and learned, over the years, that true victory would come with the realization that it is the team that wins. Moreover, it is that way in the front office just as much as it is on the field.
This is for Tim Ruskell, NFL Executive of the Year, whether the voters think so or not.
This is for all the players, from the NFL’s Most Valuable Player to the second-string wedge-buster.
This is, above all, for the 12th man. For the noise you’ve brought back to Seattle, for making this a football town again, for making the message boards and chatrooms and talk radio phone lines electric with passion, fire and knowledge.
This is for all of us. And in two weeks, it could be even better.
This is where my mind started to go…I started thinking about so many things I’ll put on “paper” later tonight. With 6:03 left in the fourth quarter, Shaun bulled it in from one yard out for his second rushing TD. Carolina got their only offensive touchdown on the next drive, when Delhomme went up top to Drew Carter from 47 yards out with 5:16 remaining. Andre Dyson just mistimed his jump here. From there, it was Seattle’s job to run down the clock. The Seahawks took it down to the two-minute warning, gave the ball back to the Panthers, and took it back with 1:16 left when Craig Terrill caused a Steve Smith fumble which was recovered by Marcus Trufant.
Two Matt Hasselback kneeldowns later, it was all over. Now, I get to write this.
The Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.
The Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.
The Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.
Just a couple hundred more times, and I’ll actually believe it.
FINAL SCORE: SEATTLE 34, CAROLINA 14
First drive had Shaun motorvatin' down the field, and Hasselbeck playfaking Chris Gamble out of his shoes on a TD pass to Darrell Jackson. SEATTLE 27, CAROLINA 7
In a move that undoubtedly caused Ed Hochuli great personal anguish, no flags were thrown.
The 20-yard TD pass was amazing – Hasselbeck showed a pump fake which drew Chris Gamble off his assignment, and Jackson did a shimmy around the safety.
10:57 – Rocky Bernard got to Delhomme again, and I can’t say enough about the job Seattle’s front four has done throughout the playoffs.
8:28 – Mike Rucker got by Walter Jones to sack Hasselbeck. This is worth announcing just by virtue of the fact that anyone got by Jones.
6:35 – Tom Rouen punts the ball 40 yards and Jorban Babineauz downs the ball at the Carolina 1-yard line You can see the Panthers starting to deflate here.
3:24 – Josh Brown with the pooch punt out of field goal formation from the CAR 34 to the Seattle 9. Good strategy, given the fact that Carolina’s offense doesn’t seem to be able to do anything.
1:37 – as if on cue, Michael Boulware ended Carolina’s next drive with Delhomme’s third INT. Boulware took it from the SEA 27 to the SEA 41.
END OF THIRD QUARTER - Seattle 27, Carolina 7
Second play of the second quarter – Shaun ran it in. Seattle 17, Carolina 0.
10 points off CAR turnovers.
In the drive that began for CAR at 14:46, Rocky Bernard had two sacks. SEA getting great pressure with their front four, and there isn’t a team in the NFL who can beat them when they don’t have to commit extra players to bring pressure.
At 11:39, Delhomme tried the WR bubble screen to Smith - their money play – and SEA had it sniffed out so well that the ball bounced off D.D. Lewis’ helmet.
At 11:15, Smith snapped on the sideline – saying, “Get me in there for the punt return!” They do at 9:21 when Smth returns a Tom Rouen 42-yard punt 59 yards for a touchdown. On the play, LB Vinny Ciurciu appeared to push DE Joe Tafoya in the back, and a flag was thrown, but the flag was picked up. This from the same crew who called the questionable illegal block penalty on Seattle’s Etric Pruitt in the first quarter? Let the theories commence.
At 5:33, Seattle had the ball at the CAR 21. On a 11-yard Maruce Morris run right, Darrell Jackson was called for an iffy crackback block, moving the ball back to the 36 and out of field goal range. Unfortunately for the NFL, the Seahawks got a field goal out of this drive anyway.
We’ll talk more about the officiating later. Since Ed Hochuli is a lawyer, I should probably watch what I infer here.
END OF SECOND QUARTER – Seattle 20, Carolina 7
The crowd is astonishing – viewers almost can’t hear Jimmy Johnson dismiss Hasselbeck out of hand.
First quarter highlights – at the Seattle 20 on 2nd and 17 at 12:40, Holmgren took Jurevicius out and called a run to Shaun in I Formation for 14 yards. Nice call.
11:56 – Matt got pressure and rolls right, threw a pretty pass to Jerramy Stevens for a first down.
Hasselbeck on the first drive – 3/3, 34 yards. Shaun: 3/13. Passes to Engram, Jackson, Stevens.
Seattle’s run defense just killing Nick Goings. With 10 minutes gone in the 1st, he had 3 carries for 0 yards. Carolina with two straight 3 and outs. Trufant on Steve Smith.
With 6:00 left backup QB Seneca Wallace comes in as a WR and makes an incredible 28-yard play at the CAR 17. Next play – TD to Stevens. Seneca did a slant-and-go on Ken Lucas. Oh, the irony.
Matt on Friday – “Seneca can beat any corner” Hasselbeck hits Jerramy Stevens for a 17-yard TD on the very next play. Seattle 7, Carolina 0.
5:18 left – Kevin Bentley split out to chip Smith at the line, sending Trufant back. Delhomme threw to Smith’s area to the left - Lofa Tatupu read the play perfectly and came up with the INT to the CAR 20 on a 21-yard return.
The subsequent SEA drive ended with a play I can’t wait to see Mike Pereira try to explain Wednesday on the NFL Network. Hasselbeck couldn't find anyone open at the CAR 11, ran right, got tackled OB by DT Brenston Buckner. Buckner had both hands on Hasselbeck’s facemask, and no flag was thrown. That “Let them pay” crap had better work both ways, Mr. Hochuli.
Steve Smith was running an obstacle course in a brilliantly designed zone – having to navigate through as many as four defenders.
With 1:20 left, Goings ran right, bulldozed Tatupu, but Tatupu got up. Goings, on the other hand, came off the field with birds flying around his head. Chad Eaton was unavailable for comment re: the authenticity of Goings’ head trauma.
First holding call against a defender of Smith at 1:02 left – Dyson on a ticky-tack call. Apparently, the “Let them play” crap will NOT be observed on both sides.
It matters NOT!!! Next play, Delhomme threw to the right to Keary Colbert, but pressure from Chuck Darby caused a wobble and FS Marquand Manuel picked it off at the CAR 49. Manuel ran it 32 yards to the CAR 17.
First quarter ended with Shaun running to the CAR 1 for 15 yards. Seattle 10, Carolina 0.
2:45 PM: Seahawks owner Paul Allen will raise the 12th Man flag before the game.
CB Michael Harden
FB Leonard Weaver
OL Wayne Hunter
RT Ray Willis
DE Robert Pollard
TE Itula Mili
DT Rodney Bailey
David Greene is the third quarterback.
WR Efrem Hill
DB Billy Parker
CB Garnell Wilds
T Dave Kadela
G Evan Mathis
DE Jovan Haye
DT Atiyyah Ellison
Stefan LeFors is the third quarterback.
2:30 PM: The local pregame show just started on KCPQ, and I’m rather surprised to see Chad Eaton on after he essentially insinuated on radio station KJR last Thursday that Shaun Alexander “faked” his concussion and took himself out of the divisional playoff game . I suppose the value of smack talk grows ever higher, which puts “Dr. Eaton” in good stead.
1:39 PM: I wanted to pass along some numbers and thoughts from our exclusive interview with Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders this week. These quotes from Aaron:
Carolina was the best at stopping runs to convert on third and fourth-and-short, which is interesting because Seattle was the best offense at converting those runs. Seattle was number two in the category of long runs of ten or more yards, but Carolina was number six in preventing long runs of ten or more yards, so they match up with each other really well there.
Carolina’s weakness is third and fourth receivers. They rank number 2 in the league against number ones, number 5 against number twos, number 20 against third and fourth and number 17 against tight ends. (DJ) Hackett is I believe the number one ranked receiver among receivers with less than 50 passes this year.
Carolina throws to Ricky Proehl on third down twice as much as they throw to him on first and second combined. But with Seattle, and part of this is because players were out for certain games with injuries, Seattle really spreads it around. They could throw to Jurevicius on first or third, Engram on first or third and even Hackett on first or third. They’re willing to throw to any of their receivers at any time wherever the open guy is.
Seattle is, in fact, number one this year in adjusted line yards on defense and number six on offense. Their run defense has been spectacular this year. The reason Seattle is seventh in our DVOA number in the overall ratings is that they have given up some long runs. That would probably be more of a worry against “Mr. Boom-and-Bust”, DeShaun Foster, than it will be against Nick Goings. They may give up a run of 20 or 30 yards here, but when it comes to the front seven, they stuff guys all the time and they keep guys down.
The other place where they really match up well with Carolina, is the third- and fourth-and-short. Seattle ranked fourth on defense, Carolina was 22nd on offense. When it came to long runs over 10 yards, Seattle was 10th, which is about average, but Carolina was 26th. So even with DeShaun Foster they weren’t breaking a lot of long ones.
Often, a good indicator of linebacker success is teams that are strong in preventing passes to running backs, and a little bit to tight ends. That’s actually a place where Seattle has been good this year – they’re 10th against passes to running backs – and Carolina is 16th against passes to running backs.
1:15 PM: According to ESPN's Ed Werder, Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander is not fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in Seattle's 20-10 win over the Washington Redskins in last Saturday's divisional playoff game. In that game, Alexander carried the ball for 9 yards on 6 carries before being concussed in the first quarter. Backup Maurice Morris rushed for 49 yards in Alexander's stead, including several key first-down conversions. Alexander did practice every day from Wednesday through Friday, and coach Mike Holmgren said Alexander practiced well.
Alexander hasn't yet had a really effective game in the playoffs, and he addressed that stigma on Friday. "There's never really any more pressure that any game or any situation could ever put than I put on myself," he said. "There is no title that someone can put on me that would give me more pressure. I put extreme amount of pressure on myself to go out there and perform and try to be better every play. I'm just going to go out there the same way I always do, and that's to try to do something that's even more amazing than some of the things I've been able to do before."
--Werder also reported on Sunday morning that Carolina WR Steve Smith, the most dynamic player in this year's playoffs by a wide margin, will be the focus of Seattle's defense in the NFL Championship game. Werder said that during Seattle's practice week, practice squad WR Maurice Mann was assigned the unenviable task of portraying Smith against Seattle's defense. Seahawk linebackers (most likely led by MLB Lofa Tatupu) were required to call out where Mann was on every play, and Holmgren was said to have bawled out his DBs whenever Mann wasn't covered physically within the first five yards. Holmgren was later quoted as saying that he "felt sorry for (Mann) - we really beat him up."
Against the Chicago Bears in Carolina's 29-21 divisional playoff victory, Smith caught 12 balls for 218 yards and 2 TDs. On both touchdowns, the Panthers did not assign a safety to cover up top, and the cornerback assigned to Smith fell down on Soldier Field's dodgy turf. It's quite obvious that the Seahawks will be using a different scheme.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck conferred with his receivers this week and changed all the hand-signal audibles. Hasselbeck did this to counter former Seattle CB Ken Lucas, who knows those audibles and has undoubtedly shared that inside information with his new team.