That is not to say that everyone played well – offense, defense, and special teams all had problems – but they didn’t get blown out by a Chargers team capable of doing just that to most any team in the NFL.
San Diego Chargers 20, Seattle Seahawks 17
December 24th, 2006
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
Play of The Day: With 36 seconds remaining and down by four, Chargers QB Phillip Rivers, having completed almost no passes all day, hit a streaking Vincent Jackson for 37 yards and a game-winning touchdown. The Seahawks would get the ball, but would be unable to move into position for a field goal that would have tied the game.
Honorable Mention goes to the Nate Burleson touchdown that should have been. A 96 yard kick return by Burleson was called back due to a holding penalty on backup TE Bennie Joppru. The only problem was that there was no hold. It will be entertaining to see the officials describe what ingredients of a hold this perfectly legal block had. Of course, since Seattle lost by three points, the touchdown could have changed the outcome of the game.
Bringing Their “A” Game: Shaun Alexander, who showed why he won the MVP last year, with 140 yards and two touchdowns…Bobby Engram, who caught 4 passes for 65 yards and basically powered the entire passing offense… KR/PR Nate Burleson, who should have had a 96 yard return for a touchdown had the officials not interfered… P Ryan Plackemeier, who boomed punts for a 49.6 yard average, including 5 downed within the 20 yard-line… LB Lofa Tatupu, who had 11 tackles and was everywhere… RE Grant Wistrom, who made several important plays against the run and held his own against a good LT in Marcus McNeil… CB Kelly Jennings, who was on the wide receiver like glue the entire game, including a couple nice plays on deep passes... Lastly, the 12th man, who came out louder than anytime last year, and kept the Charger offense off-balance.
The Bad and the Ugly: Seahawk nation is missing their 2007 first round pick after watching WR Deion Branch drop four passes against the Chargers, including a couple deep passes… Matt Hasselbeck is making good reads, but his throwing accuracy is clearly still AWOL… The offensive line had no solution for Chargers LB Shawne Merriman, disappointing considering that the Seahawks had 10 days to prepare… Hell, the Seahawks offensive line had no solution for anyone, as Hasselbeck was sacked six times and had to throw away several other times… Seattle finally sacked Phillip Rivers, but only after 10 quarters without reaching the quarterback, and Rivers was hit just twice in the entire first half… The officials were just plain awful against the Chargers, though the team wasn’t a whole let better.
Referee Report Card: Ron Winter and his crew could have seriously changed the outcome of the day. It was abundantly clear that backup TE Bennie Joppru did not commit a holding penalty, yet the officials flagged him for a perfect block and negated a long touchdown return by Burleson. The officials also made an incorrect ruling on a punt where Burleson was ruled as muffing the return, though it was overturned, The Chargers also got off the snap early a ton, but didn’t draw enough flags for it. Horrible performance by the refs, I haven’t felt this robbed since Super Bowl XL. F.
Offense: So, how is that offense without Darrell Jackson? People have been saying for the past couple of years that Seattle should trade the oft-maligned wide receiver, despite his being the best receiver on the team. With Seattle’s deep wide receiver group, that train of thought gained momentum among the fan base. The past two games, Jackson has been out with a toe injury, so I think it is worthwhile noting that the offense has sputtered horribly in Jackson’s absence.
Speaking of sputtering, how about WR Deion Branch? This connects to Darrell Jackson because most seem willing to plug in Branch as the #1 Wideout, despite his best season being below-average for Jackson. Branch did catch five passes, but he also dropped an astonishing four passes – none of them difficult grabs at all. I like Deion Branch, and I think he will have a very successful career with Seattle, but this season has not been a good one for Branch – he has struggled to get looks in the offense, and the drops were a game-killer. He will bounce back, but it is clear that Jackson is the #1 man in Seattle.
Given the troubles QB Matt Hasselbeck has had throwing the ball; he could have used both Jackson and the real Deion Branch. Matt has been an outstanding leader, guiding the offense coolly and efficiently at times, and always keeping the team looking alive. However, being a great leader is different than being a great Quarterback. Hasselbeck has had trouble doing the basic things – avoiding double-coverage, looking off safeties, and most importantly hitting his spot. No play exemplified this more than his second interception. The pass protection was very solid, WR Bobby Engram ran a good route and was wide open – no Charger nearby. Somehow, for some reason, Hasselbeck played the ball a foot above Engram’s head, who tipped it to a defender. It was just a poor throw, simple inaccuracy. Not the kind of throw Matt usually makes. His knee injury could still be affecting him, but for whatever reason his accuracy is lacking.
Of course, even a quarterback with Peyton Manning’s passing skills and Michael Vick’s legs would have trouble with the porous pass protection. Charger LB Shawne Merriman alone notched three sacks today, and numerous times the receivers got separation but not before Hasselbeck was drilled by at least one Charger. Some of the blame lies with the offensive line, but a lot of blame has to go to the coaching staff. A 3-4 is easier to play against than a 4-3, as long as the scheme drawn up is effective. Several sacks came from a simple inability by the team to block everyone sent, something that 10 days of game planning should have cured.
While Alexander ran for a lot of yards, the line was not much better run-blocking than pass-blocking. With the exception of his 33-yard touchdown run, Alexander earned every single one of his yards. Shaun’s running style seems to change year-to-year. In 2004, he would dance around the backfield until a hole opened itself. In 2005, he’d start running to a hole, but he’d be ready to make a cut if the opportunity presented itself. This year, he has decided to harness his inner battering ram, bowling over opponents and spinning out of half-hearted tackles. After a season like this, I doubt we’ll hear any more about Shaun being too much of a wimp to pick up the tough yards… Ahh, who am I kidding, of course we will.
Defense: What a tough game by the defense. I don’t think anybody expected the defense to hold the Chargers to only twenty points. Sure, Tomlinson rushed for 5.6 yards a carry, yet with this defense that is almost a victory. And the stats are a little misleading their – the defense did a good job keeping Tomlinson from getting consistent yardage, despite his downright nasty speed. Props to Lofa Tatupu, Grant Wistrom, and Michael Boulware on the run defense (Boulware played very well, and were it not for the touchdown reception at the end of the game he would have had a great game), Tomlinson is the best running back in football and all three made several key tackles to keep him in check.
The pass defense had the better stats, yet looked less stellar, though Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers helped. Rivers compiled an astonishing 0-9 passing early in the game, and honestly never really played “well” the entire game. Were it not for the general ineptitude of the Seahawks defense, Rivers would have turned the ball over at least twice due to lame-duck throws. In his defense, his receivers had trouble holding onto the football in the rainy weather; it seemed that for every completion Rivers made, his receivers missed a pass that should have been caught.
Rivers was not helped by Kelly Jennings’ sterling coverage. When CB Marcus Trufant left the game due to injury, Jennings was able to step right in and play excellent defense. He might already be the best cover-corner on the team. For example, on one deep pass Rivers looked like he was going to hit WR Vincent Jackson in stride. Mentally, from the stands, I had chalked that pass as a long completion. Instead, Jennings reached an arm out and swatted it. It was an outstanding play, the kind of play that Kelly Herndon is never in position to make (he is trailing five yards downfield) and Marcus Trufant doesn’t make. Great game by Jennings.
Michael Boulware, what are we going to do with you? This columnist has been among your biggest supporters, pointing out Babineaux’s flaws with monotonous consistency, and you go and give up the winning touchdown! You are the Marcus Trufant of safeties; against the run, you’re very good. When the ball is in front of you, you’re solid. When your back is turned to the ball, you’re downright awful. All day you did an excellent job of containing Tomlinson– including one play where you stopped L.T. for no gain after taking a vicious charge. Yet, when the game mattered most, your biggest weakness was revealed. Is it time to go to a safety platoon? Should Babineaux enter on obvious passing situations? Will John Marshall show any creativity? I can only answer the last question, with a resounding “NO!”.
Special Teams: Penalties continue to plague the special teams unit. Even when they should not have been called. Ron Winter’s officiating crew deserves a lot of blame for this loss – it was a game Seattle could have won, maybe even should have won. P Ryan Plackemeier had another excellent game, as usual, including a really nice punt on the final San Diego touchdown drive. Nate Burleson did his usual thing, another great return called back due to penalties… Assuming Bears return-man Devin Hester ever leaves the NFC, Burleson will make it to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist.
Summary: Santa did not give every Seahawks fan what they wanted for Christmas, yet this team played better football than they have in many weeks. The offense continues to come out flat early in the game – why, remains a mystery – yet the defense plays lights out before finally wearing down. If the offense can ever manage to wake up before halftime, the defense can remain fresh and they should be able to last the entire game. Overall, it was encouraging. Maybe this team is getting hot just in time for the playoffs?
Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.