SMQB: Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20

Wow. What an amazing game. It was not the kind of dominating victory that Seattle had against Carolina in the NFC Championship Game, but the kind of close, hard-fought battle that has become symbolic of games between Dallas and Seattle.

The Seahawks came into the game battered and worn and with plenty of questions, and while the team is still battered and worn, the team has shown they can still win against playoff teams. Time to wait and see if the Seahawks will draw Chicago (Philadelphia wins) or New Orleans (New York wins) for the next round of the playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks 21, Dallas Cowboys 20
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
January 6th, 2007

Play of the Game: I think I can just call it "The Fumble". And I am not talking about Jason Witten's fumble. How fitting that Tony Romo - who saved Dallas' season - is the one to cost Dallas the game. Jordan Babineaux is not a good strong safety, but he deserves a lot of credit for catching Romo from behind and stopping him before the first down.

Bringing Their "A" Game: I had a big long paragraph written, until I realized that I included every member of the defense. The entire defense played an outstanding game against an offense that matched up very well... TE Jerramy Stevens had a great game, catching 5 passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns... WR Bobby Engram (4 receptions, 88 yards), who appears to be a much bigger part of this offense than he was given credit for previously - the offense has moved the ball much better since Engram returned... Tackles Walter Jones and Sean Locklear, both of whom kept opposing rushers at bay and played well in run blocking...P Ryan Plackemeier did a great job of nailing punts inside the 10 yard line.

The Bad and the Ugly: Mike Holmgren's playcalling was absolutely atrocious (more on that later)... Someone on the Seattle defense needs to prepare for the draw-play, as Dallas ran it with impunity... The running game really struggled, with the interior line not losing ground, but not gaining it either... QB Matt Hasselbeck played tough, but threw two interceptions and really didn't accomplish too much offensively... D.J. Hackett suffered an injury against Dallas, though exactly how bad has not been revealed.

Referee Report Card: A couple of very questionable non-calls put a damper on an overall solid game by the officials. My biggest complaint with the officials is that the Dallas defensive backs were doing their best Ty Law vs. Marvin Harrison impression, yet not enough defensive holding and defensive pass interferences were called. Overall not a bad game. B

Offense: Mike Holmgren, please go back and see whatever you did last year, and then start doing that again. The offense has not played a good first half of football since stomping the New York Giants, and the blame has to rest on the shoulders of the head coach. The biggest problem with this offense is the lack of rhythm with this offense - Seattle now prays for breaks that lead to big gains, instead of constantly chipping away at an opposing defense. The weirdest trend with Holmgren's playcalling has to do with playcalling where only a yard is needed. For the third time this season, Seattle ran an off-tackle run on 4th and 1, and for the first time it actually worked. More puzzling is the inane 1st-and-goal outside run on the one yard line in the 4th quarter after a defensive-pass-interference call. The run lost seven yards, and Seattle did not score on that possession.

While Shaun Alexander did not have gaudy rushing stats - in fact, the 2.8YPC average is downright bad - he actually was running fairly well. Holmgren was avoiding the inside-run at all costs against the Cowboys, and very few of the stretch-runs had enough blocking to work. In Holmgren's defense, the interior offense line was not getting much push. If I had to pick a word to describe Shaun Alexander's performance, it would be workmanlike - he had very little in terms of blocking, but he did a good job of taking what the defense gave him.

The offensive line did not block for Alexander well, but Matt Hasselbeck will have few complaints with the offensive line. In fact, the line blocked better than it has in a long time. Zero sacks is a nice number, but sacks are a statistic that depends a lot on the quarterback - if the passer is getting rid of the ball quickly, even poor protection looks good. However, Matt was not getting rid of the ball quickly, he was holding onto the ball for a very long time waiting for the wide receivers to get open, which they didn't do.

Not that I would expect the wideouts to get open much more next week, no matter the opponent. Despite starting the game, Jackson did not record a catch and did not even take a snap in the second half of the game. DJ Hackett looks to have suffered a serious injury against Dallas, possibly to his knee. We will know more about that injury later, but it did not look good. Suddenly the depth chart for wide receiver looks really thin, despite looking like the deepest position on the team. This could pose problems as the wide receivers are going to have to go against more talented secondaries almost by default.

Stevens seems to be making up for lost time, or rather a lost season. The MMQB has been as hard on Stevens as anyone, and for good reason. However, while he showed improvement the last few weeks by not dropping half the passes thrown to him, he had not exploded. Well, Stevens finally exploded against Dallas, catching five passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. None of his catches were the really easy wide-open kind of catches either - his second touchdown reception came only after he outran the linebacker to get wide open. If Hackett and Jackson are both out, that would make Stevens the only real deep threat on the Seahawks offense.

Defense: The defense really turned it up a notch, as did the twelfth man. I'm not sure if the MMQB can actually praise the defense, as this season has been a defensive disaster, but I'm going to try, because the defense played very well. Fueling the defense was the 12th man - I have been to the Giants game in '05 and the NFC Championship Game in early 2006, and in neither instance was the crowd this loud. The defense really seemed to play off that and made it much more of a defensive showdown than most anyone expected.

Almost as important to the game as Jordan/Jonathan Babineaux's tackle of Tony Romo on the botched field goal was Lofa Tatupu's 3rd down stop of Dallas TE Jason Witten. Despite giving up about four inches and at least thirty pounds to Witten, Lofa Tatupu not only stood up Witten but was also able to keep Witten from reaching out with the ball and crossing the goal-line. Not only was it a play that showed Tatupu's underrated strength, it also showed his very-appreciated instincts for the play. That play kept Seattle in the game, since a touch down or a first down would have been disastrous.

Tatupu did a great job of tackling Witten on that play, but where was he and the rest of the defense when Julius Jones was putting on a repeat performance of 2004's Seahawk-Cowboy matchup? In 2004 Jones ran for nearly 200 (198) yards against Seattle, with many of those yards coming on draw plays. In 2007, Jones ran for only 112 yards, with many of those yards coming on draw plays. Dallas uses a lot of draw plays in their running game, however they are not always effective with them, and seldom are the draw plays as effective as they have been against Seattle. In the end, it didn't cost Seattle the game. However, it very easily could have, and considering Seattle has a very good chance of going up against Reggie Bush and former Dallas coordinator Sean Payton (if the Eagles beat the Giants), Seattle needs to find a way to fix the problem.

Easily the most talked-about aspect of the Seahawks defense, the secondary played an outstanding game against Dallas given the injuries. Even a perfectly healthy Seahawks secondary would have had a hard time matching the performance. Kelly Jennings proved that Terrell Owens' size would only be a factor if he caught the ball, and he held Owens to two receptions for 26 yards (though he did break an attempted tackle by Jennings on one reception). Jordan Babineaux, who had nearly as many question marks as Jennings, also played an exceptional game at cornerback, while the converted mortgage officer Pete Hunter did an admirable job as well. Both safeties were key against the run and the pass, and were it not for Lofa's feet being a couple inches too large we would be praising SS Michael Boulware for recovering the mid-fourth-quarter fumble for a touchdown.

Of course, all of the "misfit" cornerbacks benefited greatly from great pressure by the front four. It only translated into two sacks for the defense, but Romo was clearly out of his element and was not making good throws or good reads. Romo is usually a strong passer out of the pocket, but with the great pressure Seattle was getting (without blitzing very often), Romo was forced to pass without setting his feet, which caused him to overcompensate and toss many of his passes into the dirt. Props to the defensive line, they really did play a great game and got a lot of pressure (especially DE Bryce Fisher) without forcing Marshall to blitz (not that he would have).

Special Teams: Ahhh, how natural it feels to be insulting our special teams once again. I was getting tired of praising them, it just feels so wrong. Plackemeier punted much better than his average shows, and Brown was as reliable as always. However, the injuries seemed to have hurt the return and coverage units. Dallas returned a kickoff for a touchdown, obviously a major blow between two evenly matched teams. While Seattle managed to return kicks rather well, the punt-return game was really awful, with Burleson unable to break tackles when he had the chance.

Summary: Qwest Field was rocking at its loudest this week, and Seattle really put forth a great effort against a tough Dallas team. A friend of mine, a Dallas Cowboys fan who manages to avoid being obnoxious about it, said that this was a game Seattle did not win, but one that Dallas lost. That is simply not true. In the playoffs, even the one point wins that come from botched field-goal holds are special, special wins. Seattle won the game, and really deserves the chance to take on either Chicago or New Orleans next week.


Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.

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