January 14, 2006

One down

In the NFL playoffs, the margin of victory is razor-thin, and it often comes down to character and confidence. For years Seahawk fans have heard –correctly- that this team lacked both.

Not anymore.

We’ve heard that the Seahawks, due to the intricate West Coast Offense they run, are a finesse team that fears physical games. Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman has been beating this to death all week, predicting a Seahawk win but harping on how “Roughneck teams like the Redskins make Seattle nervous.”

Not anymore.

The defining moment of this brutal, sloppy mess of a game came in the third quarter. Darrell Jackson catches a long pass on the sideline and catches a vicious shot from headhunting Redskin safety Sean Taylor. Both players lay prone on the sideline, but Jackson, despite playing with an injured back, pops up quickly. Taylor lies crumpled in a heap, and has to be helped to his feet.

The Seahawks, against a tough but less-talented team, took the shot and withstood it. In fact, had you asked any Redskin fan that if Shaun Alexander goes out with an injury and never returns and mentioned three Seahawk turnovers to Washington’s none, who would win the game, the answer would be obvious.

But it wasn’t.

Matt Hasselbeck had the proverbial coming-out party today. He wasn’t –and isn’t- always pretty. He occasionally forgets he isn’t Brett Favre and throws the ball into impossible situations. But he’s matured, he’s accurate and he’s smart. The backbreaking moment in the game, Mack Strong’s 32-yard ramble in the fourth quarter, was an audible. With New England bowing out, only the Colts have a better quarterback.

Was this the best game they could have played? Of course not. Jimmy Williams and Josh Scobey committed unforgivable turnovers on special teams. Without Alexander to carry the load, Mo Morris and Strong were valiant but fairly ineffective. The defense played well, but still has questions. My biggest question is this: Why do I feel more confindent in this team when the opposition has a 3rd and 4 instead of a 3rd and 14? Washington converted a 3rd-and 20 and a 3rd-and 12 in the second half. Big plays in such situation will come back and kill the ‘Hawks eventually.

I also wonder if Redskin fans realize how badly Joe Gibbs was outcoached in this game. In the first quarter, right after Alexander’s fumble, every Seahawk fan went into shock. Every player did as well. At this point everyone in blue in Qwest Field is remembering the blown Wild Card games the past two seasons, the three heartbreaking losses to St. Louis last season, the litany of blown games and horrid luck this team has had the past 20 years. Four minutes into the game, Washington had a chance to break this team.

And they blew it.

Instead of playing to win, instead of trusting his experienced quarterback and star receiver, Gibbs and offensive coordinator Don Breaux played conservative, running Clinton Portis into a stacked line and threw short passes to an enduringly crummy Taylor Jacobs en route to five consecutive three-and-outs. Had Gibbs chucked his gameplan at that point, the obvious strategy of playing it close to the vest and waiting for the defense to win it for him, Gibbs would have realized that this was his moment. A long pass to Santana Moss, a trick play or two, anything ending in a quick Washington score and this game is over in the first quarter.

But it didn’t happen. Both teams stumbled through an unbelievably ugly stretch of offense, until Washington got a field goal. Hasselbeck took over the game at that point. At 7-3 the Seahawks got their footing back. At 14-3 the game was all but over.

It’s easy to read too much into this game. The Seahawks were an overwhelming favorite, the Skins an exhausted team on their seventh straight week of being “one-and-done”. But this was necessary; this ugly win was needed. The butterflies are gone. This is a battle-tested team now. The road to Detroit is open.


Posted by Frinklin at January 14, 2006 09:55 PM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?