On Russell Wilson, fake punts, and the 49ers-Pats buzzkill
From Marshawn Lynch going over 100 yards while averaging better than 11 yards per carry for the second straight week, to the defense playing takeaway, starting with K.J. Wright's big, momentum changing interception to Earl Thomas' interception that he returned 57 yards (running about 150)—and how in the world was that Earl Thomas' first career touchdown? The guy is a pick-six waiting to happen—to the strong play of unproven cornerbacks Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell, who more than held their own filling in for corners missing from action because of injuries and suspension.
But as has been the case quite often in the second half of the season, the biggest reason why the Seahawks were victorious Sunday was the play of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who passed for 205 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for a Seahawks quarterback-record 92 yards and three scores. Last week, the Seahawks somehow managed to scored 58 points while having their quarterback be something of an afterthought—that's how bad Arizona was a week ago—but this time Wilson was in charge. It's easy to forget now that Seattle's day started with Wilson getting sacked, but he followed that by completing all four attempts on the drive, including passes to Sidney Rice and Zach Miller that allowed Seattle to convert twice on third-and-seven. The drive ended with Wilson scoring on a 14-yard run. Wilson's first rushing TD of the year, and the first of three he would finish with that day, came on a zone-read option play, a weapon that has become more and more a part of Seattle's offense as the season has gone on. And one encouraging element of Wilson's rushing success is that he's doing it without taking a lot of hits. The biggest concern with having a running quarterback is the risk of injury (just ask Washington, which played without Robert Griffin III Sunday because of a knee injury suffered while running last week), but while rushing for 92 yards, Wilson took remarkably little contact by sliding, by getting out of bounds, or by getting into the end zone.
So just how good was Wilson's day? Well he had a passer rating of 104.4, which is pretty darn good, but that doesn't fully tell the story of his day because of how dangerous he was running the ball.
According to ESPN's QBR, which tries to paint a more complete picture of a quarterback's performance, Wilson was not just good, he was for a day anyway, the best quarterback the NFL has seen this season. First, here's how ESPN describes QB:
Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a QB's significant contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team's scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average. Since 2008, the team with the higher QBR has won 86 percent of the time.
And Wilson's QBR on that 0-100 scale was a gaudy 99.3. That's the best total QBR in a single game this season, and this wasn't just one isolated impressive performance for Wilson. Since Week 8, Wilson's QBR of 87.9 is the best in the league in that span.
So yeah, the rookie is playing some pretty darn good football these days.
One big play that the Seahawks had Sunday, however, might have been a bit regrettable. With a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks used a fake punt to pick up a first down. Last week, the Seahawks were accused by some of running up the score against Arizona. I defended their play-calling, as did many others. And while it is fair to say that there is nothing wrong with keeping your foot on the gas at the NLF level, regardless of the score, a fake punt in that situation is a little hard to defend.
That's probably why Carroll didn't try to defend it after the game. Instead he explained that they had an automatic fake call in their game plan if the Bills showed a certain look that the Seahawks had seen while studying film during the week. That finally happened in the fourth quarter, and
“It was something I could have called off and I didn't,” Carroll told reporters. “. . . I should have stopped it in the sense that it looked bad.”
Ultimately, I don't have a big problem with an NFL team staying aggressive with big lead. Just look at what happened in New England last night when the Patriots quickly erased a 28-point lead in the second half. That being said, teams do have to live with the consequences. If the Seahawks find themselves down on their luck in a couple of years and teams run it up on them, they'll have no grounds to complain. If a key player gets hurt in the fourth quarter with the game already out of reach, Carroll would have to answer for that. Or if a frustrated opponent takes a cheap shot, the Seahawks shouldn't be too surprised.
Then again, how crazy is it that we're even having this conversation two weeks in a row? For most of this season, the Seahawks were playing games that went down to the last possession week after week. Now we're asking if they're being bullies two weeks in a row? Strange.
And as impressive as Seattle's win was, Sunday wasn't quite a perfect for the Seahawks. For that, they needed some help from the Patriots, who have been almost unbeatable at home this time of year under Bill Belichick. I say almost, because the Patriots finally lost a December home game when the Seahawks so badly needed some help. Has New England beaten the 49ers, the Seahawks would be hosting San Francisco with a chance to take over the NFC West lead. Instead, the Seahawks' only hope of winning the division is that they win out and the 49ers lose their final game against the dreadful Arizona Cardinals.
Yet even if a division title is now unlikely, the Seahawks are in good shape to make the playoffs. One more win in its next two games gets Seattle into the postseason, and as recent playoff history has shown us, being hot going into the playoffs is more important than seeding (the past two Super Bowl winners, the Giants and Packers, were both Wild Card teams). So even if the Seahawks don't win the West, that doesn't mean fans can't dream big.
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