Last week, with the weakened by injuries and the NFL’s best team coming to town, Seahawks linebacker KJ Wright uttered the phrase that might ring through the final stages of this NFL season.
“Don’t sleep on us, man,” he
“This team is still good,” he continued. “We are still talented. We can be the best of the best. We are the best of the best. And so just because we have injuries don’t mean that things will change.”
On Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles came into Seattle on a run few teams ever experience. Their offense had been so explosive, their defense so intimidating they were looking to be the first team in 18 years to win five straight games by 20 points. They hoped to leave with the NFC East title wrapped up a month early. Given the way they had been playing and the way the Seahawks were limping, it seemed a logical conclusion both would happen.
By now the NFL should know the Seahawks might be the league’s grittiest team, surviving more on belief than talent these days. Instead of winning by 20, the Eagles only scored twice, . Carson Wentz, assumed by many to be the 2017 MVP, was harried all night. His 348 yards passing were mostly garbage yards. When Seattle’s defense needed to make a stop, Wentz was pressured by swarms of players in blue, sacked three times and knocked to the ground several others. Even his two best throws – in the Eagles’ only touchdown drive – came under great duress. It was as if the Seahawks were the Seahawks again … if only for a night.
Injuries have been especially cruel to Seattle. Their famed Legion of Boom has been torn apart. Richard Sherman, their great defensive star, watched from under a blue jacket, his season done with a torn achilles. Kam Chancellor, their biggest intimidator, wore a stocking hat instead of a helmet. They have pieced together an offensive line and are on their sixth running back. Even with Russell Wilson having an MVP-level season of his own, there has been little about these Seahawks to say they can make another Super Bowl run.
Except that they won’t go away.
“They didn’t waver,” Wilson said about his team’s defense after the game. “We can’t waver. This is playoff football, you can’t waver.”
This is probably the biggest question as the season heads into the final month – and many of the NFC’s top teams lack the Seahawks’ playoff experience. The Vikings (the new top seed), Eagles and Rams are unaccustomed to being good this time of year. They have all been on magnificent runs but much as the Eagles discovered in Seattle, they may not be prepared for nights like Sunday when an experienced team comes at you with a frenzy you’ve never encountered.
Seattle have now played themselves into a wildcard spot with four games to play. They are 8-4 and just a game behind the Rams who come to Seattle in two weeks. Given the way the defense rattled Wentz and the Eagles and the way Wilson keeps making plays when no plays seem possible, there is every reason to believe Wright.
Don’t sleep on the Seahawks.
They may just be waking up for their time of year.
Fantasy player of the week
Blake Bortles. Imagine the Jacksonville Jaguars at 8-4 and in seeming control of a playoff spot – perhaps even a division title? Imagine too the Jags’ embattled quarterback Blake Bortles throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns without any interceptions .
Yes, he did this against the Colts who are 3-9 in this year without Andrew Luck, but Bortles has been more efficient as the team has developed an aggressive defense and solid running game around him. There is a belief the Jaguars will look for another quarterback next season but if Bortles keeps playing as he did Sunday, the search might not be necessary.
Stat of the week
Eight. The number of consecutive games Denver have lost since starting the season 3-1. Given the way the Broncos have tumbled, with a sluggish offense and dreary quarterback play, it’s hard to imagine they once looked like serious contenders to win the AFC West. That was back in early October, right after Denver had beaten Oakland 16-10 and the offense seemed strong enough to win games. Then everything fell apart.
The Broncos, who scored 42 and 28 points in their first two games, have scored more than 20 only once since and as they have bounced between Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch at quarterback. None have looked impressive as evidenced by Siemian’s three interceptions in a 35-9 loss to Miami on Sunday. It’s safe to say none of the three will be Denver’s starting quarterback next season. The question is who will? The Broncos defense is too good for this team to be 3-9 less than two years after winning a Super Bowl.
Video of the week
Last week, this space wondered if the Kansas City Chiefs would be best served by benching Alex Smith and , the quarterback they took with the 10th pick in last spring’s draft. Given the way Smith had failed miserably in third-down situations and given the way the Chiefs had stumbled in the season’s second-half a quarterback change seemed likely.
Instead, Kanas City coach Andy Reid gave up play-calling duties, handing them to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. Then on Sunday Smith looked more like the Smith of the early season completing 19 of 36 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. But most impressive was this 70-yard run that showed off Smith’s speed.
Still, Smith’s performance on Sunday was not enough to keep the Chiefs slide from ending. That’s because …
Video of the week II
… Kansas City’s defense could not slow the might Jets and so the Chiefs found themselves in an 11-play goalline stand that twice would have held the Jets to a field goal in a one-point game, only to have New York be awarded a fresh shot at the end zone with Chiefs penalties. When the Jets did finally score – barely – to go up by six, a two-point conversion failed. Except Kansas City was called for (what else?) another penalty.
Fed up, Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters picked up the flag and heaved it into the stands.
The NFL tends to frown upon their players throwing penalty flags, especially because those little yellow handkerchiefs actually have small weights sewn into them. You can laugh and say such a thing could take an eye out, but that almost happened in a game back in 1996 when an official’s flag causing Brown to miss the rest of the season.
Fortunately, the flag Peters threw did not hurt anyone. In fact the fans in the stands took selfies of themselves with penalty flag, but the Chiefs were unable to come back, losing their sixth game in seven weeks, 38-31.
Quote of the week
“Throw him out!” – Chant from Bills fans aimed at Rob Gronkowski.
The sight of the 265lbs Gronkowski plunging onto the back of a helpless Tre’Davious White as White lay on the ground was shocking. The Bills cornerback clearly not expecting contact, he held the ball he had just intercepted against his stomach and when Gronkowski jumped on him it appeared to knock his breath out.
Gronkowski, who grew up in Buffalo, had reason to be angry, however. White had been holding his jersey on the previous play, keeping him from getting open and allowing the ball to be intercepted. Gronkowski appeared frustrated by the fact no penalty had been called but leaping on a defenseless player was simply dirty – a fact he acknowledged after the game when he apologized for what he did to White.
None of this made a difference in the final score, a 23-3 New England victory, the Pats’ eighth straight win.
Elsewhere around the league
–Aaron Jones ran 20 yards for a touchdown in overtime to give Green Bay a 26-20 victory over Tampa Bay and keep the Packers’ flickering playoff hopes alive at 6-6.
–The Baltimore Ravens are back in postseason contention with a 44- 20 victory over Detroit behind Joe Flacco’s 269 passing yards and two touchdowns. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford left the game with an injured hand in the fourth quarter.
–Atlanta were far from the offensive power of last week as they lost 14-9 at home to Minnesota. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had just 173 yards passing as a Super Bowl team from last year fell to 7-5. They are in danger of not making the playoffs.
–Jimmy Garoppolo won his first start as a San Francisco 49er, throwing for 293 yards but no touchdowns as the Niners rode five Robbie Gould field goals in an ugly 15-14 victory over Chicago.
–Marshawn Lynch had his first 100-yard rushing game in two years as Oakland added to the New York Giants misery with a 24-17 victory.