Seattle — This wasn't so much a game as it was a multi-layered coronation, done in the guise of a punch to the face, thrown by a gentleman. Instigated by an angry defense. Egged on by a volatile crowd.
These are the Seattle Seahawks, officially your NFC favorite to reach the Super Bowl. Sorry San Francisco. Buh bye New Orleans. G'night, Carolina.
Barring some sort of cataclysm, the road to New Jersey will go through here. That was established during the 34-7 disemboweling of the Saints on an unbelievable Monday night. It was established in the rawest, most guttural terms as the Seahawks bashed a good Saints team—strutting, shoving, battering, jawing and intimidating along the way.
This game was the equivalent of the Seahawks walking to the 50-yard line while holding a baseball bat and daring anyone to enter the territory they just marked.
You feeling lucky?
Well step on up, dude. Let's go.
Some of you will flame the message boards and stomp your feet about the Panthers or 49ers. This year, in this moment, the 49ers aren't winning here. Joe Montana ain't walking through that door. If you think a team like Carolina could win in this maelstrom of violence, you need to visit a doctor's office.
What makes the Seahawks most dangerous, more dangerous than any other NFC team, isn't solely their physicality or noisy home-field advantage, it's the Gentleman Destroyer, Russell Wilson.
Wilson has elevated himself to the position of the most well-rounded pass thrower in football not named Aaron Rodgers. This isn't a reactionary declaration but the culmination of a steady climb up the quarterback ranks. There were passes he made against the Saints that were Tom Brady-like and moves that were Randall Cunningham-esque.
The comparison for Wilson has been Fran Tarkenton, but he's actually more Steve Young because of the power of his arm and accuracy of his throws. Before this game, in his previous 19, Wilson was 299-of-458 for 4,014 yards, 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions. According to Sports Illustrated, his passer rating of 111.2 over that span is the best in football.
Coach Pete Carroll said that Wilson does so many things well he makes it almost impossible for opponents to game-plan against him. That's definitely a true statement.
Wilson had two touchdowns in the first half as the Seahawks jumped to a 27-7 lead. That means, according to the NFL, Wilson became only the fourth quarterback in league history to reach 20 touchdown passes in his first two seasons. He joins Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Andy Dalton. Wilson is 22-6 as a starter.
What Wilson did against the Saints is use his feet and athleticism to recreate the pocket once protection broke down. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle and then throw, instead of running just to run.
Wilson used almost hypnotic footwork to dodge a fatty diving at him on numerous occasions. The escape would be followed by a dart down the field. On one play, Saints defensive lineman Akiem Hicks had Wilson cold, but Wilson stepped quickly to the side and Hicks went sprawling helplessly to the ground. After the play, Hicks just sat on the turf, hands in his lap, stunned by what had just happened.
Wilson does all of this with an All-American smile that hides a viciousness. Wilson at half had led the Saints to an offensive advantage of 315 total yards to 90 for New Orleans. Wilson finished 22-of-30 for 310 yards and three scores.
"He's an extraordinary person and it goes beyond his football abilities," Carroll said.
The aw-shucks stuff from Wilson is real. The talk of his work ethic is real. The player is…real.
On Sunday, Wilson texted Carroll to say how happy he was with the team's week of practice. Most players don't send those kinds of texts to coaches. Usually, texts are sent to coaches when they want more playing time, or bail money.
This Seahawks team is wonderfully athletic and formidably powerful. They can knock you out. They can outrun you. If they so choose, they can do both of the above. New Orleans had its largest halftime deficit since 2007 and Drew Brees' 74 passing yards through two quarters was his lowest since 2008. This was one of the few times you will ever see Sean Payton out-coached.
The Seahawks are brutal and they are also not always the most likable group. In fact, what the Seahawks are is quite possibly the first Super Bowl contender that is both lovable and hate-able. Wilson is the talented teddy bear, so likable he's Red State electable, while other components of the Seahawks can be absolutely jerkish.
Wide receiver Golden Tate preens and jaws after seemingly every routine catch. On almost every occasion, Seattle defensive backs mouthed off to Saints players. There was a solid cheap shot or two from the Seahawks as well, including a nasty one in the end zone. None of this includes how Seattle has enough suspended and PED'd dudes to create their own practice squad.
At CenturyLink Field, however, all of this works for Seattle. The intense crowd noise…the fervor…it creates not just an electricity but an almost elevated sense of being. Everything Seattle is elevated: the play, the energy, the water that rolls next to the stadium.
The Seahawks almost can't help themselves because the energy level acts like a propellant. It's not Adderall—it's 12thMan-erall.
The 11-1 Seahawks are two games ahead of New Orleans and Carolina (9-3) in the NFC. The conference belongs to Seattle.
"As of right now," said quarterback Drew Brees, "it's looking like the road to the Super Bowl goes through here."
If Seattle keeps playing like this, it won't just be home-field advantage they win.