Coming into the week, it was expected that Seattle would come out and establish the run game early against the league’s 28th-ranked defense. Instead, the Seahawks found themselves in a shooting match early.
Fortunately, the Seahawks put in a dominating performance for most of the game, and Arizona’s defense was picked apart by Matt Hasselbeck en route to a 36-18 victory that took sole possession of first place in the NFC West for the Seahawks.
Arizona wasted no time putting up the first points of the game. After a big kickoff return brought the Cardinals to midfield, Derek Anderson hit Larry Fitzgerald on the fourth play of the game set Arizona up for their first touchdown. Of course, any Seattle fan watching the game knows that Marcus Trufant pushed Fitzgerald out of bounds before he could get both feet down.
Even with Seattle quickly striking back with a score of their own, NFL officiating conspiracy theorists were furiously typing away to commissioner Roger Goodell after Lawyer Milloy pulled Tim Hightower down from behind. Apparently grabbing between the numbers on a jersey to pull a player down is the new definition of a “horse-collar” tackle.
Speaking of Milloy, he was one of three guys who clearly stood out on defense this week along with Chris Clemons (two sacks) and Aaron Curry. I think sometimes we forget that Curry is only a year-and-a-half into his career. As the fourth pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Seahawks fans have had high expectations for the young linebacker. With his linebacker peers Brian Cushing earning last year’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and Clay Matthews establishing himself as a sack machine for the Packers, some have already about declared Curry a “bust.”
Hopefully this is the game that everyone will look back to and say, “That was Curry’s coming out party,” because he was all over the field this week. Not only was he the team leader in tackles this week with seven, but he had two sacks, a forced fumble and was in Anderson’s face most of the night.
His first sack was huge for the Seahawks. It pushed the Cardinals out of field goal range with the game tied at seven. Instead of being down 10-7, Seattle was up 10-7 after Hasselbeck hooked up with tight end Chris Baker for 44 yards, setting Olindo Mare up for the 41-yard field goal.
As if a 44-yard pass wasn’t enough for Hasselbeck, on the first play of the Seahawks next drive, he stepped up in the pocked and hit Deon Butler in stride over the middle at the 20. Butler finished off the 63-yard touchdown by juking three Cardinals out of their shoes, cutting back to the middle of the field and into the end zone. Butler finished the game with four catches for 66 yards.
Mike Williams continued to be Matt’s favorite target, as the two connected 11 times for 145 yards.
At the end of the first half, Hasselbeck had already put up more yards through the air than in any other game this season with 273 passing yards.
Despite having more yards through the air than they’ve had in a full game all year, Seattle only had 17 points to show for it after a failed 4th-and-1 late in the second quarter. With Hasselbeck having his best game of the season, Seahawks fans held their breath when he had his left wrist checked out on the sideline before the end of the first half.
Charlie Whitehurst returned after halftime, and it looked like we would see that running game against the Cardinals that we expected with Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch both breaking runs for more than 20 yards. After the two big runs, though, Whitehurst was picked off on his second pass attempt. He rebounded on the next drive to lead the team to a field goal before handing the reigns back over to Hasselbeck with Seattle up 20-10.
With the offense bouncing between quarterbacks in the third quarter, the defense really gave the team a boost. The Cardinals finished the third quarter with a net loss of 10 yards. When the team needed the defense most, all they did was push the Cardinals backwards.
After going up 23-10, Seattle quickly got the ball back as Curry sacked and stripped Derek Anderson. The Seahawks recovered and put three more points on the board to lead 26-10.
While the defense dominated in the third quarter, the offense sputtered inside the red zone. But after the last two games it’s hard to make any complaints, at least they got into the red zone after only making two visits over the last two games. With two of those red-zone field goals coming after the team already had enough points on the board to put the Cardinals away, I’m not going to push the issue much more this week. Mare finished with 18 points, 15 coming from five field goals.
After beating the defending Super Bowl champs, the Cardinals have now lost four in a row. Coincidentally, Seattle (5-4) will face New Orleans (6-3) on the road next Sunday. I’m not sure if whoever came up with the scheduling was trying to pick on Seattle, but this will be the third time they will face an opponent coming off their bye week. Drew Brees is putting up big numbers through the air this year, so stuffing the run, putting the team in 3rd-and-long situations and getting turnovers is going to be key for the defense.
San Francisco (3-6) won in overtime over St. Louis (4-5) this weekend, leaving Seattle in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. Despite the loss, St. Louis still looks like they may be the ones to challenge Seattle for the division, which could make for an interesting Week 17 matchup in Seattle.
Atlanta (7-2) at St. Louis: Atlanta now looks like the team to beat in the NFC after the Giants were dominated at home by the Cowboys, 33-20. I’m not sure why the Giants had to pick last week to have their best game of the year against the Seahawks. It turned out the same week the Cowboys decided to fire Wade Phillips was the week they remembered they were the Cowboys. After a tough loss this week to San Francisco, it will be awfully difficult to rebound against a hot Atlanta team, even if the Rams are at home.
Tampa Bay (6-3) at San Francisco: Don’t think about the Bucs as the team that everyone walked all over in previous years. This team looks like they’re for real and will likely be favored over the 49ers.
Arizona at Kansas City (5-4): This game will depend on which Kansas City team shows up. They’ve lost three of their last five games after starting the year 3-0. The Cardinals are hoping it’s the same team that showed up in Denver this week and lost 49-29. Kansas City is 4-0 at home, so hopefully their tendency to win and home and lose on the road continues, considering they’ll be bringing their 1-4 road record into Seattle the following week.
This is going to sound crazy, and I really don’t want to jinx anything here, but hear me out.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say something I hope I won’t regret. I really believe this Seattle team is going to win more games this year than they did for Jim Mora last year.
I know it’s a real reach at this point, but I really think they can pull it off.
Brandan Schulze is a Navy veteran and member of the military chapter of the Sea Hawkers, the official booster club for the Seattle Seahawks. For more information on the chapter, visit www.militaryseahawkers.ning.com. Membership is free for all military service members and veterans.