Monday night at CenturyLink Field in Seattle was loud. Really loud. Uncomfortably loud. The loud started as a buzz in warm-ups, became a roar as the game began, and at times reached seismic levels as the Seahawks won their much hyped matchup with the New Orleans Saints, 34-7. After the game, I saw a man in a Guinness World Records blazer holding a plaque certifying exactly how loud it was. Officially, no game had ever been louder. I wasn't surprised.
This weekend saw the studio hosts of the world spread out in commentary booths around this great nation to remind us all of that one inviolable truth: Wouldn't it have been better if this team just took the easy field goal in the first quarter? The NFL's best and brightest spent the weekend counting scores and adding three to the total before realizing that x + 3 is better than x. It was the 650th consecutive great Sunday for hindsight.
Of course, that's a really stupid way to look at things. As I noted in last week's TYFNC, that sort of logic ignores how the game's strategy would have changed, how later possessions that required a fourth-down conversion would have ended up producing a field goal instead. Even more naively, that logic doesn't consider the impact a touchdown would have had in that earlier situation. You never hear about the team that scored a touchdown early and came to feel smart about it later. You also don't hear about the team that takes the sure points early and comes to regret it later, as the Jets nearly did last week.
Mike Smith just can't get it right these days. When he's aggressive, his team fails and gets second-guessed. When he's conservative, his team eventually fails and gets second-guessed some more. I was ready to give his Falcons a week off from this space, since they were playing in the Monday-night game and I've usually got most of the column laid out by then, but a series of decisions by Smith and Rex Ryan in that game will keep them in Thank You for Not Coaching for another week. The only thing is that one of those two actually made the right calls.
Before I get to them, let's ease into this week's coaching evaluation with some smart decisions from around the league. Thank You for Coaching, you three folks
An hour and a half before the Seahawks and 49ers were set to kick off, the air above Occidental Avenue smelled like weed and hot dogs. The jersey-clad had filled the bars outside CenturyLink Field for hours, but now the migration inside had begun. A drum line outfitted in the Seahawks' neon-green and blue hammered away outside the northwest corner of the stadium as opposing fans posed together in front of the Sunday Night Football bus. A group of twentysomethings swayed toward their gate. Above the noise, I could hear one of the women, outfitted in a North Face pullover and black suede wedges, shout to her friends. “I fucking love football,” she said. “I love everything about it.” She was wearing a white Earl Thomas jersey.
That sentiment, or something close to it, was standard on Sunday in Seattle, where the Seahawks were set to play the most anticipated regular-season game in franchise history. A local fan group, led by former Seahawk Joe Tafoya, had even invited a representative from Guinness World Records to measure the noise at CenturyLink Field. More has been at stake at The Clink — namely during the six playoff games hosted here, including the 2005 NFC Championship — but Sunday was different. Even during the high-water mark of the Mike Holmgren era, the Seahawks were never this. Last year, the team came within a field goal of the NFC Championship Game. This month, a commercial for Madden 25 starring quarterback Russell Wilson has been in constant rotation. Both ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated chose Seahawks for the covers of their NFL preview issues. In just a few short years, Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll have managed to create a bigger cult of personality than Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck could in a decade.
In the NFL, rivalries are fleeting. There are exceptions (Dallas-Washington, Chicago–Green Bay), but stakes, as much as familiarity, are what breed contempt in pro football. If the Redskins are 5-10, no one cares about their Week 17 game in Dallas.
For the past decade, the games we’ve come to anticipate are the games between teams who’ve played often and for something. In the early part of the Manning-Brady era, the Colts and Patriots seemed to play at least once a year (and they still do). At some point, we shifted to the Ravens and Steelers, who spent two games seeing who could be the first team to 17 points and/or turn the other team into dust. Now, the league’s best rivalry resides in the NFC West, and we get our first installment of the season Sunday night.
It was Sunday, January 17, 1999. I was in Augusta, Georgia, for the first big junior tennis tournament of the season, the Mayor's Cup. Two days earlier, I walked onto the court, unseeded, for my first-round match with the 9-seed. The end result: a three-set loss. Ever the type to get down on myself, I was bummed, a feeling that continued through my first-round consolation match the following day. I lost that too. I had traveled all the way to Augusta, during my long MLK weekend, to go 0-2. I was devastated.
Then, to make matters worse, I couldn't leave. I had made the trek with a couple other players, and they were still in the tournament. So on Sunday, the penultimate day of the tournament, I showed up to the tennis center in street clothes, my racket back at the hotel. Coming empty-handed meant both spectators and participants alike were reminded that you're a loser. I was 11, and at that point in my life it got no worse than this.
Ray Lewis has described many things as “awesome.” He dieted and exercised before this season and showed up to camp at his lightest weight in some 15 years: “It’s awesome,” he said, “I feel great.” Earlier this season he described Joe Flacco and the Ravens' much-improved offense as “awesome.” Last week, as he took a victory lap around the Ravens’ stadium one last time, he described it as “the most awesome thing you could ever ask for in any professional career.” After Baltimore’s twist-filled victory over Denver on Saturday, Lewis began doing that postgame proselytizing thing that’s common in such contexts. Maybe it’s the awareness that Lewis is nearing the end or maybe it was the delirium of the game, but there was something wildly moving and strange about his incantations. He said some cold-blooded shit about “weapons,” just as the tool that had been forged for his demise, Peyton Manning, walked up to hug him. Then his eyes got gone and serene as he admired his team’s mile-high handiwork: “Man … it’s just awesome,” he said, all blissful and blessed, clouds of mist surrounding his face, as though the Creator had taken a highlighter to him. There’ve been few players over the past decade as intense and absorbing as Lewis. For those of us who remember when “Ray Lewis weapons” turned up a different kind of search-engine result, there hasn’t been another athlete whose path to righteousness has felt so visceral and extreme.
With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning still dissecting defenses, this weekend’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins might not produce this year’s Super Bowl winner, but it may still be the key to the NFL’s future. Since their 3-6 start, the Redskins are on a seven-game winning streak, during which their already potent offense stabilized into one of the best in the league. Seattle, on its own five-game winning streak, has coalesced into arguably the best team in football. After outscheming the Chicago Bears en route to a dramatic overtime victory, Seattle pulled off one of the greatest three-game stretches in league history by bludgeoning the Cardinals, Bills, and 49ers, a stretch during which they outscored their opponents 150 to 30.
Among similar dominant stretches in NFL history, one that comes close was by the 1940 Chicago Bears, whose streak culminated in a 73-0 victory over the Redskins in the NFL Championship. That record offensive output followed totals of 47 and 31 points in the previous two weeks. The success was the direct result of a switch in offensive scheme by legendary Bears coach and owner George Halas, a switch that helped turn a 7-3 Bears loss to the Redskins earlier that season into the most lopsided championship game in any major professional sport. Halas, frustrated by his offense, turned to good friend and Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy for help.
At the time, every NFL team ran the single wing offense, a shotgun-based attack with an unbalanced line where the ball was typically snapped directly to the tailback. Shaughnessy — first at the University of Chicago, where he and Halas became friends, and later at Stanford — had revived the old T-formation, which placed a quarterback directly behind the center. Shaughnessy updated the T to include a variety of motions and misdirection to buttress the running game and bolted on an all-new passing attack. The combination made the offense nearly unstoppable — at least in college. Even as late as 1940, most pro coaches viewed the T formation and its reliance on the quarterback making fakes and dropping back to pass as a bizarre gimmick. That is until Chicago ripped through the latter part of its schedule, and, with Sid Luckman as the prototype for a new era of "T-formation quarterbacks," built a dynasty.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
I am exhausted. Not just because I spent 40 minutes of "real time" standing-squatting-jumping-kneeling-windmilling in my living room as the last four "game minutes" plus OT played out between the paid football players representing the Chocolate and Charm cities yesterday. (BTW, no one should be surprised that D.C. prevailed — food > manners.) But also because meaningful December football is no longer part of my constitution. Like baggy jeans and land-line telephones and paying for music, the once-vital D.C. pro football team has become less critical to my daily existence for all of the obvious and exhaustively well-documented decades' worth of reasons. Of course the 2007 run after the still-unfair and still-distressing Sean Taylor tragedy was inspired. But Todd Collins was prominently involved, which means ... that Todd Collins was prominently involved. This QB and this team and this run are different. Like, once-in-a-generation different, which definitely feels like hyperbole but isn't, IMHO.
I would love to give you another takeaway about labor unions, perception, and fairness right now, but I got a little lost down a ShowtimeTate Twitter hole. ShowtimeTate is the handle for Golden Tate, the Seattle wide receiver who is now at the center of one of the biggest officiating controversies in modern sports history. This fact becomes all the more amusing when you read Golden Tate's Twitter feed. Or perhaps, more accurately, Golden Tate's Twitter feed becomes all the more amusing when you re-watch Tate celebrating like he just got back from the first manned trip to Mars after not catching a game-winning touchdown at the end of Monday night's football game, which will live in infamy. Observe:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Hey everyone, I'm back. I got married last Saturday, which means huge changes for "About Last Night." I'm an official adult now, and I realized that some of my material is immature and inappropriate. It's time to clean up my act and become a lot more conservative and family-friendly with my humor. That way, everyone can enjoy a good hearty chuckle in the morning. But it's only fair to give you a "transition day" to help you prepare. In the items below, I'll use an example of "old humor" after the link, and then show you what the new, more adult jokes will be like in bold. Tomorrow, the old humor will be gone for good.