The Seahawks don’t seem to get how this works. Becoming one of the best teams in football is a clearly defined process, and while they followed some of the early steps — find a franchise quarterback, build a great defense (although that one is optional) — they’ve struggled with the final one. When a team finally does prove it belongs, its purpose is then to square off with other great teams in perfectly hyped, insta-classic prime-time games that keep us fixed to the couch. Last night, for the second time this season, Seattle turned the Game of the Century into a rout and, in doing so, made it look like the NFC playoffs might just go the same way.
Any Week 13 game between teams with three combined losses would get the glossy "game of the week" treatment, but what made this one different is that for these two teams, home-field advantage actually does mean something. Including the playoffs, the Saints have won their past 15 home games with Drew Brees and Sean Payton on the sideline. They’re 6-0 at home this year, and the difference in Brees’s numbers at and away from the Super Dome are staggering. This was before last night:
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.
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.
Robert Mays: Typically when I watch football, I try to watch the line. That isn’t an attempt at snobbery. It’s just what I enjoy. Watching massive men fight for three feet of space, all with a combination of brutality and a criminally understated amount of grace, is my favorite part of the game.
Last night presented its share of opportunities for that. The 49ers have probably the best — and definitely the most imposing — offensive line in football, and Seattle’s rotating group of pass-rushing, run-stopping terrors is one of the better tests that San Francisco group will get all year. And while I did see plenty of that, the best battle at the line of scrimmage yesterday didn’t involve any linemen.
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.
The BQBL got dark this week. Pointing and laughing at the Jets and Cardinals last week was a hoot. Their mutual ineptitude gave the game a humorous, whimsical vibe — like watching tee-ball infielders turn a ground ball to second base into an inside-the-park home run. This week against Seattle, watching the Cardinals was not like watching a tee-ball game. It was like driving behind a car that runs over an adorable bunny rabbit — that you’re then forced to watch die. Slowly.
In honor of J.J. Watt claiming that Ray Rice is not worthy of a place on the Chipotle menu, I asked Ephraim about the best trash-talk moments from his 13 years in the NFL. The conversation stayed on players' talk with some discussion about Cam Newton throwing his organization under the bus, and then it was on to Newton's sweater game, Richard Sherman's Transformers game, and more. At some point, we discussed football, but I can't exactly remember when.