Elusive Wilson, Seattle wins game it had to have
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) rushes for a15-yard gain in the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on Nov 23, 2014 in Seattle, WA, USA. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
One way to tire out a pass rush is to go hurry-up on offence.
Another way is to have your quarterback run around all damn day in the backfield. And all over hell’s half-acre. And back.
That’s what Russell Wilson did to tire out the wicked Arizona Cardinals pass rushers on Sunday in the Seattle Seahawks’ crucial 19-3 homefield win, a marquee matchup of NFC West teams.
Division-leading Arizona dropped to 9-2. Seattle improved to 7-4.
The Seahawks absolutely had to win this game in their quest to defend their NFL title. With so many teams sporting good records in the NFC, relying on a wild-card berth is even more foolhardy than usual. Winning your division is the only sure door to the post-season.
With five tough games to go -- including a rematch between these teams on Dec. 21, and two against arch-rival San Francisco -- the Seahawks had to win Sunday, and did. Impressively … eventually.
Now, can they keep on winning? They might need to win out to capture the division. Three wins, minimum, seem likely just to have a chance to squeeze into the playoffs as a wild-card.
“We’re definitely together,” Wilson said. “There’s no doubt in our mind that we can do it. But it’s not going to be easy.”
The Cardinals defence has been so forcibly strong, and the patchwork Seahawks offensive line so shaky, that Wilson seemed sure to find himself under duress a lot in this game.
Boy, did he ever.
By the end of Seattle’s first drive of the second half (a three-and-out), the Cardinals had sacked Wilson six times for 41 yards of losses. They were getting to him and pulverizing him.
At that point, though, the Cards offence behind Drew Stanton was faring even worse against a resurgent Seahawks defence, and Seattle led 9-3.
Then the Seahawks blocked an Arizona punt. From that point on, the game was all Seattle’s.
Wilson finally started to spin his famous backfield magic. Waves of Cardinals kept charging at him. Except for one blown-up rollout that was recorded as a short sack, Wilson kept making them miss.
Spinning, hopping, turning, sprinting sideways, sprinting backward, fighting off tacklers -- Wilson frustrated his pursers time and again, and made enough big plays in the process for Seattle to outgain Arizona 178-87 after halftime.
After the blocked punt, Wilson went 10-of-12 for 117 yards. And he scooted seven times for 30 yards on the ground, finally burning the crashing, over-aggressive Arizona ends on read-option keepers.
“Beastmode” does what he does -- that is, bruising runner Marshawn Lynch -- but this Seahawks offence would be a dud without him.
Wilson’s play of the game came in the third quarter, with Seattle up 12-3. He looked like a dead duck for another Cardinals pass rusher, but somehow spun away from him at the last micro-second and found Lynch alone at the left sideline, who took the pass 23 yards deep into Arizona territory.
Could any other NFL passer do that? Probably not.
That set up the game’s only touchdown. Then Arizona was done.
ProFootballTalk.com tweeted that Wilson is on pace to pass for 3,244 yards and run for 937; only Randall Cunningham has put up 3,000/900 numbers in a season.
The Seahawks next play Thursday night in San Francisco -- U.S. Thanksgiving prime-time. Can’t wait.
NINERS KEEP PACE
Seattle has no breathing room, however. San Francisco kept pace in the NFC West, improving to 7-4 after barely holding off Washington in another low-scoring game at Levi’s Stadium, 17-13.
It was a game of crushing hits, and the state’s witness to that was Robert Griffin III.
It seemed the Redskins quarterback was forever facing third-and-longs, on which he’d drop back and get lambasted by some 49ers pass rusher.
The struggling passer was sacked five times, hit eight times and -- on Washington’s last-gasp drive with 59 seconds left -- got smashed and fumbled on a doomed 3rd-and-8 dropback.
San Fran recovered at the Washington seven-yard line and ran out the clock.
Niners QB Colin Kaepernick had a pretty good day, after a few shaky outings. He completed 20-of-29 throws for 256 yards and one touchdown to Anquan Boldin.
Boldin is renowned as one of the grittiest receivers in the league. On his eighth of nine catches (for 137 yards), Boldin got smashed over the middle in the side of the helmet by hard-charging Redskins safety Ryan Clark.
As Clark lay there dazed, and as an official threw a personal-foul flag on Clark for the cheap-shot helmet hit, Boldin kept his feet, quickly regained his senses and kept going for more yards. Unreal.
“When he catches the ball, you better bite down on your mouthpiece,” Niners safety Antoine Bethea said.
After starting 4-4, the Niners have won three in a row.
“This team is about the team, the team, the team,” Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We’re not into criticizing each other, bad-mouthing each other.”
That obviously was a shot at Griffin, who as much said last Sunday after his dismal performance in a loss to lowly Tampa Bay that he can’t excel unless his teammates play better.
Griffin took full ownership of his role in this loss, in which he completed just 11-of-19 passes for 106 yards and almost always checked down to dumpoff passes, rather than look for his wide receivers.
“I feel like I gotta play better, and find a way to make those big plays happen. I’ve just got to find ways to get the ball down the field to guys,” Griffin said.
“There’s one thing we’re not going to do, and that’s quit.
“We’re going to stay positive … We’re not down, we’re not out.”
A Sunday morning ESPN report said Washington head coach Jay Gruden might consider replacing Griffin with backup Colt McCoy if he played poorly in San Francisco.
“We ran the ball pretty well,” Gruden said. “We had a great opportunity to win the game, but we didn’t do a good enough job in the passing game.”
LOS ANGELES TALK?
Perhaps the most meaningful development from the Chargers-Rams game occurred before kickoff, when the teams’ owners -- San Diego’s Dean Spanos and St. Louis’ Stan Kroenke -- were spotted chatting on the sideline.
Their two teams are among the top candidates, along with the Oakland Raiders, to relocate to Los Angeles at some point before hell freezes over, to give America’s second largest metropolitan area an NFL team for the first time in two decades.
Oh, to have overheard what they were talking about.
Rams fans in attendance, meantime, were yelling at Kroenke from the stands, “Bring the Rams back!” according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As for the game, the defences apparently wanted to score more than the offences. San Diego returned a fumble for a score. St. Louis returned a Phil Rivers interception 99 yards for a score.
But the game-deciding interception at or about a team’s one-yard line occurred with 56 seconds left, when Chargers cornerback Marcus Gilchrist picked off Rams QB Shaun Hill at the goal line, on 2nd-and-goal at the San Diego four.
The Chargers improved to 7-4, still very much alive in the AFC West and wild-card hunt.
The Titans fell behind the Eagles 7-0 after 13 seconds, 14-0 after 4:16 and 17-0 before 13 minutes had elapsed.
The rest was for show. Philadelphia beat Tennessee 43-24 in a game with little defence at Lincoln Financial Field.
In place of injured Nick Foles, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez made his usual handful of knucklehead plays, but his stat sheet didn’t look too bad: 30-of-43 for 307 yards and a touchdown.
More pleasing for Eagles coaches and fans was the LeSean (Shady) McCoy finally ripped off a big game -- 130 yards on 21 carries.
And Josh Huff’s 107-yard kickoff return not only got Philly off and running, but underscored the fact that the Eagles, under head coach Chip Kelly, aim to be as good on special teams as on offence.
“Obviously, we talk about starting fast, but I don’t think you can get a faster start than that,” Kelly said.
The Eagles are going to have to be good on defence, too, if they want to become a serious post-season contender.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I hate losing. I hate it. I hate it with every fibre of my body,” Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien said after Houston’s poorly played 22-13 homefield loss to Cincinnati.
BRONCOS DOWN DOLPHINS
The Denver Broncos were about to lose for the third time in four games.
They couldn’t stop Ryan Tannehill and the hot Miami Dolphins offence, struggled on offence themselves and trailed 28-17 entering the fourth quarter.
Enough of that, they said.
Peyton Manning and the Broncos offence finally resembled the buzz-saw attack we’d been used to seeing since September 2012, the upgraded defence began living up to its high-priced billing in making things difficult for Tannehill, and Denver rallied for a 39-36 win at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Manning threw four touchdowns, three to Demaryius Thomas, while running back C.J. Anderson -- subbing for Montee Ball, who’s out with a groin injury -- surprisingly rambled for 167 yards.
Denver improved to 8-3, and now sits a game ahead of both Kansas City and San Diego in the NFC West. Miami dropped to 6-5, its playoff chances having taken a big hit.
“It was a fun football game,” Manning said.
Both quarterbacks put on clinics when they were hottest -- Tannehill in the first half, Manning in the second. Combined, the duo tossed seven touchdown passes, and the only interception -- a crucial one late, by safety T.J. Ward -- came off a fluky pass break-up.
“I thought the best thing our team did was stay calm,” Manning said. “That was the key.
“We thought the (offensive) plan was working. We just needed to stay on the field.”
Manning said the team realized by midway through the game that “it was gonna be a dogfight,” and despite the team’s across-the-board struggles in losses at New England and at St. Louis, he and his teammates just kept after it.
“I’ve always believed that every game takes on its own identity … We were effective in both phases (running and passing).
“We had third-and-short most of the times.”
Denver plays next Sunday night at Kansas City.