By Mike Salk
The Seattle Seahawks beat the Washington Redskins on Sunday. Yes, I know you already know that, but I want you to take that sentence literally.
One complete team beat another complete team, no matter what you may hear.
Robert Griffin III didn’t lose the game by himself. Mike Shanahan isn’t a goat for allowing his quarterback to play hurt. The Seahawks weren’t just the beneficiaries of a stroke of good luck.
One complete team beat another complete team. And for three quarters, it wasn’t even close.
The Redskins started this game like a house of fire. That happens sometimes in the NFL, particularly when a quality home team feels disrespected by the media or the betting public. It can also happen when a young team gets its first taste of the playoff environment. Heck, it happened last week when Arizona dominated the first quarter in San Francisco. A hot start doesn’t always tell the whole story.
The problem in this game was that twice Washington converted on third down in the red zone, leading to 14 points instead of six.
Touchdowns hurt worse than field goals. And it all hurt more because of the ease with which Washington was moving.
As you watched the Seahawks get mauled in the opening quarter, it was hard to remain positive. It wasn’t so much that RG III was an unbeatable field general, it was more that the Washington offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and Alfred Morris did the rest. He gained 49 yards in those first two drives and it seemed most of those yards were gained long before a defender had a crack at him.
The Seahawks were being beat up physically.
They weren’t being sliced and diced by the red-hot RG III. They were being steamrolled by an offensive line that came to play.
Then it all changed. Maybe it was the third-down catch by Zach Miller to gain 12 yards with a heroic second effort. Maybe it was the 19-yard read-option keeper from Russell Wilson or the ballet-recital footwork from Sidney Rice on his 27-yard reception. Maybe it was seeing seven points on the board or a fiery speech from a coach or a specific technical adjustment that got the defense out of its funk.
But from the second quarter on, that defense remembered how to hit. Morris gained just 31 yards in the final three quarters. The Redskins as a whole had just 74 yards. Kam Chancellor laid out Pierre Garcon. So did Brandon Browner (both before the whistle and after it). Alan Branch played his best game of the year.
The Seahawks remembered what got them here: physical play.
Physical play led to 224 yards on the ground, more than doubling Washington’s output in that category. It led to the Earl Thomas interception – watch how Browner handled Garcon as the ball was coming at him. Those big hits appeared to make Leonard Hankerson hear footsteps and drop an easy catch over the middle; it certainly affected Kirk Cousins once he entered the game.
The Seahawks won by getting back to their game, not because of one injury.
But if we want to entertain the idea that Griffin’s knee was the biggest factor, let’s remember this: staying healthy in the NFL is your own responsibility, especially at quarterback.
That isn’t to say that freak injuries can’t happen. They can and do. But Griffin had a history of injuries in college and the biggest question about him entering the draft was his health. He makes his living running downfield and in open space, but he has been too careless in taking big hits. Survival matters in the NFL and Wilson survives longer than his highly touted counterpart because he is more prudent and careful with his body.
So when you hear that the Redskins lost because their quarterback was injured, don’t buy it. Their quarterback was injured in part because of who he is and how he plays. They don’t even get to that point without him playing that style, but that style in and of itself can be limiting.
The Seahawks won on Sunday because they were the better team for three quarters and they were so much better that they overcame a horrible start. Wilson was dynamic despite some serious pressure. Lynch was less physical than normal (as he fought the flu) but seemed to have some extra shake and bake. Rice and Golden Tate made acrobatic catches. Miller came up with two of the biggest third-down conversions of the year.
And that defense remembered how to play championship football – not even allowing the Redskins past midfield for the final 45 minutes.
The Seahawks won the game by being themselves. Now on to Atlanta.