By Chris Cluff
The Seattle Seahawks are the deadliest team in the NFL right now, and if they somehow managed to get the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, they would have to be considered the favorite to win the Super Bowl after the way they just dominated the second-best team in the NFC. As it is, who would want to play them anywhere, anyway? Russell Wilson threw four touchdown passes, and Marshawn Lynch ran for 111 yards and scored twice as the Hawks easily blew out the San Francisco 49ers 42-13 in Seattle and clinched a playoff berth for the second time in Pete Carroll’s three seasons.
This playoff team is nothing like the 7-9 crew that backed into a division title in 2010 and shocked the New Orleans Saints in the wild-card round. Thanks largely to the amazing progress of the dynamic Wilson in his rookie season, the Seahawks are the most dangerous team in the NFL. The Seahawks didn’t hit 50 points for the third straight week, but their three-game run of 150 points is the second-best in NFL history.
“It was a lot of points again tonight, and we’re just thrilled about it,” Carroll said. “Things have just changed. We have changed on offense, and Russell has been a huge part of it, and the coaches allowing it to happen. We don’t hold ourselves to points because the standard isn’t out there for us. We just try to play really good football and see what happens at the end.”
Harbaugh’s former Stanford guys were huge in beating him. Doug Baldwin scored twice and Richard Sherman returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown and intercepted a pass in the end zone.
“We beat some pretty good teams, and there’s no way we thought we were going to beat this team like this,” Sherman told reporters. “They are a great team. They showed that last week on Sunday night football. They are an amazing team with a lot of weapons on offense, a great defense, so it was a blessing that we were able to get this done. But we expect a different result if we play them again.”
The Hawks could see the 49ers in the second round of the playoffs. And, like everyone else, the 49ers have to be very afraid of that idea.
“You look back at a couple of the past Super Bowl winners, they were wild cards who got hot,” linebacker Leroy Hill told reporters. “I’m feeling a certain way. We’re hot right now.”
The Seahawks scored five touchdowns against one of the league’s top three defenses (granted, the Niners were missing Pro Bowl lineman Justin Smith) and continued to be an offensive juggernaut behind Wilson. The rookie QB completed 15-of-21 passes for 171 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. The pick came on a dropped screen pass by rookie Robert Turbin, who once again made a huge mistake against the 49ers. That was about the only thing that went wrong, though, as the Hawks rolled up 176 rushing yards, converted 11 of 13 third downs and scored touchdowns on all four red-zone trips.
Wilson was spectacular at avoiding pressure, buying time and turning negative plays into positives. His 25 TD passes are one short of Peyton Manning’s rookie record, set in 1998. And he has 16 touchdown passes and two picks at home, where the Hawks are 7-0. Lynch’s 111 yards on 26 carries amounted to his ninth 100-yard game of the season and put him at 1,490. With Sidney Rice less than 100 percent due to a knee injury, Baldwin came up big — he led the team with four catches for 53 yards and the two scores. All in all, just another great day for Wilson and the suddenly explosive Seattle offense. Grade: A
The defense put together a typically great home performance. The Hawks were run over by Frank Gore in Week Seven, but they made him irrelevant Sunday. After Gore ran for 131 yards on 16 attempts the first time, he gained 28 yards on just six carries this time. They also held down second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, who had been lighting it up since taking over for Alex Smith a few weeks ago. Kaepernick completed just 19 of 36 passes for 244 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked once and gained just 31 yards in seven runs.
The Hawks again played without hamstrung cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Marcus Trufant. Trufant, and rookie Jeremy Lane withstood the early tests against him.
Kam Chancellor set the tone on defense with a hellacious hit on tight Vernon Davis in the first quarter. Chancellor was called for a questionable person foul after drilling Davis on a pass near the goal line. Davis left the game with a concussion, but it didn’t look like Chancellor hit him in the head, so he probably got it when he landed. It was an awesome hit.
Sherman continued to play at a Pro Bowl level, scoring and saving a score in what might be his final game of the season. The league is expected to rule on his appeal of a positive drug test this week. Since the league almost never overturns suspensions, Sherman is likely to miss the finale against the Rams plus the playoff game and two more games — whether they are in the playoffs this season or at the start of next season. Sherman seems to have a good argument about the reliability of the test, so if the almighty NFL acknowledges the error, his suspension could be cut to two games. Grade: A
Red Bryant did it again. After blocking four kicks last season, he had been silent this year — until Sunday. His block in the second quarter was scooped up by Sherman, who ran it back 90 yards for a score that put Seattle up 21-0. While Leon Washington was solid in the return game, the Hawks had some trouble with LaMichael James, who averaged 28.7 yards on six attempts. Grade: B+
It’s hard to find much fault in the coaching in a 42-13 blowout. But two things stand out on offense. The Seahawks continue to be a horrible screen team. For some reason, that play simply does not work for them — whether because the back drops the pass or falls down, the linemen set up wrong or whatever. They need to trash that play until they can get it right.
One puzzling move was starting rookie J.R. Sweezy at right guard and deactivating John Moffitt. Sweezy had back-to-back penalties in the first half. But the Hawks also went over 170 rushing yards for the sixth time in seven games, so it’s hard to find too much fault. The Hawks are going to have to address the position in the offseason though. Grade: B
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.