By Sam McPherson
Despite multiple key injuries that prevented them from securing a playoff bye, the Seattle Seahawks looked pretty good on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field as they beat the Detroit Lions, 26-6, in an NFC Wild Card Game. Quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Thomas Rawls looked healthy, and the defense was stout against Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense. The game was a relentlessly tough contest, though, as the Seahawks didn’t really pull away until the fourth quarter despite dominating the statistical sheet through the first three quarters. However, three scoring drives in the final quarter secured the victory for Seattle.
After the Seahawks took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, the Detroit offense managed to put together two scoring drives of its own, resulting in field goals. Seattle led just 10-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, but the NFC West Division champions played like the experienced postseason team they are, tightening up on defense and controlling the line of scrimmage on offense. This was the 10th straight win at home for the Seahawks in the playoffs, although barring upsets next weekend in the Divisional Round, it will be the only home postseason game for Seattle this January.
This is the Seahawks offense that head coach Pete Carroll likes to see, as both Wilson and Rawls had great games, and wide receiver Paul Richardson stepped up in the absence of the injured Tyler Lockett. Toss in WR Doug Baldwin and tight end Jimmy Graham, and this offense was extremely dynamic against the Lions. Overall, Seattle gained 387 yards on offense, and the team reached a very solid balance between yards through the air (210) and on the ground (177). That kind of balance was hard for the Seahawks to strike this season, so this game was an excellent display of what the team can do when it is mostly healthy—especially at the QB position.
Wilson was 23-for-30 against Detroit, throwing for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Rawls rumbled for 161 yards and a TD, while the receiving corps came through with some huge plays. Richardson made some spectacular catches, including a few one-handed grabs while being fouled by Lions defensive backs. Baldwin did his usual thing, earning a few first downs with workman-like efforts and then gaining big yardage with amazing catches. Graham only grabbed three receptions, but his presence on the field had to be accounted for on every play he was in the game, and that opened up opportunities for Richardson and the others.
Seattle didn’t force any turnovers, but in stifling the Lions running game, the Seahawks forced Stafford to throw in difficult situations, and the Detroit QB wasn’t able to do nearly enough to put his team into scoring position. Stafford was just 18-for-32 on Saturday night, gaining just 205 yards in the process without getting his team into the end zone. RB Zach Zenner ran for just 34 yards on 11 attempts, and overall, the Lions gained a mere 49 yards on the ground. That was the difference in the game, as the Seattle defense just wouldn’t let Detroit do much in this game. The Lions were 2-for-13 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts, and you don’t score a lot of TDs that way.
Special Teams: B+
Thankfully, return specialist Devin Hester didn’t fumble any kicks, so that was a plus after he had such butter fingers in Baltimore this year. However, placekicker Steven Hauschka did miss another extra point, after he botched six of them during the regular season. That could turn out to be a big problem next week and beyond for the Seahawks, so it’s not a good sign right now. Luckily, it’s probable that Seattle’s remaining postseason games all will be indoors. Hauschka can’t keep missing these kicks.
Carroll showed great confidence in his team early, going for it on a fourth-and-goal play that ended up producing the game’s first points. Watching this game, you’d never know really that the Seahawks were missing both Earl Thomas and Lockett, two very important starters on this team. The Lions were not a top-notch playoff team, of course, but Carroll and his staff got their team ready for this game. Considering the overall dominance on display, this may have been the best postseason game Seattle has played since winning Super Bowl XLVIII. That’s exactly what a head coach wants as his team heads out on the road next week.
The Seahawks are off to Atlanta to face the Falcons, and this matchup will take Seattle fans back to 2012 when the situation was pretty much the same. This playoff game is the first one scheduled in the Divisional playoffs, kicking off at 1:35 p.m. Pacific Time next Saturday. The Falcons won the NFC South Division with an 11-5 record, and they have the highest-scoring offense in the NFL this year. The two teams faced each other in Week 6 during the regular season, with the Seahawks emerging victorious, 26-24, at CenturyLink Field. That result can be thrown out the window, however, as everything is different come playoff time. The Seattle roster knows this better than any other team in the NFC field this postseason.