Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks, 1/14/04
Point Spread: Seattle -9.5
We begin with sideline reporter Tony "The Goose" Siragusa welcoming us to Seattle's Qwest Field. He's standing and delivering a monologue about rain and crowd noise. According to The Goose, crowd noise is something that Seahawk fans "take a lot of proud in". By the way, Spike Lee cast The Goose in 25th Hour and made him do a Russian accent.
The crowd considers themselves the "12th Man" on the field, and they even have a 12th Man flag that they raise. Today, injured safety Ken Hamlin is raising that flag. Hamlin was nearly killed in a fight outside a nightclub back in October, when his assailants hit him over the head multiple times with a street sign. You know, that is a side of Seattle that Mudhoney and Pearl Jam really never captured.
Since FOX is already setting up crowd noise as their dominant pre-game theme, I have to say that I really hate crowd noise, at least, when it's crowd noise for the sake of crowd noise. I'm sure that there is a negative effect on the opposing team and their ability to communicate effectively, and I'm all for loud cheering in crucial situations, but what they seem to be talking about here is making noise simply for the sake of making noise. Not even yelling words, or singing songs, like soccer fans. Yelling, ringing bells, raw wordless animal shrieks, for nearly three hours.
The "Noise-o-meter" says 102 decibels, while FOX's graphic lists other loud noises, ranging from 110 to 140 decibels. Either the producers expected the fans to be louder, or they're trying to say, "At least there aren't actual jet engines in the stands, which would present quite a challenge for the Redskins."
Seattle has an excellent offense and a pretty good defense. Washington has a great defense and a mediocre offense. Also, about a third of Washington's players are somewhat injured.
Seattle gets the ball first, and on their third play, they go after injured Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs. A completion to WR Darrell Jackson goes for 37 yards. Announcers Dick Stockton and Darryl Johnston are talking about how the Seahakws clinched home-field advantage with a few games remaining, and how they have not been playing "meaningful games" for a month. Meanwhile, Washington has had to each of its last six games just to keep their season alive. I would still take "meaningful rest".
Interestingly, Johnston's nickname is "Moose". I don't think Dick Stockton has any nicknames, but definitely not any that end in "-oose".
Fumble! MVP Shawn Alexander fumbles the ball at the ten-yard line, without being touched by a defender. Because of the NFL's free agency rules, Alexander is probably going to leave Seattle after the season. There are an unusual number of running backs who might be playing their final games with their current teams this weekend: Edgerrin James in Indianapolis, DeShaun Foster in Carolina, Corey Dillon in New England, and Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh. Maybe this means teams don't think running backs are all that important. Of course, last year running backs were three of the top five picks in the draft, and this year a running back will also be chosen first, so what do I know?
FOX turns overused cliche into concrete graphic with their look at some Redskins offensive players, under the headline, "Who is going to step up?" This is the same broadcast team that often identifies their "Huh?!" play of the game. I'm guessing that Santana Moss will have to step up, both because he's Washington's only good receiver and because he's like my height.
The Redskins are forced to punt, and the fumble ends up costing Seattle 53 yards. Perhaps Washington is already playing a field-position game.
McDonald's has chosen to stop trying to be funny in commercials. This one features a guy with red hair, dressed like Ronald McDonald, who sits down on a bench next to a Ronald McDonald statue. That's the whole ad. It reminds me of the year my sisters made a birthday card for Docta V that had a drawing of R-McD on the front, with a caption that just said, "You."
We return and The Goose, already desperate for something to do, is dunking a football in a bucket of cold water, to show how the Redskins prepared for the inclement weather. The announcers resist joking about Mark Brunell and his struggles with wet balls, but I do not.
On punts, both networks have been using a camera that is set up directly behind the punter. The upside of this is that, if the punt is blocked, the resulting shot is extremely dramatic and exciting. However, in the 98% of punts that aren't blocked, the punter obstructs any view of the play, and the producers are nearly always late getting back to the shot of the punt returner.
Seattle's punt returner is Jimmy Williams, a former 49er. Having former 49ers cannot be a good indicator for playoff success, can it?
Former 49er count
Carolina: 3 (Baker, Buckner, Robertson)
Denver: 1 (Engleberger)
Indianapolis: 1 (Cortez)
New England: 0
Pittsburgh: 2 (Kirschke, Wilson)
Seattle: 1 (Williams)
Washington: 2 (Brown, Prioleau)
Using only "least Niners" as your handicapping guide, you would expect Seattle, New England, Indianapolis, and Chicago to win this weekend. Let's see how that shakes out.
Williams supports the anti-49er indicator by fumbling the punt. His experience fumbling punts for San Francisco comes in handy as he quickly recovers the ball.
FOX does something else I hate (big surprise) by filming the announcers standing up and talking, and only cutting back to game action just before the ball is snapped. They do this during baseball telecasts as well, both with standing broadcasters and when conducting interviews, switching back right before the pitcher delivers the ball. It's as if they believe the audience would freak out without the visual - "Who the hell is talking? Is that Darryl Johnston?" - even though The Goose tends to start talking out of nowhere whenever he wants. To make matters worse, there is a TV monitor in the background showing the game, so viewers are teased by what they aren't allowed to see, and nervous when they see Mark Brunell approach the line, unsure whether FOX will cut back in time.
Also, don't the announcers sit down during the game?
About ten minutes into the game, MVP Alexander goes down with a head or neck injury. Seattle might be in trouble. Two plays later, we get our sixth punt of the quarter.
Fan Signs: There is a Seahawk fan with a cardboard sign that reads "12th Man", with an arrow pointing down at him. If I understand the whole "12th Man" concept, the idea is that the whole crowd is the 12th Man together, but...why am I arguing about the logic of a guy that takes a cardboard sign to a game. Maybe the dude yells extremely loud.
Matt Hasselbeck makes a crazy play where he turns and runs away from a pass rusher, towards his own goal line, then pivots and does a jump-throw while falling backwards. It looks like what Derek Jeter does on ground balls in the hole. Not surprisingly, the pass is nearly intercepted. Johnston says he looked "a little bit out of sync."
On the next play, WR Darrell Jackson leaves with an injury. I have no idea what it is, but I will play the percentages and guess "high ankle sprain".
And, with 37 seconds remaining, we get our eighth punt of the quarter. No first downs after the two-minute mark. I'm not sure I'm adequately conveying the excitement of this game. If you like fumbles and injuries, this is your kind of game.
Perhaps due to the thrilling nature of the proceedings so far, the pre-second-quarter highlight montage features a shot of an actual bird, presumably a seahawk.
I didn't mention it before, but after a couple of big hits on punt returns, Washington's Antonio Brown looks like he's terrified of Seattle's Jordan Babineaux. He called for a fair catch with quite a bit of room, possibly because it's hard to get good return yardage when you've crapped your pants in fear.
And, less than a minute into the second quarter, IT'S A PUNT! Jimmy Williams drops this one immediately, and it's recovered by...former 49er Pierson Prioleau of the Redskins. Maybe Prioleau has the advantage since he hasn't played for the Niners since 2000. It can't be a good sign that Williams fair caught nearly half of the punts he fielded this year.
The Goose: "I don't think they were dumping those balls in the bucket long enough!" Huh huh. Balls.
Seventeen minutes into the game, Washington gets their first first down. Soon after, a pass to Santana Moss gets Washington down to the 10, and FOX gets an opportunity to display a scary "red zone" graphic. It looks like the turf is covered in blood from the 20 to the goal line, and FOX makes it worse by displaying the graphic in half-second flashes. Do not watch the NFL playoffs while on mescaline!
John Hall kicks a field goal, and Washington takes a commanding 3-0 lead.
I'm glad to be a Visa customer, due to their sponsorship of my imaginary Olympics girlfriend, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis. She's very pretty, even though her commercial is dumb. I think she actually looks cuter earlier in the ad, when she's still nervous about her snowboarding run, but that might be because it makes me want to protect her.
I don't even really know how snowboarding works in the Olympics, but I think there are separate divisions for racing and doing jumps. I'm pretty sure Lindsey is a racer. When I went to the Salt Lake City Games, I saw biathlon (boring) and freestyle aerials (awesome). In freestyle aerials, skier go off a 15-foot ramp and do tricks. The tricks are impressive, but what made the event really awesome were the skiers from warm-weather countries, who qualify just because it appears no one else really tried out in their home countries. In the event we saw, there was a 40-year-old from Argentina who absolutely wiped out on every single jump, landing on his back twice. The whole thing is about 85% athleticism and grace, plus 15% people falling down in really spectacular ways, but it's OK to laugh because they still land in snow.
You can tell I am extremely invested in this game.
Seattle puts together quite an impressive drive, keyed by the return of Darrell Jackson. Hasselbeck's first pass is almost intercepted, but he settles down, completes a few passes to Jackson, and makes two nice runs. MVP Alexander's replacement is a guy named Morris, and while he doesn't run all that well (5 carries, 11 yards), he also doesn't fumble or get a concussion. A pass to Jackson makes it 7-3, Seattle.
Washington punts on their next possession, and Jimmy Williams calls for a fair catch. The 12th Man sighes in relief.
I spoke too soon about Morris, as he fumbles on his first run of the next drive, but recovers it himself. When Seattle is forced to punt, a still-spooked Antonio Brown actually runs away from the kick.
With twelve seconds left, and the ball on their own 33, Washington takes a time out. One play later, they give up and just let the clock expire.
The halftime show promises us "The FOX ticker". Since this is the first game of the weekend, I don't know what the Ticker is going to show. Morris's 18 rushing yards? Net punting yardage? Do people play fantasy football during the playoffs?
Jimmy Johnson's hair looks like...there are no words, really. The top is spiked, the sides are long, and it looks like a wig. Or just a dead, spiky animal. My favorite part of halftime is an interview with Denver QB Jake Plummer, just arriving at the stadium for his game against New England. His hair is long, his beard is huge and shaggy, and he looks like the lead singer of a rock band. Jake reminds me of my old roommate Jack, down to the messenger bag Jake is carrying. Also, Jack has really cut down on his interceptions this year.
Las Vegas Update: Given the 9.5-point spread, Washington gamblers are actually up by 5.5 points. However, I hear that most books opened at 9 points, but heavy Seattle betting pushed the line to 10. So, in some places, Washington gamblers are up by a full 6 points.
The Goose looks slimmer to me. It might be the rain poncho he's wearing. The rain seems to have derailed our usually ubiquitous Goose. His official title is not sdieline reporter, but "field analyst", which makes it sound like The Goose is a war correspondent.
Washington starts off the third quarter by getting back to their bread-and-butter, the punt. To be fair, their punter is kicking it pretty far, and possibly hypnotically causing Jimmy Williams to fumble. So far, Washington has a better chance to score when Seattle has the ball anyway.
Hasselbeck makes another completely crazy play after two quick first downs. The ball slips out of his hand as he's trying to pass, but then bounces back to Hasselbeck. He grabs the ball, and sprints backwards another fifteen yards, before throwing the ball away to avoid a sack. Of course, the refs later rule the initial fumble was an incomplete pass, but damn if that wasn't exciting to watch. I'd love to see Matt Hasselbeck in stressful everyday situations: Driving to the post office at ten to midnight on April 15th, then switching directions and speeding to a different post office, only to drop his return halfway between the parking lot and the mail drop, then getting it back, jumping up in the air and firing the envelope to a double-covered postal worker, and somehow ending up with twice the refund he expected.
Two plays later, Hasselbeck makes a really sweet play where he points out a new route mid-play to underrated WR Joe Jurevicius and ends up gaining 30 yards on the play. Two minutes later, Hasselbeck scores on a six-yard scramble, outrunning a clearly-injured Shawn Springs in the process. Springs used to play for Seattle, so that had to be especially sweet/painful, depending on your perspective. Seattle 14, Washington 3.
On Washington's next drive, former 49er Ray Brown leaves the game with "cramps". I always think that's embarrassing. Couldn't they say "Aunt Flo is visiting"?
Lineman Craig Terrill sacks Mark Brunell, and shoves aside the Redskin blocker helping up Brunell, so that he has space for his sack dance. Sadly for Terrill and his choreographer, the play is negated by an offisdes penalty.
With 3:37 to go in the quarter, Washington decides they're not fucking around. They go for it on 4th-and-2, and their boldness is rewarded when Cinton Portis runs for six yards. A disappointed Derrick Frost aplauds politely from the sidelines.
Portis gets to throw a pass on the very next play, which is kind of awesome because he also threw a pass last week against Tampa Bay. Of course, he didn't complete the pass last week, and he doesn't do it this week either. After a bullshit intentional grounding penalty, Brunell is sacked on another fourth down play, and fumbles the ball to Seattle.
I suddenly remember what Brunell and Hasselback have in common, and their play starts to make more sense. The wild, reckless passes, the killer turnovers in a playoff game - it's because they each used to back up gunslinger Brett Favre in Green Bay. Having made this connection, I fully expect Brunell to threaten to retire after the game is over.
The announcers support the decision to pass up the field goal. The Goose somehow works in the phrase "dumping balls", and Darryl Johnston says to try a field goal would be like "kicking a log". I laugh, because they said "dump" and "log", and I am twelve years old.
Seattle takes over and the resurgent Darrell Jackson catches a 37-yard pass to take Seattle down to the Washington 24. I write "Game Over" in my notebook. The third quarter ends with Seattle at the 16, leading 14-3.
I notice they haven't shown Mike Holmgren very much on the sidelines today. Normally, the coaches are featured pretty prominently, and FOX has been showing Washington coach Joe Gibbs. After Seattle makes a 33-yard field goal, they cut to Holmgren, and he is completely stoic. I wonder if perhaps they don't show Holmgren because he doesn't seem to register human emotions. Also, he is kind of gross-looking.
Seattle 17, Washington 3.
Washington shows some life when tight end Chris Cooley takes a Brunell pass 52 yards down to the 24. The Redskins follow this with a play I hate, the wide receiver screen at the line of scrimmage, or WRSATLOS. It's this year's fake reverse. Predictably, the play gains -1 yards.
On 3rd-and-6, Santana Moss makes an amazing TD catch, on a pass that was deflected by a defensive back. Brunell seems to have decided that, if washington is going to win, Moss needs to get the ball on every single play. I can't really blame him, and I also can't believe the Jets traded Moss in the offseason. It's a sign of our country's insidious, hurtful prejudice against the 5'8" man.
Seattle 17, Washington 10. I still don't think Washington has a chance of winning the actual football contest, but in Las Vegas, this is anyone's game.
I should have realized that the Redskins had the Seahawks exactly where they wanted them: fielding a kick. Josh Scobey fumbles at the 27, and kicker John Hall recovers at the 40. He immediately becomes the favorite to win Peter King's coveted Special Teams Player of the Week award. Jimmy Williams has probably blown his shot at that honor.
The Reskins drive down to the Seattle 14. On fourth down, Joe Gibbs forgets his earlier bravado and decides to try the field goal, which John Hall misses. Somewhere, Peter King shakes his head disapprovingly. In fairness, that had to be like kicking a log.
Fan sign update: Two fans have a big banner that says, "Sweet Home Alexander". I don't get it. Maybe Neil Young wrote a song dissing Alexander's MVP award?
Shaun Alexander, better thank your line
Don't forget, those blocks were so fine
Seattle's lineman, they've got stones
MVP should have been Walter Jones
Seattle takes over, and suddenly it's Maurice Morris Time! He gets the ball on four straight plays and accounts for twenty yards.
I'm starting to think that Mike Holmgren thrives in miserable weather. There has to be a reason he's chosen to work in Green Bay and Seattle. It's like Dave Attell says, "Fat guy in the cold looks good. He's not fat. He looks prepared. He's got supplies right on him!" The Super Bowl is in Detroit this year, so Holmgren may be right in his element.
Fullback Mack Strong carries the ball 32 yards on 3rd-and-6, which looks like a back-breaking play. "Mack Strong" might be the best damn name in the league. How could you not have confidence with Mack Strong blocking for you? Maybe if there was another fullback named Force McAwesome, and even then I might still go with Mack.
Seattle ultimately kicks a field goal, after running five minutes off the clock on this drive. They didn't really miss the MVP here. 20-10, Seattle, and the bookies are very nervous.
Why the bookies are nervous: The line opened with Seattle as nine-point favorites. The line then moved to either 9.5 points or 10, which means that gamblers were initially betting heavily on Seattle, and the line moved to encourage bets on Washington. Ideally, bookies want roughly equal money riding on both teams. Now, if the score remains the same, people who bet on Seattle early will win, and people who bet on Seattle at 9.5 will win, and anyone who bet on either team at 10 gets their money back.
Bookies are rooting hard for a meaningless Washington score, even just a field goal, in the last three minutes, so they don't lose a ton of money. It will be interesting, since Washington needs two scores, and a field goal is strategically defensible. This game situation also makes Washington's earlier decision to try a field goal look much better.
The over/under of 41 points will not be reached, barring a crazy finish and overtime, though it would be awesome if the Redskins get a field goal and touchdown to get to 20-19, and then Joe Gibbs goes for the two-point conversion and the win (and ties the over/under in the process).
Seattle's cheerleaders are very over-dressed today, by which I mean that they're wearing weather-appropriate clothing.
Washington loses six yards in their first three plays after the kickoff. At the two-minute warning, they are facing a 4th-and-16...which brunell improbably converts, with a 39-yard pass to Santana Moss. You know, that's really the only Washington receiver you have to cover, Seattle. Washington follows that with a 12-yard pass to my favorite player, Clinton Portis...but it's called back by a woefully ill-timed holding penalty.
At 0:54, Washington takes their last timeout, facing a 4th-and-2. We get a shot of two Seattle fans clad in bizarre green-and-blue costumes, complete with what looks like antennae, and a sign that says "Beware Boulware". Seattle obviously believes in Boulware as well, and on the final pass to the end zone, he is covering Santana Moss by himself. This was an insane strategy, but Boulware makes the play, tipping the pass just barely away from Moss, and effectively ending the game. Two Hasselbeck kneeldowns later, it's over.
I would like to note that Seattle lost three fumbles, their league MVP running back got hurt in the first quarter, and they still won by ten points. If Alexander recovers from his concussion, and they can manage give Jimmy Williams one, Seattle has to be a big favorite in the NFC Championship Game, no matter who they face.
Final score: Seattle 20, Washington 10.
Big Losers: Washington, bookies, former 49ers, Shaun Alexander's brain pan
Big Winners: Seattle, Holmgren, Native Americans