Now that I’m over the penalty issue, and ref issue in general where clearly the Hawks had two TD’s taken off the board, and 99% sure that THREE TD’s were taken away (the Locklear hold and no-offsides called on the play), I’m now ready to accept the other side to this. I painfully sat through the NFL Game of the Week via NFL Films on the NFL Network, and I’ve also watched the first half of the game three times this week. Maybe this is part of the deal, acceptance, but taking the raw emotion out of it? The Seahawks BLEW THIS GAME in the first half! There are several reasons why that still had chances to completely overcome the ref’s, yet they still couldn’t do it.
Bear with me here, but relive the pain and after reading this account of the first half, you know yourself that they lost it here. Sure, the Locklear hold will go down in infamy because they would have taken a 4th-quarter lead, but we don’t know what would have happened from there. Does Ben wake up and drive them right back down the field for a score of their own? Do they still do the trick play if they are backed up to their 20 after a kickoff instead of being near midfield? It’s too hard to say. But because of their own mistakes, the Hawks themselves had a lot to do with this end result of a SB loss. The refs jobbed them, no doubt, but their failure to execute as they had all season in other key areas really did destory their chances. Read on, if you dare:
First drive of the game, the Hawks are cooking. Things are crisp, D-Jax is uncoverable, the tempo is hot and the Steelers are already on their heels. But, on 2nd and 9 from the 47, Hass missed D-Jax WIDE OPEN up the seam. Ball was behind him, he just flat-out misses him on a poor throw. He wasn’t even under pressure, and as the line did all game long, he had time to survey the field and make the read. There was one guy on Jackson around the 30, and with a little move, he might have taken it all the way. It was at worst a 20-yard gain. They end getting a hold on Locklear on the next play, but Hass was sacked, the penatly declined, Hawks punt. The punt is terrible, out of the end zone, and the Steelers get the ball on the 20. Error? Hawks, on the miss to D-Jax and lousy punt by Rouen.
Steelers first drive – 3-and-out in very unimpressive fashion. Seattle is the fastest defense on the field, and looks like they are out to prove that they are physical too! Lofa and Hill made the first two plays with great speed and pure power-puncher physical play. Boy are these two going to be a force for years to come! Madden even compares Tatupu to a young Mike Singletary, if you can believe it. At the half, the commentators would say “the bully factor is gone, Seattle is the more physical team tonight!” And it’s true.
Second Seahawks Drive of the game – From the Steeler 41, Hass hits Engram for an 18-yard gain. Gray called for holding in what initially looked like the most blatant way you can hold another player, but on the replay, both players fell down, but it looked like Gray tackled him. He really didn’t. But, in that situation, the right call. Hawks fail to convert 3rd and long, Rouen punts it into the end zone. Error? Hawks, on the Gray hold and ANOTHER poor punt.
Steelers second drive – again go 3-and-out, this time gaining 6 yards on a Willie Parker run on 2nd down. That’s it. Seattle is controlling on D with their front 7.
Hawks third drive of the game – Hass moves them quickly to the 16 on two passing plays to Joe J and D-Jax. These guys are clicking early, Pittsburgh is reeling and cannot cover the WR’s, they are in a rhythm. Clearly Holmgren has found something on the Steeler defense, because this is looking too easy! And, coming into the game, what did we hear about the Steelers D?? Too big, too fast, too complex to really solve it. Polamalu and Porter are monsters that cannot be handled, etc. Yet the Hawks nearly roll up 400 yards, with penalties and drops?? They would have been over 500 if Stevens catches the ball and the refs eat the flags at the right times. Sigh.
Of course, 1st and 10 from the 16, pass interference is called. Horrible call, they got screwed, etc. There have been some arguments lately that the play was actually called correctly, and it really wasn’t a delay on the call, but the ref couldn’t find his flag at first, and it only looked delayed. BULL$HIT! Not only was the call wrong, because both players had their hands on each other, but before Jackson even got into the endzone, Hope pushed Jackson! THat should have been illegal contact to begin with! Nobody talks about that, but right in front of the official, Jackson is shoved at the goal line and there is no call. That “Ty Law” rule was put in to keep defensive backs from mauling WR’s outside of 5 yards, so why no flag!?!? I don’t get it. But then after the catch, the ref actually looked at Jackson FIRST, making sure he caught the ball, but THEN threw the flag only after seeing the result of the play! It’s almost like he wasn’t going to throw it if Jackson didn’t catch the ball, but seeing that he did, flag flies.
But here’s the thing – as bad as that call was? All hope is not lost here. They are only backed up to the 26, not anything they cannot recover from with this offense and how much in a groove they happen to be in at the time. But Jackson is rattled at this point, Hass actually grabs him and tries to keep his focus, but it makes you wonder. And, here is where I really question what happened. The NEXT TWO plays are pure running plays that produce -3 yards rushing?? Next thing you know, it’s 3rd-and-23 from the 29! It seems as though they lost their rhythm after that penalty, because in hindsight, with the way they were winning so great through the air, they should have been able to throw the ball and keep attacking! But, they STILL had a shot at 6! On 3rd-and-23, Hass throws the ball deep into the right corner, really a GREAT throw, and DJ Hackett is one-on-one with the safety. The safety starts to fall down, and Hackett elevates. He has both hands on the ball but he drops it. He clearly mis-timed his leap on a catch that he would probably make 7 out of 10 times. I can’t believe I forgot about this play, but the replay shows Hackett had his hands on the ball. He will kick himself over this one. So even though they went into a shell after the P-i, they still ALMOST got 7 anyway, against deep cover-2. They do hit the 47-yard field goal, but it’s a very hollow 3-0 lead. Error? Both, the refs blew a TD call and you can’t forgive taking 7 points off the board, but the Hawks didn’t execute after the penatly anyway.
Steelers third drive – A very unimpressive 3-and-out where they don’t gain a single yard. NOTHING. And that ends the first quarter. Seattle is dominating on defense. First play of the 2nd quarter is a long punt return by Warrick for 32 yards, but it’s negated by a double-fisted hold on Etric Pruitt (sadly, he made two gigantic mistakes in the 2nd half that I won’t even bring them up, but the Sporting News has a big article on how much he f’ed up on the two biggest Pittsburgh plays of the game). YET ANOTHER SPECIAL TEAMS PENALTY ON A RETURN! The Hawks need to make a change at special teams coach, because they had more flags on returns this year than I’ll ever care to remember.
Hawks fourth drive of the game, Hass takes them from the 25 to their own 48 on a couple of completions and an Alexander run. But perhaps in a sign of things to come, on 3rd-and-2 from the 48, Hass hits Stevens in-stride at the 27-yard line, just a beautiful throw into tight coverage. Stevens has the ball momentarily, then loses it. It appeared that it COULD have been a fumble, but there is no way to challenge it because the whistles blew and it was called incomplete. Meanwhile, a HUGE mistake by Stevens, as once again they would have had a first down inside the 30, and the rhythm of the offense is destroyed again. Error? Hawks all the way. To make it worse?? Rouen finally hits a beauty of a punt, dropping it inside the 5, but Kaz and Scobey can’t make the play! Steelers get it on the 20, again.
Steelers 4th drive and they finally get their initial first down, getting 8 yards on 3rd-and-8 on a nice play by Randle El, but even that ball could have been knocked out. Then Ward runs a reverse for 18 yards, and maybe, the biggest play of the game happens that nobody talks about – Manuel gets injured on the tackle, hurting his hip and he is lost for the game. But the Hawks get a break on the next play, as Big Ben floats one deep and the ultra-athletic Boulware makes a truly incredible catch at the 17, ending the Steeler drive.
By the way, What an athlete Boulware is. I saw a special on Boulware lately, and did you know that coming out of high school, he was a first-team all-american at WR and at LB!?!? His highlight tape, he was making Randy Moss – Reggie Williams type catches, just dominating. He had two college choices, Clemson or Florida State, both to play for a Bowden. Young Bowden promised him that if he comes to Clemson, he’ll be a WR exclusively. But Bobby says from day one, that he doesn’t have that extra gear that a WR needs to make it in the NFL, while he’s quick and athletic as hell, he just doesn’t have the raw speed, so he will be a LB at FSU. Boulware on signing day had no idea what to do, but then at the last minute, Peter, his brother says “ask yourself this question – do you really want to play for a team that FSU always wants for homecoming?” That clinched it right there, and Michael dons the FSU hat on TV.
Hawks 5th drive – On 3rd and 3, Hass hits Strong and appears to have enough for the first down, but the side judge comes running in with a TERRIBLE spot, at least 2 feet behind where the ball should have been, and measurement is just inches short. Error on the refs on this one, that WAS a first down. Hawks punt.
Steelers 5th drive and they are finally getting the offense going. Ben makes his first play of the game, with the Favre-like “underhand” flip to Ward on 3rd-and-6 for a first down. Ward is pumped, the Steelers are pumped. Ben was going down but a risky, yet nice play moves the chains. Ben has been bad so far, but he’s a very gifted athlete that is capable of making a big play at any moment. Two plays later Pruitt is victimized huge on a 20-yard completion by Ben to Wilson. Trufant was in the area but it was a cover-2 zone, and Trufant released Wilson and he became Pruitt’s man. Then it gets crazy. Offensive PI on a screen to Bettis on a CLEAR pick-play on first down, backing it up to the 32. Then Wistrom sacks Ben on a great quick rush, and it’s 3rd-and-28! But this is maybe the biggest play yet – Wistrom HAD Ben, again, but he got away and was flushed left, where Wistrom is held so bad he is literally tackled by the lineman! Wistrom starts to complain as soon as the ball gets thrown, it was pretty bad, but the ref eats the flag. Ben holds right at the line of scrimmage, waiting to do something, and makes what can only be a called a LOUSY throw, back across the field, high, and wobbly. Basically a thing you never do, unless you are John Elway or Brett Favre, that kind of an arm. Almost like a prayer-hail mary type thing, clearly a young guy trying to do too much. Bad pass, great result as Ward somehow makes the catch. Even worse?? Boulware TOTALLY had that ball in his sights, but at the last second, you see he changes his focus from the ball to the WR and tried to just jar it out of there. Well, that’s Hines Ward, a strong, physical WR and you just aren’t going to knock it loose on something like that. But I tell you, watching the replay from an end zone perspective, Ben never should have thrown it, and AT WORST, that ball should have been knocked down, and probably Boulware should have his second SB INT on the way to early-game MVP favorite.
We know what happens next, on 3rd and 1 Ben dives and gets credit for a TD when it never should have been ruled a TD to begin with. You can debate it all you want, but Cowher later says they were going for the TD on the next play anyway, and with the ball virtually on the goal line and Ben at 6-5, the odds of him just reaching over the line with the ball? Pretty much impossible to stop that. ERROR? I’m calling HAWKS for allowing ANYONE to convert 3rd-and-28! That should never, ever happen, and with the other team’s best WR to get open on a bad ball and still make the play?? Boulware will see that play over and over again this offseason. If Boulware just knocks that ball down, Pittsburgh is punting – AGAIN – on the 40-yard line, and that’s even more momentum that they failed to generate. Instead it’s 7-3 and they have a gift of a lead. I also blame the ref on 3rd-and-28, Wistrom was held in plain sight, yet no call.
Now probably the biggest drive of the half, and 2nd-biggest of the entire game – Hawks get the ball at their own 27 with 1:46 left, and bang, they are marching again. 19 yard catch by Joe J gets them near midfield, 10-yard completion to Engram gets them to the Steeler 40-yard line. Then, the fateful “pylon” play. Hass throws a GORGEOUS ball to D-Jax, in stride, and he’s beaten Ike Taylor – AGAIN – making the catch at the one. One foot is down in-bounds, second foot goes hard to the sideline for some reason and scrapes the pylon, third step kicks the pylon over completely. Call is immediately out of bounds, as everyone in the building forgets that there is an interpretation on a new rule 3 years ago that reads that one foot inbounds, and one foot hitting the pylon, could really be a catch and a TD. The booth decides against even taking a second look at it. Hass gets them to the line to run another play, and Pittsburgh then calls a TO to substitute. And the booth STILL WON’T LOOK AT THE PLAY!?!? Are you kidding me!?!?! They had an extra couple of minutes to review it during the TO, and realize “oh yeah, we changed the rule a few years ago, that second foot could have hit the pylon, let’s just review it as that’s a TD if we are wrong.” But no. No review.
BUT, this is where it’s confusing. Earlier in the week, there was a column from a few years ago where John Clayton said one foot down, plus the pylon, is a catch and TD. Now, a few refs have come forward to say no, Clayton misread the rule, it’s not a catch. Finally, Mike Sando wrote out exactly what the rule says, and it truly IS open for interpretation. It’s a strangely-worded rule and you could come down on either side.
But here’s where it gets worse for the Hawks. On 2nd and 10 from the 40 with 48 seconds left, they try a running play that gets 4 yards. Not a crazy idea, sometimes a run when the D expects pass can be a nice weapon. But it’s stopped, and it’s now 3rd-and-6. And this is maybe the worst part of the first half – Hass freezes! He is standing at the line of scrimmage, literally trying to figure out what play to call, and he calls a couple of audibles but will not get the snap! The clock is running, Madden and Michaels are saying “what is going on??” Next thing you know, Pittsburgh calls a timeout with 13 seconds left in the half! Are YOU KIDDING ME!?!? DO they not realize the situation? They are hardly in field goal range at this point, I mean 54 yards is a long-ass field goal. Yet he took the clock from 48 to 13, and never snapped the ball?? Pittsburgh is the one to call a TO?
Look, I know Pittsburgh has the craziest zone blitzes, and we don’t know if they were showing something that Hass had no idea what to do, but this is the worst execution of a last-minute offense that I can ever remember from this team. I know it was 3rd-and-6 and it was a very important play, and Hass didn’t want to blow it, and maybe the Steelers were totally disguising something. But it felt like watching Tony Truant line up vs. Arizona when the clock was running out, and he had no idea until it was too late.
Finally, after the TO, Hass again tries Jackson in the corner, looking like the exact same play as on first down, deep against Taylor towards the end zone. D-Jax beats Taylor again, but this time there is safety help and he is doubled. D-Jax catches it, but this time there is no doubt, out of bounds with both feet. But this was another horrible decision! Why? Well, there they are on the 36 with 13 seconds left. FRINGE field goal range at this point. What the hell is wrong with trying to get another 8-10 yards over the middle when Pittsburgh will give that to them, setting up a much more makeable field goal? Instead they try to challenge for a TD again when this time, D-Jax is double-covered? Hard to tell from TV, and maybe the middle was clogged up, but D-Jax had two men running deep with him, you have to believe that there was a soft spot somewhere? Then it’s 4th down with 7 seconds left on the 36, and of course, Brown ends the half by missing a 54-yard FG. Error?? Can’t blame the refs here. Hawks, no question.
One more note on this possession – WHY did D-Jax go out of bounds with the second foot on the pylon play? If you watch the replay, he is running straight down the sideline, not at an angle. The ball hits him right in the chest, just a dream play that would have vaulted them into a 10-7 lead and all the momentum in the world going into the locker room. It’s a great throw, but there appeared from the angle I saw to be very little reason for veering off towards the sideline. He could just have caught it and continued to run straight ahead right nto the endzone. I don’t get it. I know, easier said than done, but this guy is an excellent receiver who always makes that catch, and he’s also experienced enough to get both feet down, so I’m at a loss as to what happened. Every angle I’ve seen does not show a “fade”, it’s a straight go.
Did the whole “moment” get to them? With that mismanagement of the clock to end the half, the penalties and dropped balls, they literally morphed back into the 2004 Seahawks!
Meanwhile, the Steelers laugh and wave to the crowd as they jog off the field with a 7-3 lead, despite getting their ASSES KICKED in the first half, knowing they should probably be down 21-0! The NFL films have Bettis miked up, and as he and Cowher run off the field, Bettis says “Damn.” Cowher says “What?” and Bettis replies “Did you see the stats? Damn.” Cowher says “So what, we’re up aren’t we?” And then Bettis just kind of looks at him, and Cowher adds “God knows HOW we’re up, but we’re up.”
Meanwhile Holmgren complains to sweet little Suzy (who I still would love to kiss:) that the ref in the booth told the head ref that the Ben run was NOT a TD, and yet the ref decided that it was, so the ref made the call stand! Pure frustration, Holmgren can hardly speak. But I think Mike realizes something we now understand, but can’t actually say – his team is BLOWING THE SUPER BOWL.
The 2nd half it sooo painful that I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again, and I won’t go into that much detail. Other than to say what the Sporting News said about Pruitt vs. Manuel. Apparently the Hawks practiced last week against the EXACT same trick play, time and again, and each time, Manuel stayed at home in his deep zone. The entire defense – except Pruitt – knew it was going to come sooner or later. Pruitt? He never even practiced with the first-team defense. IN fact, his role during SB week was to wear a red Polamalu jersey on the scout team defense! That was it. I’m sure Pittsburgh’s eyes lit up when they saw Pruitt back there for the second half, and Whisenhunt is a good enough OC to find that weakness and exploit it. And, the replay on the Parker TD run was painful, Pruitt just took one of the worst angles imaginable. Boulware missed on the tackle, and Lofa was devoured by a guard running free as happens every so often when you MLB is 225, but Pruitt couldn’t make a play.
The other thing to know about Pruitt, and I don’t want to lay all the blame at his feet, but this guy is a street free-agent, a practice squad, special teams filler type guy that you would never, ever want on the field in critical defensive situations. IN fact, he got beat twice for TD’s vs. the Packers in the last regular season game, one time so badly that he was barely in the screen when the GB WR beat him on a post-corner route. And, to take it a step further?? There has been a ton of talk lately that the real reason the defense took off in the 2nd half of the season, including the playoffs? Manuel. Lofa gets the credit as making all the calls for the D and the leadership, etc, but Manuel had really done an amazing job of solidifying the secondary, and he is a tremendous communicator and watches film endlessly. He did a fantastic job taking over for Hamlin, and at this stage, I’d rather have Manuel than Hamlin as the starting safety!
Sigh. So there it is. I kept telling Rooster “You can’t keep giving a good team all these opportunities, because sooner or later, they’ll pay for these mistakes.” As these mistakes kept mounting, you just knew in your gut that they were in trouble. The thing with the refs? That hurt their margin for error even more than normal. But as that first half recap shows, these guys should have been up 17-7, most likely, and they could have run away with this thing.
Maybe there is a silver lining to all this. They did win the NFC, they have the richest owner in the sports world, they have a crazy, sold-out homefield advantage that is the best in the NFL, they have a strong core in it’s prime on offense and has the look of a serious monster defense in the very near future, a great coach, etc, etc, etc! They are 5-1 fav’s for the Super Bowl next year, clearly the NFC fav, and for good reason. This team won’t be a SB loser flop next year, barring anything absolutely insane in regards to injuries. Just think, if they can go 7-1 at home (most likely) and just 4-4 on the road? That’s 11 wins and a first-round bye, more than likely. Sneak out an 8-0 at home and one more road win? That’s 13-3 and the 1-seed, again. You know they are sick about this, but they have great chemistry and time is on their side. They will probably play with a major chip on their shoulder going forward, a swagger now that you get by playing in the Super Bowl. Can’t wait until free agency and the draft!