Perhaps it was appropriate for a game so close to the nation's capital, but the Seattle Seahawks' 27-17 win over the Washington Redskins certainly had a "Flag Day" theme about it. Both teams played a messy game, and the crew led by the always-inconsistent Jeff Triplette was calling stuff all over the place with 16 total penalties. Seattle saw the brunt of that, with 13 penalties for 90 yards, including three Percy Harvin touchdowns called back by flags, but both teams were left with questions about Triplette's work.
In a larger sense, the Redskins hung in admirably, drawing the game to a 24-17 score late in the fourth quarter before the Seahawks simply killed Washington with time of possession as things wound down. But this was the kind of game that was certainly there for a generally inferior home team to win. With the vagaries of sloppy play on both sides, an upset was entirely possible.
"I thought the guys played hard," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said after the game. "We wanted to come out, and really go toe-to-toe and play our butts off. I think we did that. As far as them not being at their best, we were playing pretty darned good, and that doesn't have anything to do with them and has everything to do with us, I'd like to think. Got some penalties in our favor, got some penalties not in our favor, but overall, we were in position to win, or at least make a great game out of it, but we had a couple three-and-outs, and we could never change the field position. We were backed up, backed up, backed up and then we punted, and they just held on for the victory."
In the end, though Seahawks punter Jon Ryan did keep the Redskins pinned back all through game, the difference was Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He rushed for a Monday Night Football-record 122 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, breaking Donovan McNabb's 107-yard mark in 2002. Wilson was the star of the game, and he wasn't just running around. He was blowing Washington's defense up with amazing play after amazing play seemingly created out of nothing.
Here are three other thoughts on the closer-than-expected Monday night matchup:
Russell Wilson is an unconventional magician
Where Wilson is at his most dangerous is not when he's scrambling or running on designed plays, but when he's running around out of pressure and using his uncanny ability to see downfield even when defenses have him circling around to stay alive. Over and over, Wilson would nail the downfield throw when opposing pass rushers were ready to swear they had him dead to rights. There was the flick-of-the-wrist pass to tight end Cooper Helfet in the second quarter for 39 yards, and there was this Houdini throw to Marshawn Lynch with 2:33 left in the game and Seattle with 3rd-and-4.
"Man, he never ceases to amaze us," Richard Sherman told the NFL Network's Jeff Darlington about his quarterback. "He does a great job creating plays in the pocket, a great job extending plays, and he's a big reason our offense continues to go. We had some plays taken from us today, but our offense did a great job, continuing to battle."
Washington's aggressive defense generally did a good job of keeping the deep plays from happening in structure, but it's just hard to defend Wilson when he goes rogue -- especially when he's aided by the read-option concepts installed by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
"They did the zone read, and did a little more than they'd shown in the past," Gruden ruefully recalled. "That's no excuse. We were ready for the zone-read. We'd practiced against it. But some of the keepers -- they faked the outside zone, and he was reading the backside pursuit, and that's where he hit us on a couple of them. Just a true-blue fake outside zone, and he just kept it on his own. Russell's one hell of a player. He kept a lot of plays alive, unlike anything I've seen in a while, and he's won a lot of games for them because of that."
When Kirk Cousins has time and trusts his deep threats, he's pretty good
It wasn't a pretty game for Kirk Cousins, for the most part, because the Seattle defense is set up to exploit his primary weaknesses. When pressured, Cousins tends to oversell his first reads, and his footwork will revert to sub-high school level under the best of circumstances. But when he's given time, Cousins also displays the potential to read the field, and he's got a better deep ball than a lot of people think. He showed this on two plays against the Seahawks that turns into touchdown passes of 60 and 57 yards to DeSean Jackson. And then, when he zipped a six-yard pass to Andre Roberts for a touchdown with 3:35 left in the game, Cousins made it clear -- the game was joined.
Still, for every great deep throw, there was an example of Cousins throwing out of whack, missing his targets on anticipation throws, or simply looking jittery in the pocket.
"I'll tell you what: He can make the tough throw look easy, and he can make the easy throws look a little tough," Gruden said. "That's just part of the consistency process. You can never get a look at this game-type speed, especially against a team like Seattle They have a great pass rush, and guys were all over the place. For the most part, I thought he played pretty good. I thought he kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win."
Gruden did understand how Seattle's defense can be bent, though, and he tested it with crossing routes and combinations that had Sherman and his cohorts in the wrong places at the wrong times more than they would have liked.
"We just wanted to play sound defense," Sherman said. "When you're playing a great receiver like DeSean, a couple are going to get away from you, but we wanted to contain the big plays for the most part, and I think we did a great job with that."
Well ... for the most part. Washington was held to 3-of-12 on third down efficiency, which made those big plays little more than noise in the final tally. So, the Seattle defense had that on lock. But there were moments when Cousins looked like the quarterback Gruden wants, the kind this team can grow with.
The Seahawks are a very young team, and that's good and bad
Yes, the Seahawks have unbelievable team speed on both sides of the ball, and there was a lot of it on display, especially on the defensive side. That's why Cousins was in a claustrophobic nightmare through most of the game. But part of that youth -- and Seattle was the youngest team ever to win a Super Bowl -- is a predilection for repeated mistakes. That was also on display. Seattle's penalties took away several touchdowns, including three from Percy Harvin alone.
Some of those calls were bunk, especially the call on guard James Carpenter in the fourth quarter, but one has to expect that from a crew run by Jeff Triplette. In a larger sense, however, this was on the Seahawks, especially the Seahawks' offensive line, to rein it in and do their jobs. One of the reasons Wilson struggled to find deep targets through the game in plays that weren't based on pocket dissolution was that the line was unable to keep protections consistent. Wilson thrives on chaos, there may be no better quarterback in the league at that. But it's a dangerous way for any quarterback to live over time. Add in the aforementioned coverage blunders, which we also saw against the Chargers and Broncos in different iterations, and it's possible to find ways in which this team is vulnerable.
On Monday night, the Redskins just didn't find enough of them.