PHILADELPHIA — Before engaging in the wailing, lamentations and recriminations about the frequency of homely play Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, let’s have a quick NFL tournament overview.
The New England Patriots are out. The New Orleans Saints are out. The Buffalo Bills are out. The Dallas Cowboys never were in. The Los Angeles Rams never were in.
The Seahawks, however ungainly, awkwardly and fortunately, remain in the NFL’s tournament, grateful they play a sport where no credit, affection or cash is awarded for style.
They are headed to Lambeau Field next Sunday (3:40 p.m., FOX) to play the Green Bay Packers because the Seahawks beat the Philadelphia Eagles 17-9 (box) and don’t give a compost what you think about how they looked.
Now, what were you whining about?
Thank you, crickets, for breaking the silence.
“To get back here and (beat the Eagles) again, there was a lot of talk about how you do that, but we did,” a beaming coach Pete Carroll said. “You talk about surviving . . . Fantastic night for us to get this thing going on the road.”
From the Seahawks perspective, the 11th win this season by eight or fewer points, and the eighth win in nine road games, continued a harrowing, cinematic Mad Max narrative that nevertheless was as beautiful for Seattle fans as a wedding. Here’s how:
Something old: RB Marshawn Lynch, 33. In the second quarter, he scored a five-yard touchdown that was the epitome of short-yardage Beasting, and in the third quarter turned a dump-off pass into a 20-yard gain that helped set up the Seahawks second touchdown.
Something new: WR DK Metcalf, turned 22 three weeks ago. He set a club playoff record and an NFL record for rookie receivers with 160 yards in seven catches, including a 53-yard TD catch/roll/dive two plays after the Lynch reception. “The night,” Carroll said, “was stolen by DK.”
Something borrowed: The 17-9 score was identical to the teams’ regular season meeting.
Something boo: DE Jadeveon Clowney’s helmet-to-helmet hit knocked Carson Wentz from the game in the eighth play of the QB’s career-first playoff contest. But not only was Clowney not ejected, he wasn’t penalized, enraging the sellout Philly crowd who booed his name at every mention. “Incidental contact,” the top official told a pool reporter afterward. “I don’t even want to look at my phone mentions,” Clowney said. “I was just playing fast and he was running the ball . . . my intention was not to hurt him.”
Nevertheless, the game clanked along like doorknobs in a blender, two teams shredded by injuries trying to make do with inexperienced players often playing out of position.
Behind an offensive line with three second-stringers and a fifth-string tight end, Lynch and fellow running back Travis Homer combined to rush for 19 yards on 17 carries. In addition to his passing feats (18 for 30 for 325 yards and 108.3 rating), Wilson led Seattle with 45 yards in nine carries.
The defense was nearly as hard to believe, in a positive way — no touchdowns allowed, thanks in part to seven sacks and a three-for-13 conversion rate on third and fourth downs that kept the Eagles to 162 passing yards.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 6, 2020
But the Seahawks could not break away, despite the Eagles playing with 40-year-old QB Josh McCown, in the first postseason game of his 17-year career as what seems like most every team’s favorite backup.
The Seahawks stopped the Eagles on downs inside the 25-yard line twice in the fourth quarter and looked as if they would have to do it a third time. On third-and-10 from their own 11-yard line with 1:47 left, Wilson engaged in a risky drop-back near the goal line and heaved a rainbow toward Metcalf, streaking down the middle against Marcus Epps, a six-foot rookie safety.
The 6-3 Metcalf did what he does best — get hands higher than everyone else. The 36-yard gain for the first down crushed the Eagles and relieved the Seahawks.
“We worked on that play all week,” Carroll said. “We knew they’d be taking some chances on us to try to get the ball back (by blitzing). It gave us an opportunity to go after (Epps) with the coverage they had. We had to pick up the pressure they brought. (Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) said, ‘Do you want that opportunity? Heck, yeah — let’s go. That’s what we’ve been practicing.’
“The belief was there to go ahead and call what would otherwise look like a really risky call. We did it perfectly.”
Metcalf confirmed they had rehearsed the play four or five times during the week.
“Russell laid it out,” he said. “It was in the air for a minute. All year, he has been telling me, don’t let the ball come down. That’s all I was thinking — just attack he ball.
It’s just amazing to me that he believed in me to just throw it up to me in that situation. I just had to go make a play.”
Wentz dives forward on this play against the Seahawks and takes a helmet-to-helmet shot to the back of the head from Clowney. There’s no call because refs said he didn’t give himself up. #Eagles
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 6, 2020
The play not only finished the game but climaxed a storyline that began with his draft in the second round in April. Despite his remarkable measureables and physique, Metcalf had numerous doubters because of injuries and relatively little game action in college.
But persistence in work with Wilson and tutelage from WR Tyler Lockett and the coaches have done great things for his technique and confidence. Wilson said he has scouting reports prepared on opponents, shares them with his offensive teammates and quizzes them throughout the practice week.
“He knows everything from the protections, who the DBs are, to the linebackers, to what they did last time (or) four years ago,” Wilson said. “I quiz him. Every time. Every week. He knows them really well. His mind is what’s helping him accelerate. Just him believing that and all of the things he needs to know.
“I’m just getting started with that.”
The connection between the two was critical Sunday, not just because it was a do-or-die game, but because the Seahawks were without WRs Jaron Brown Malik Turner, both injured. Seattle had only four receivers active, and of course, Lynch is a fourth-string back.
They leaned heavily on Metcalf against a short-handed secondary and big dividends were paid.
“He’s always picked things up,” Carroll said. “He’s never stumbled or staggered his way through it. He takes his work very seriously. He stays late all the time. If anything has shifted, would be his confidence is really there.
“He knows he can play this game at his level and he wants to be in the middle of it all.”
The middle doesn’t get much bigger than the NFL post-season. The stunning production Sunday will give Packers defenders pause in their game planning against the Seahawks.
The 13-3 Packers are certainly an uptick from 9-8 Eagles, especially with a week’s rest. But the Seahawks have established that they are a bit more than Wilson’s pretty face, and as unpleasantly relentless as a toothache.