Playoff Report: How to be a Wildcard

Wildcard Weekend:
Seahawks (7-9) vs Saints (11-5)

Saturday, January 9, 2011

SEA 41 NOR 36

Marshawn Lynch tosses aside Jabari Greer on his way to a game-breaking 67-yard touchdown run. Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images North America

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

— Muhammed Ali, seconded by Pete Carroll

There’s a school of thought out there, and Tony Dungy is the biggest proponent of it, that you don’t have to do anything special to win in the playoffs. That “raising your game” is a myth. (I have a strong suspicion that Coach Spagnuolo leans in the same direction.) But yesterday’s improbable, incredible upset victory by Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks, the nine-loss team that flat out beat the Rams to gain entry to this exclusive set of extra games, pretty much blows that theory out of the water. 

The Seahawks pulled out all the stops on offense, even with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback, in Week 17. Even with their obvious limitations with Whitehurst, they took a big shot early and caught the Rams’ flat-footed, building a lead that they never sacrificed. It fired up the sideline, the crowd, and gave the team a burst of momentum that never fully dissipated, despite the Rams’ stifling effort on defense over the next three quarters.

Beating the Rams is one thing, but taking down the reigning Super Bowl champs is another, and doing it with this beat-up Seattle unit is a third thing all together. But it all boils down to the same thing — taking your shots, finding weaknesses and attacking them, getting momentum on your side, and delivering more punches than your opponent can handle. Over and over again, regardless of your personnel, your recent history, or the expectations of the dozens of cameras and millions of fans that are watching.

The Seahawks wrung incredible performances from a hobbled Matt Hasselbeck and his banged-up offensive line. They harassed Drew Brees all game long, never letting up despite giving up 36 points, and were rewarded with a crucial 4th quarter interception. And they may have gotten the greatest playoff running play ever from Marshawn Lynch, an incredible ankle-breaking tackle-defying 67-yard marathon that signified the realization of the impossible.  

Who in their right mind would want to play the Seattle Seahawks now? They’ve already had a wildly successful season and are the only team in the picture with absolutely nothing to lose as they move forward in the playoffs. It’s almost like they’ve already won their Super Bowl and are now just playing for the sheer joy of it. No pressure, no worries. The Seahawks will be playing fast and loose knowing every step they take from now on was totally unanticipated by anyone outside of a few crazy fans and a couple of local sports personalites just a week ago.

from, on the Bloguin network

Momentum is the key in playoff football. Each team tries to push the other toward the season-ending abyss, and it takes incredible fortitude and confidence to get up and push back, once you’ve been knocked down. There’s no such thing as “protecting a lead” in the playoffs; you’re simply allowing the other team to get back up. If you aren’t willing to attack for 60 minutes, to push and shove and kick the other team off the edge, then you deserve your ticket home.

And after their milquetoast gameplan on offense in Week 17, Spagnuolo and the Rams most definitely deserved their ticket home.

@RamsHerd @evilslash13 To me, Spagnuolo treated the Seattle game like a learning experience, rather than giving it his all. Is that crazy?

Honestly, the worst thing that could have happened to Sam Bradford and the Rams would have been to somehow pull out a win over Seattle. It would have validated their coaches’ ass-backwards gameplan, and they would have gotten absolutely smoked by the Saints in front of the home crowd.

If this was to be a learning experience, hopefully Spagnuolo was watching carefully yesterday. Hopefully Pete Carroll’s team just brought that lesson home with yesterday’s “impossible” win.

If Sam Bradford is going to turn his obvious talent into a championship legacy, he can’t be held back by a philosophy of fear. He can’t be held down by a coaching staff that can’t — or won’t — raise their game when the situation demands.