A GRIP ON SPORTS
There is a line in that great Christmas movie, "Die Hard" in which Bruce Willis calls himself "the fly in the ointment." I know how he feels. Read on.
• When a professional football team wins a road game 23-0 – on the highest scoring day in the history of the NFL no less – then you must be a real nit-wit to nit-pick the performance. So I guess you can call me Mr. Nit-Wit. The bottom line, as always, was the win. It is the be-all and end-all of the NFL. It moved the Hawks within one more victory of having the home field throughout the NFC playoffs and assured them of no worse than tying for the NFC West crown. But it also exposed some problems that have to be addressed and cleaned up before the soon-to-be playoff run. The offensive line is still struggling in pass protection. The running game comes and goes. And the RedZone isn't only the best channel on television; it's also a place where the Hawks can struggle. When you think about it, all those things are interrelated. And they all can be traced to the guys up front. The only conclusion one can draw is the Hawks' offensive line, while serviceable, isn't all that good, even now when everyone is relatively healthy. I don't think anyone will argue Russell Wilson has saved the group the ignominy of another 20 or 25 sacks this season, using his escape-ability to either gain yards or buy time to find an open receiver. But too often when the Hawks need time to make something happen, it isn't there. And when the offense should be pounding the ball, moving it on the ground with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, there are little breakdowns that lead to little or no gain. The group seems to do fine when faced with a base scheme but struggles when adjustments are needed. That occurs most often inside the opponents 20, when the field shrinks and execution is paramount. Given five extra chances by its defense yesterday, Seattle was only able to score two touchdowns. That's fine against the Giants of the world but may not cut it against the Broncos or Patriots or Chiefs with the Super Bowl on the line. And that has to be the ultimate goal of a 12-2 team: win the Super Bowl. All these other games are just stepping stones to that golden ring. And chances to work out the kinks.
• OK, on the positive side, the defense was dominant up front and more than stout on the back end. Why teams insist on challenging Richard Sherman (pictured) over the top I don't understand, but they do. It usually costs them. And Byron Maxwell has played exceptionally well while filling in for either an injured Brandon Browner or a suspended Walter Thurmond III, take your pick. The group might just be good enough on its own – depending on how the contact in the secondary is called by the officials – to win a championship no matter how well the offense plays.
• WSU: Some Sundays are really quiet in Pullman, others aren't. Yesterday was one of the latter. Even if the football team wasn't headed to a bowl it would have been a busy day, what with the basketball team hosting – and defeating – Pepperdine. Jacob Thorpe has the game story and more on the blog, including video of Ken Bone's and the players' press conferences. Jacob also posted the box score from the 78-61 victory. ... On the football front, Jacob started the day with a blog post concerning the 1988 Aloha Bowl (pictured) and then added a story on the Cougars' plans for this week. He finishes up his weekend report with a morning post containing links. ... Colorado State also has plans for the week leading up to the New Mexico Bowl and will rely heavily on its coach's experience against WSU and its potent offense. ... The WSU women flew all the way to Ohio for one game. They lost.
• Gonzaga: Jim Meehan returned from Seattle yesterday but not before posting a day-after look at the win over South Alabama. ... It was not a good day for the WCC, with USD losing at home to UC Santa Barbara, Portland having the same result against Montana State and BYU still dealing with the fallout from the Utah defeat.
• EWU: Score one for the Anteaters. Though they didn't score as often as they did against Eastern in the first meeting. Still, UC Irvine was able to come away with a 70-61 win Sunday at Reese Court. Jim Allen has the story, just part of his Sunday Eagle report. ... Football is still in the spotlight and Jim has two stories about that, one looking back at the key players in Saturday's win over Jacksonville State and another looking toward tonight's FCS awards.
• Seahawks: One of the storylines from Sunday concerned the stadium, which just happens to be the host of this season's Super Bowl. Pete Carroll talked about it, Russell Wilson talked about it and Richard Sherman, well, Richard Sherman will talk about almost anything. Of course the Hawks would like to be back in New Jersey in a couple months. ... The shutout was a boon for a few Hawk fans but a bust for a West Side auto dealership. ... Doug Baldwin (pictured) is still a little ticked off by something that was written in a newspaper. Really? ... Guys like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor just dominated the Giants receivers. And Wilson hit some pretty rare milestones.
• We rose early today when the dog started moving around. But it was sports-related thoughts that didn't allow us to get back to sleep, so we decided to finish our column before the sun came up. That gives us the rest of the day to finish (or start) our Christmas shopping. Until later ...