A GRIP ON SPORTS
The Seattle Seahawks are your NFC West champions. Again. And they hold the home-field chip for the NFC playoffs. Again. Who is going to bet against them? Not me. I won't make the same mistake twice. Read on.
• Here is the first paragraph of John Blanchette's column in today's S-R: "About the time the first strains of 'It’s a Holly, Jolly Christmas' were heard over department store Muzak, the Seattle Seahawks were 6-4, three games out of first place in their division and discounted, if not dismissed." The emphasis on the final three words are mine. Because I was one of those dismissing them. Matter of fact, I left them for dead. Kaput. No chance. Also no excuses. I was wrong. Completely wrong. What happened after the loss to Kansas City that left the Hawks at 6-4 and reeling? At its core, six consecutive wins happened, six wins against the toughest part of the Seahawks' schedule. Despite losing its best defensive lineman, the Hawk defense got better. So much better, in fact, it led the NFL in fewest points allowed for the third consecutive season. That hasn't happened since, well, since I was young. But that doesn't answer "how" it happened. It just answers the "what." John tried to get to the core of it yesterday after Seattle's 20-6 second-half pasting of the Rams clinched the NFC West title, but even the players don't know for sure. Their answers were all over the place. So we'll try our hand at it. When Brandon Mebane went down, the defensive line needed players to step up. Guys like Jordan Hill, who made the game-turning play yesterday, did. Others, like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, began playing more plays – and didn't lose effectiveness. But the return to health of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and safety Kam Chancellor probably goes further in explaining how the Hawk defense improved down the stretch. It is once again the most dominating in the league. Meanwhile, the offense was getting sharper, yesterday's zero-point first half notwithstanding. Russell Wilson's highs are coming more frequently while his lows, though still there, don't show up nearly as often. In other words, Good Russell is around more and Bad Russell isn't. The offensive line is still a mess – though the bye week may take care of part of that if Max Unger can return – and the receivers are still improving. The one constant on that side of the ball? Marshawn Lynch. The running back is a weapon not many teams have, a guy who can turn a 3-yard loss into a 4-yard gain, and keep the Hawks ahead of the sticks single-handedly. So where does it all go from here? Thanks to the six-game winning streak, nowhere except CenturyLink Field. One game in a couple of weeks. That's assured. Win and the NFC title game arrives in Seattle the week after. Win that and it's on to Phoenix. Exactly where, six weeks ago, no one expected them to be.
• WSU: The Cougars finished off non-conference action yesterday with a 90-83 win over visiting UC Davis. As Jacob Thorpe describes, it wasn't a dominating win but it was a win and it evened WSU's record at 6-6. Jacob has a game story, video of interviews with Ernie Kent and a trio of players along with a morning post with links. ... With the Pac-12 schedule starting this week, there will be conference previews. We have one to pass along already.
• Gonzaga: It is possible to look back and look forward at the same time. Well, at least on the same day. Jim Meehan did yesterday, looking back at the win over BYU and forward to tonight's game with USD.
• Seahawks: As one could expect, John's column isn't the only opinions we can pass along concerning Sunday's victory. Larry Stone thinks this is the best defense the Hawks have had while Dave Boling believes the team is Super Bowl bound. Again. ... As we said, Jordan Hill made a game-turning play with his interception of what was supposed to be a spiked ball in the second half. He also left the game with a knee injury but expects to be OK. ... The young receivers, Paul Richardson in particular, seem to be stepping up heading into the playoffs. ... We can pass along a transcript of what the Seahawks had to say as well as the Rams. ... Bob Condotta has a good summary of what the win meant for Seattle. ... The 49ers made it official after the game. They and Jim Harbaugh are parting ways. Harbaugh is headed to Michigan – hey, I had that one right from the start – and the 49ers are looking for a coach.
• We'll spend Wednesday morning listing our top five sporting events or moments in the area from 2014. Then we'll get ready for 2015. Until later ...