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#10for10 Game #8: Super Bowl Rematch (Broncos vs. Seahawks, 2014 Season)

24 Sep
The view from my seats for Broncos/Seahawks on September 21st, 2014

The view from my seats for Broncos/Seahawks on September 21st, 2014

*To commemorate my 10th season as a Seahawks season ticket holder, I am telling the stories of the top 10 home games I have attended in the past 10 years*

When the NFL schedule comes out every April, I put all my close friends’ names into a hat and they get to pick which game they want to go to when their name is drawn. In 2014 my friend James was the second name to come out of the hat so he had a variety of available games to choose from. We had gone to Super Bowl XLVIII together two months earlier and when he saw that the Seahawks game against the Denver Broncos had not been picked yet, he made sure that 2014 would include a Broncos/Seahawks double dip.

The day could not have been any nicer. Crystal clear skies with the temperature in the high 80’s; perfect weather for early-season football in Seattle. We started the day at the Hawks Nest Bar and Grill where several Bud Light’s were very necessary to battle the heat and mugginess inside the bar. After a few beers (and cups of water), we made our way inside the stadium.

The first offensive play of the game for Denver almost exactly replicated the start of Super Bowl XLVIII. Peyton Manning handed off to running back Montee Ball and he fumbled. The ball was recovered by K.J. Wright and all of the first half momentum had been handed to the Seahawks on a silver platter. The Seahawks took a 17-3 halftime lead thanks to two Russell Wilson touchdown passes. Unfortunately there was a second half to be played.

Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette caught a touchdown pass in the first half

Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette caught a touchdown pass in the first half

In the fourth quarter the Broncos recorded a safety and a touchdown pass from Manning to Julius Thomas to make it a 17-12 ballgame. Late in regulation the Broncos were driving to try to take the lead. On 3rd and 11 from the Seahawks 24-yard line, Manning’s pass was picked off by Kam Chancellor and was returned to the Denver 35-yard line. With 2:12 left to play all the Seahawks offense had to do was sit on the ball and they would win. The Chancellor interception felt like a game-clincher to James and I, even though the Broncos still had two timeouts and the 2-minute warning in their back pocket. The Seahawks kicked a field goal to extend their lead to 20-12. The Broncos had less than one minute to drive 80-yards to score a touchdown AND convert the 2-point conversion. To our amazement, they were able to execute. Manning connected with Jacob Tamme on a 26-yard touchdown and Demaryius Thomas made a ridiculous tip-toe catch on the back line to tie the game at 20-20. I was sick to my stomach. The Seahawks defense, a unit that had been ever so reliable, had collapsed in a similar fashion to their playoff loss in Atlanta two seasons prior. This game was headed to overtime, as James and I looked at each other flat out stunned.

The Seahawks won the overtime coin toss. After the defensive collapse that had just occurred and the emergence of Peyton Manning in the second half, we believed the Seahawks could not afford to have Manning see the field in overtime. We had to win it on our first drive. The Seahawks used Percy Harvin to move the ball in small chunks, eventually setting up first and goal to go from the Broncos 6-yard line. The Seahawks had three chances to punch it in and seal this victory. They only needed one. After pouring sweat in excitement and nervousness for over three hours, Marshawn Lynch lunged over the goal line for the game winning touchdown.  Just as I had the previous season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I put my arms up in the air then picked James up off of his feet in celebration. The win put the Seahawks at 2-1 and we headed uptown through Pike Place Market for a victory meal at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Raiders/Seahawks Preview

1 Nov
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

The Seahawks begin the month of November at home this week as they renew their old AFC West rivalry, hosting the Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks are 4-3 and are coming off a crucial win in Carolina last week. The Raiders have had a very lackluster season thus far and they are the only winless team left in the National Football League at 0-7. Last week the Raiders fell on the road to the Cleveland Browns 23-13. Oakland leads the all-time series with Seattle 29-24. In their last regular season meeting the Raiders demolished the Seahawks 33-3 in October 2010. That was head coach Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle and since losing to the Raiders in 2010 the Seahawks hold a .606 winning percentage. Meanwhile in the exact same span, the Raiders winning percentage is a mere .317. Here are some things I will be looking for out of the Seahawks this week, as well as a special report on the Oakland Raiders.

I have pleaded for the Seahawks to get quarterback Russell Wilson more involved in the running game the past couple of weeks but this week I do not think it will be necessary for Wilson to run for the Seahawks offense to be effective. Instead, this may finally be the week that we see Wilson spread the ball around and get rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood their most action of the season. Richardson and Norwood combined for 5 targets last week. Both Wilson and Coach Carroll have stated that they hope to get both of these receivers more involved this week, but I am interested to see if they use them to accentuate their specific abilities. Could Richardson be used on fly sweeps and bubble screens much like how Percy Harvin was used? I think it is definitely possible. Could we see Wilson try to stretch the field and let Norwood use his size as an advantage to catch deep balls? I think Wilson may look Norwood’s direction deep at least once this week. If these two receivers combine for 75 or more receiving yards I think the Seahawks are in for a very successful day through the air.

At the end of last week’s game the Seahawks dialed up the pressure on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and it worked like a charm in preserving the victory. This week the Seahawks defense needs to stick to that blueprint. At home in 2014 the Seahawks have averaged just over 1.5 sacks per game. This number must improve. After three home games last season the Seahawks averaged just above 2.5 sacks per game. Expect to see Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright blitz on early downs this week and keep an eye on Wright who will be back starting at outside linebacker. If Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr has time inside the pocket it will be interesting to see how his reads progress in the middle of the field. The Seahawks will start rookie Brock Coyle at middle linebacker this week, who has seen little playing time on defense this season. Coyle is a solid tackler who tries to get in on every play but he has a long way to go to challenge for Bobby Wagner’s permanent starting job. It is not unreasonable to think Carr will try to throw short passes in the middle of the field to test Coyle and if Carr can catch the Seahawks off-guard, those passes could turn into large chunks of yards for the Raiders.

There is one major thing the Seahawks absolutely cannot do this week; overlook the Raiders. The Raiders may be 0-7, they may be the worst team in the NFL on paper, but there may be potential for this being a trap game. Remember what happened when the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into CenturyLink Field last season? The 12th Man thought we would just roll right over them. Instead, the Buccaneers jumped out to a stunning 21-0 lead putting all Seahawks fans on edge. The Seahawks cannot play relaxed this week and the fans must be just as loud and intense this week as our other games this season. The Raiders have only lost two games so far this season by more than two scores, including two close games against AFC powers New England and San Diego. Oakland will absolutely get up for this week’s game, the question is will the Seahawks force them to sit right back down or will Oakland be able to put up a legitimate fight.

This week is a very special game for me. One of my best friends, Josh Gabel, is a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. For the past several years I have taken him to every Raiders/Seahawks preseason game but we have never had the opportunity to see our teams play each other in the regular season. There may be no better person I know to give an in-depth analysis of the Oakland Raiders than Josh. Instead of me giving you a paragraph on the Raiders and giving you an “X-Factor player to watch” this week I have instead invited Josh to be a guest contributor in this week’s preview. Here is what Josh has to say about his Raiders, along with what he is looking for in this week’s game:

At 0-7, the Oakland Raiders head to Seattle in the midst of a 13 game losing streak and an all but assured 11th consecutive non-winning season. A trip to the Clink sure doesn’t seem to be the solution to the Raiders’ woes. After two years of salary cap hell, Oakland brought in proven winners and recognizable (albeit past-their prime) names – guys like defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew – but have yet to see a return on their investment. With 13 new starters on both sides of the ball, this group has failed to mesh, costing head coach Dennis Allen his job and leaving general manager Reggie McKenzie’s future beyond this season in doubt.

The O in Oakland has gone missing so far in 2014. The Raiders offense is putting up a meager 15.0 PPG, which is good for 31st in the league. Many of these struggles can be traced to an unwillingness to run the ball.  Oakland is averaging only 69.6 rushing yards per game, which should be attributed more play-calling than ineffectiveness. Despite Darren McFadden’s respectable 4.0 yards per carry, Oakland passes 67% of the time. On a team with no playmakers at the skill positions (save for the occasional Andre Holmes highlight), passing the ball at such a high rate is a recipe for losing. Rookies Derek Carr (leads all rookie QBs in passing yards, TDs, and QB Rating) & Gabe Jackson (7 starts on a top 5 pass blocking offensive line) along with the aforementioned Holmes are bright spots for the team’s future. The coaching staff may trust Carr with the keys to the offense, but Oakland will continue to stall without a commitment to the run. Things don’t get much better on the other side of the ball.

Oakland is near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive category. They can’t stop the run (130.1 YPG) or get after the QB (7 sacks, tied for 29th). With all of the money McKenzie gave to Tuck, Woodley, and Antonio Smith, it is very disappointing to see such a lack of production. The lone bright spot on this defense is that number 5 overall pick Khalil Mack has lived up to his high draft so far, but not necessarily as expected. Coming out of the University of Buffalo, Mack was known being a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage. Though Mack has yet to register a sack, he has been credited with 22 QB pressures and is Pro Football Focus’ highest rated linebacker against the run, with 8.5 tackles for a loss. It will be interesting to see if Mack can down Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. With the offense struggling, the Raiders defense has to get off the field more; Oakland is tied for last in the league on 3rd down, giving up a 48% conversion rate. The Raiders have to find a way to pressure Russell Wilson without losing containment, a task that is much easier said than done.

Whether it’s “Play like Carcass for Marcus [Mariota]” or (my preference) “Down the Pooper for [Amari] Cooper”, Raiders fans are looking forward to May’s draft earlier than ever before. A win in Seattle would do wonders for Reggie McKenzie’s future as head of football decisions. Is it likely? No. But, rest assured, Sunday is going to feel like a good old fashioned AFC West showdown.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear navy jerseys and navy pants this week. Oakland will sport their classic white jersey/silver pants combo… Kevin Harlan will provide the play-by-play and former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon will provide the color commentary for CBS this week… Ed Hochuli and his gigantic biceps will do the officiating this week… This will be the first “cold” home game of the season. I recommend sweatshirts and jeans… Two reminders for the 12’s this week. First remember this weekend is daylight savings time. Turn your clocks back one hour and get an extra hour of sleep. Second, remember this week is a 1:25pm kickoff. Give yourself a little extra time to get to the stadium but shame on you if you are not in your seats by kickoff… Given the circumstances of this special Raiders/Seahawks regular season matchup, we have a full slate ahead of us on Sunday. Tentative schedule includes McDonald’s breakfast, being at the bar around the time they open between 8 and 8:30, the game, then dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s going to be a great day… Walter Jones will become the 11th Seahawk to be inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor. The ceremony will take place at halftime. What is interesting is that Jones will be the first player to have his number retired BEFORE having his name put in the Ring of Honor. This is the first Ring of Honor ceremony I will get to be a part of since I became a season ticket holder in 2006 (Cortez Kennedy Was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2006 but I was unable to attend the game). This season the Seahawks have had a pattern of having a 12th Man Flag raiser that is somehow associated to the opposing team or opposing city. With the Raiders in town I expect a former Seahawk from the 1980’s to raise the flag this week. I have no specific guess though… With a win the Seahawks will close out the first half of the season with a 5-3 record.

Prediction: Honestly, I see the Seahawks rolling in this game. Oakland may be able to keep it close in the first half but Seattle will eventually run away with this game. Marshawn Lynch will run for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Russell Wilson will add two passing touchdowns and the Seahawks defense will force 3 Raiders turnovers. The Seahawks will get to 5-3 and we will get ready to face the New York Giants next week.

Seahawks 33, Raiders 14

Review: Seahawks 36, Packers 16

4 Sep
Photo Credit: seattletimes.com

Photo Credit: seattletimes.com

What a way to start our title defense! In front of a nationally televised audience the Seahawks defeated the Green Bay Packers in decisive fashion on Thursday night by a final score of 36-16. The Seahawks start their 2014 season 1-0 while the Packers start their third straight season 0-1. Although the Seahawks won in dominating fashion I believe there is still a lot of room for improvement. Nevertheless, I believe we confirmed to any and every doubter that we are still a force capable of repeating as Super Bowl champions. Here are the positives and negatives I took from Thursday’s game.

Every Weapon Will Be Used: One of the reasons why the Seahawks have the potential to be so dangerous this season is that quarterback Russell Wilson will use every weapon in his arsenal. That was evident on Thursday night when he hit wide receiver Ricardo Lockette for a 33-yard touchdown in the second quarter and fullback Derrick Coleman for a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. There are probably few people who thought either Lockette or Coleman would have a touchdown in this game let alone both of them. Meanwhile Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, two receivers who see more playing time than Lockette, combined for 4 catches and only 22 yards. The Seahawks are not afraid to use every single offensive skill position player at any time during the game. This makes the Seahawks a very scary team to game plan around and try to prepare for moving forward.

Lynch Has Not Missed a Step: On the drive home from the game, Dave “Softy” Mahler, Dick Fain, and Hugh Millen of Sports Radio 950 KJR agreed that they thought Marshawn Lynch looked “like a guy playing for a contract” and that he has not slowed down at all. I agree completely. Lynch was the most effective player on offense this week rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Lynch, like always, ran like a man on a mission and if there was any rumblings of a potential running back by committee if Lynch were to struggle, he quickly squashed them. Barring injury, Lynch will continue to be the feature back in this offense and from my perspective our running game has picked up right where it left off at the end of the 2013 season.

Pass Rush Can Improve: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and O’Brien Schofield all recorded sacks on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers this week. Although the Seahawks pass rush looked effective, there is much room for improvement. The reason I say this is because of the Green Bay offensive line. With two players making their CenturyLink Field debut and right tackle Bryan Bulaga leaving the game with a sprained knee in the first half, I thought the Seahawks would be able to take advantage with a revved up 12th Man behind them to sack Rodgers in a similar fashion to the 8 sacks we recorded against the Packers two seasons ago. One of my main focuses going into this game was the interior pass rush and in this game the grand majority of the Seahawks defensive pressure came on the outside. I would like to see an improvement next week along the inside of the defensive line, using a 3rd down package with Bennett as well as young defensive tackle talent like Jordan Hill.

Did Thomas Lose His Job?: Before I go any further, no I am not talking about his free safety job. I am talking solely about his spot as the Seahawks punt returner. Forget that Richard Sherman may have been blocked into him, Earl Thomas muffed a first quarter punt which was recovered by Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and eventually led to a touchdown to give Green Bay a 7-3 lead. The punt that Thomas muffed should definitely have been signaled for a fair catch but Thomas tried to make something out of what clearly looked to be nothing. Thomas returned one more punt for a 3-yard return later in the game. I no doubt believe that Thomas can make special plays happen on special teams but he simply needs to be smarter about the way he goes about handling his punt return duties. One more mistake by Thomas on special teams and I believe will see the next man up at punt returner, who happens to be Richard Sherman.

Where Are You Sherm?: It is going to be very difficult for Richard Sherman to hold the title of “best shutdown corner in the game” from a statistical perspective if teams continue to avoid him, much like what the Green Bay Packers did on Thursday night. Sherman was not targeted once against the Packers, which created opportunities for Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane to take advantage of. Maxwell had 5 tackles, 2 passes defensed and an interception on Thursday night while Lane recorded 4 tackles of his own in the nickel slot. This could be a common occurrence especially early in the season. Maxwell will be tested often and if he plays shutdown football, opposing defenses may have no choice but to throw in Sherman’s direction as well. Sherman’s chances will depend on the play of the rest of the receivers. Although he played well against the Packers, if Maxwell struggles he will be picked on constantly and it will be extremely difficult for Richard Sherman to see passes thrown his way.

Thoughts on Green Bay: Take away the fact that the Green Bay Packers had to come into the NFL’s most hostile environment on opening night to play the defending world champions in front of a 12th Man that may have been louder than I have ever heard. This Packers team has an offense that will be able to effectively move the ball and they gained solid defensive momentum early in the game when they held a short lead. The running game must improve however. Running back Eddie Lacy only ran for 34 yards on Thursday night and not being able to run the ball effectively could extremely limit the Packers offense, relying on Aaron Rodgers more than they would like. With a banged up offensive line this may be difficult but as long as Rodgers can stay healthy, I believe this team is still better than the Bears, Lions, and Vikings. This team is still my favorite to win the NFC North.

Random Thoughts: John Parry was the referee this week. I apologize I could not figure out the referee before the game for the second consecutive week. Parry and his crew went into Thursday’s game known for throwing the most defensive holding penalties during the preseason, which some believed could have hurt the Seahawks. The Seahawks were flagged 4 times throughout the game and none of them were for defensive holding… The Westlake Center Buffalo Wild Wings has by far the best service of any “B-Dubs” I’ve been to. Maybe it was because we were one of the first parties seated for the day and the restaurant was mostly empty. Nevertheless, great service and great food too… The atmosphere at the Hawks Nest Bar and Grill never disappoints, especially before a primetime game. It was awesome in that building before the game… The pregame ceremony and celebration did not disappoint. There was one thing about pregame that I really liked and one thing that I really did not like. I liked how the Seahawks told everybody with tickets to be in their seats by 5pm for the pregame celebration but the pregame ceremonies did not start until NBC went live at 5:30. Smart thinking Seahawks. The thing I found slightly disappointing what that they unveiled the banner simultaneous to the team running out of the tunnel. I wish they would have waited until right before the game started to drop the banner… That may have been the most fun I’ve had at a Seahawks game ever. The crowd was so merry and confident. It was a truly special night all around.

The Seahawks take an extended break before getting to work on the San Diego Chargers next week. Enjoy this weekend’s games everyone. Go Hawks!

My Weekend in Houston

2 Oct

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*A detailed summary of my trip to Houston, Texas for the Seahawks game against the Houston Texans*

Saturday: Our flight left Seattle at 10:15 Saturday morning. After getting my Sea-Tac staple meal (Wendy’s breakfast) and enduring a long wait at the gate, I took my aisle seat in 25D and we were in the air shortly thereafter. The plane ride was full of Seahawks fans and a couple Seattle news personalities. Seahawks play-by-play man Steve Raible sat in first class and Paul Silvi of King 5 was seated about 10 rows in front of me. I’ll spare you the details of my flight, as it was, well, a flight. Pretty standard stuff. The only thing worth noting was the beverage service, as the flight attendants took about 30-40 minutes to get to our row. I joked with the guys sitting next to me that we would probably make it into Texas before we got our first round of drinks.

After we landed we took a bus to the off-site rental car facility and got our car. Let me say here that when we walked out of the airport towards the bus the Houston humidity really hit me. I hadn’t felt humid conditions like this since going to New York in the summer of 2006. The drive from the airport to our hotel in south Houston took us right past the downtown Houston skyline and shortly after passing downtown we exited the freeway and were at our hotel, the Crowne Plaza at Reliant Park. The hotel is located right off the I-610 freeway and is a 5 minute walk from what is called “Reliant Park” which includes Reliant Stadium, the Reliant Astrodome, and Reliant Arena. Last season in Arizona I stayed at the Renaissance Hotel which was located about the same distance away from University of Phoenix Stadium that the Crowne Plaza is from Reliant Stadium and I think that the Crowne Plaza was the exact opposite in all facets compared to the Renaissance:

The rooms are small, the ceiling in the bathroom was about two inches taller than my head, the ceiling above the shower was moldy, the bathroom mirror hung at breast level, meaning taller people like me have to bend down in order to see themselves in the mirror, our room faced the highway instead of the stadium, not only was there no free breakfast but there was also no complimentary coffee in the lobby in the morning, and there was only one vending machine in the entire building.

After checking-in we headed to a Buffalo Wild Wings near the campus of Rice University for the UW/Arizona game and to participate in a 12th Man rally. The restaurant was packed with Seahawks fans, thus it was standing room only and it truly felt like I was back at home. After ordering a glass of St. Arnold’s Oktoberfest (a local brew) and a few wings it came to our attention that a cameraman from Kiro 7 news was among the 12th Man faithful. He announced to the crowd that we were going live on TV in Seattle within 5 minutes so I got in prime position to be right in front of the camera. Even with a minimal warning to friends back home on Facebook, my friend Alan confirmed that I was “looking good as always” right in the middle of his TV screen. Success! At least somebody saw me on TV. After watching the Huskies knock off Arizona we picked up breakfast and beer at a local Kroger, headed back to the hotel, and called it a night. My wake-up call for Sunday morning: 7am.

Random Thought: There was a poster hanging at the bar for spicy Bloody Mary’s which included pepper flavored Absolut vodka. You read that right. PEPPER flavored vodka. As in salt and pepper. I have never heard of pepper flavored vodka before and the thought of it makes me want to gag. It must be a Texas thing.

Sunday: I struggled tremendously in getting a good night’s sleep due to the anticipation of the game and the noise from the cars driving on I-610 right next to the hotel. I woke up at 7am, showered and got dressed, bought a cup of coffee downstairs, had a muffin and was watching pregame and drinking Bud Light by 8:45am. This was the third road game I have been to where the Seahawks play in the 10am Pacific Time slot so it is really weird to be in the hotel pre-gaming with pregame shows on instead of the early games. We left the hotel and walked to the stadium at 10:15am and were inside the stadium by 11am. Our seats were in section 523 which was the fourth row of the upper deck. The seats looked straight down the Seahawks sideline so they were about halfway between the goal post and the corner of the endzone.

On the whole, Texans fans were very nice. I only had one notable moment of heckling when I was in line to use the restroom at halftime. The Seahawks were trailing 20-3 and as I was in line I heard phrases like “Seahawks suck,” “Go back to Seattle,” and “who the hell is ‘Hansman?!” in reference to the customized Seahawks jersey I was wearing. The Texans fans around me were also very knowledgeable about their team. The lady who sat behind me was a Texans season ticket holder and she admired the fact that I was a Seahawks season ticket holder who was dedicated enough to travel to see them play on the road. She was the most realist fan I have ever met. Before the game she explained the feeling the Texans fan base has for certain players. As the game wore on she became less and less willing to talk and after the game I politely told her “maybe we’ll see you guys again in February [for the Super Bowl].” She hostilely and angrily replied “no we won’t. Not the way we played today” and walked away.

Random Thought: A lot of Texans fans do not like Matt Schaub. That was evident after the game when a handful of Texans fans burned his jersey in the parking lot. They do not have faith in his decision making at all and they think it’s time that the Texans move on from both Schaub and head coach Gary Kubiak, who they believe is a package deal; they feel you have to get rid of both of them or neither of them. It reminded me of the last couple years of the Matt Hasselbeck era in Seattle. The feeling with Hasselbeck seemed to be “we like you, you got us to the next level, but you’re past your prime and you make terrible in-game decisions now. It’s time to part ways.”

At the end of the game I went absolutely crazy. We stuck around at the seats to watch the Seahawks celebrate on the field and to wait until most of the Texans fans had left. We walked down the ramps of Reliant Stadium (which were a similar set-up to the ramps at CenturyLink Field) with a large group of Texans fans and they were all visibly frustrated. Nothing negative was said in our direction but it was a very hostile feeling. Myself, my dad, and the two other guys we went with couldn’t shake our feeling of amazement and disbelief; we couldn’t believe what had just taken place inside that building.

After the game we went out to dinner to a Mexican restaurant called Pappasitos Cantina and celebrated with a couple rounds of cervezas. If you are ever in Houston, I highly recommend going to Pappasitos and trying the chicken and beef fajitas. They were the best fajitas I have ever had. The meat was juicy and the onions, Pico de Gallo, and beans added flavor that I had never experienced at a Mexican restaurant before. After watching the San Diego Chargers beat the Dallas Cowboys (to the delight of the Texans fans at the restaurant) we walked back to the hotel to relax and to see the highlights of the Seahawks/Texans game, something that we were hoping to see during halftime of the afternoon games but didn’t.

During the first part of Sunday Night Football I went for a walk around Reliant Stadium one more time to bask in the glory of seeing the Seahawks win live on the road for the first time since 2007. Upon my arrival back to the hotel, I somehow stayed awake for the rest of Sunday Night Football and shortly thereafter, I crashed. What a day.

Monday: I made up for the lack of sleep I had got the night before, as I slept in later than I had planned. After getting ready for the day we checked out of the hotel and headed for downtown Houston, where we would spend our afternoon before heading back to the airport to come home. We were contemplating different ideas on how to spend our Monday afternoon. A small road trip to the Gulf of Mexico, touring NASA headquarters, and touring Minute Maid Park (home of MLB’s Houston Astros) were among our ideas but we did not do any of these which was too bad.

After walking around the downtown core we ate lunch at Tejas Bar and Grill and drove over to Minute Maid Park to walk around the stadium. Even though we did not tour the stadium you could still see into the stadium from the outside. One cool thing about Minute Maid Park was that they incorporated a previous standing building on the property into the stadium; much like how the San Diego Padres incorporated the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field of Petco Park. The left field plaza was an old train station terminal building that they turned into a waiting lobby, the Astros team store, and a restaurant. Afterwards we headed back to the airport to fly home. From the end of the game to our arrival back home, I still could not believe that I witnessed one of the greatest comeback victories in Seahawks history.

All in all, Houston is a city that I would only visit again in special circumstances such as Super Bowl LI in February 2017. It was a fun trip and I was glad that I was able to come home happy.

Seahawks/Texans Preview

28 Sep

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Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans

Site: Reliant Stadium (Houston, Texas)

Kickoff: 10:00am

The Seahawks now enter a brutal stretch where 4 of their next 5 games are on the road. This stretch starts Sunday when the Seahawks head to Houston to take on the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans. The Seahawks are 3-0 and are coming off a 45-17 butt-kicking of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans are 2-1 after a 30-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore last week. This is the third matchup all-time between the Seahawks and the Texans. They have split the two previous matchups. The last time they played was in 2009 when the Seahawks lost in Houston 34-7. That loss to the Texans was the first of 4 straight blowout losses that ultimately cost former head coach Jim Mora his job. We may look back on this game later this season and say this was one of the biggest tests of the season. Here are some things to watch for against the Texans this week.

The biggest key for the Seahawks to be successful on offense this week is to mobilize Russell Wilson. It may be a necessity considering the Seahawks offensive line and the talent Houston displays along the defensive line. All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt already has 3 sacks this season after recording a Texans team record 20.5 sacks last season. His size and strength gives him the ability to overpower the offensive line and get to the quarterback easier than a lot of other defensive players around the league. Having Wilson scramble to make throws could limit Watt’s role in Houston’s defensive game plan significantly. Wilson is the shortest quarterback Watt has ever played against so Wilson will also need to make sure to elevate his passes to prevent Watt from knocking them down. One other way to limit Watt’s impact is to be successful in the running game. The Seahawks have the highest running rate in the NFL so far this season (57% run, 43% pass). Getting Marshawn Lynch going early could benefit the entire offense to chew clock, score points, and rest the defense. If Lynch struggles, I believe Darrell Bevell will change to a more pass-heavy offensive scheme to try to improve the offense.

In my Jaguars review I briefly touched on how the Seahawks used many different receivers and how using all those weapons could come in handy against the Texans. Looking at Houston’s secondary, cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are 5-11 and 5-10, respectively. Due to the undersized Texans secondary I am looking at Sidney Rice and Stephen Williams to make a big impact on the outside this week. Given the height advantage these two receivers have, Rice and Williams have the perfect opportunity to exploit Houston’s cornerbacks and gain large chunks of yards if Russell Wilson is confident enough to throw the ball in their direction. If Wilson is flushed out of the pocket, Doug Baldwin becomes an even bigger impact player. Lining up in the slot, Baldwin leads all Seahawks receivers with 177 receiving yards on the season. Baldwin is very good at improvising if plays are not executed as planned and he has an uncanny ability to get open if Wilson is looking downfield for a receiver while being chased. Keep an eye on these three receivers on Sunday.

On defense this week my focus isn’t really on individual matchups but on certain trends that need to come to fruition in order to be successful. The Seahawks tend to struggle a bit on the road no matter who the opponent is so the following things must happen to prevent our first loss of the season. First, they need to limit the number of penalties. On the road, penalties such as pass interference and personal foul penalties are called more often due to the reaction and influence of the home crowd. The Seahawks need to play clean football and make sure the defense can get off the field and the offense can stay on the field longer. Second, the defense needs to limit big plays. Fortunately for the Seahawks this point may not be as difficult as the common person would think. Starting Texans running back Arian Foster’s longest run of the season is only 16 yards and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ 30-yard catch against San Diego in week one is the longest catch by a Texans starting wide receiver this season. Third and most important, the Seahawks need to get off the field on third downs. In road games dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season (11 total), the opponent has converted 43.8 percent of third down opportunities. In road games dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season which resulted in a loss (6 total), the opponent converted 47.1 percent of third down opportunities. Although the margin between these numbers is small, they are both close to a 50 percent third down conversion rate which is utterly unacceptable. The Seahawks will not win this game if they cannot get off the field on third down. Stopping Foster, Andre Johnson, and running back Ben Tate is necessary in these situations because they are on the field for most of Houston’s third down chances.

In regards to the individual matchups between the Texans offense and the Seahawks defense, Arian Foster will face one of the best run stopping defenses in the NFL. Foster is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry so far this season. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is nursing an injured shin and will be a game-time decision on Sunday. If Johnson is active, he will line up across from Richard Sherman and DeAndre Hopkins will line up across from Brandon Browner. If Johnson is inactive, Sherman will defend Hopkins and Browner will defend the Texans number three receiver Lestar Jean.

When looking at the Houston Texans, most look directly at their defense and J.J. Watt. Although Watt is the most important player on defense for Houston, my Texans X-Factor player to watch this week is outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus, the Texans 2012 first round draft pick, is tied for the third most tackles by a Texans defender so far this season with 13. He also has one sack. Mercilus is the Texans weak-side linebacker meaning he will line up on the right side of the defensive formation and will blitz from Russell Wilson’s blind side. If Paul McQuistan struggles at left tackle this week for the Seahawks, Mercilus could wind up having a big day for the Texans solely from getting to Wilson behind the line of scrimmage.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will most likely wear white jerseys this week. I am not sure about our pant color… The nice thing about the Texans is that they post their uniform combinations for the entire season on their website. That makes it easier to know what we are going to wear opposite of them… Chris Myers and Tim Ryan have the call for FOX this week… Tony Corrente is the referee this week… I get the sense from a lot of my friends that 10am kickoffs in Seattle are kind of a pain in the ass. In Houston this week the game is a noon kickoff. The game I went to in 2011 in Dallas against the Cowboys was a noon kickoff and it was kind of too bad because I am used to going to Seahawks games here in Seattle at 1pm. It feels like the entire day gets going earlier when you go to a game that starts at noon… My hotel is walking distance from Reliant Stadium, much like my set up last season in Arizona. I’ll be pre-gaming in my hotel room instead of tailgating in the parking lots for the second straight year… On Saturday night a group called “Houston Seahawks” is organizing a 12th Man rally at a Buffalo Wild Wings a couple miles away from our hotel and I’m really excited for it. It will be cool to be in a different city but it will feel like I am right at home… I have seen 6 straight losses on the road. It would be nice to finally break that streak.

Prediction: This game will be close all the way until the end. Unfortunately, I think that J.J. Watt and the Houston defense will succeed in rattling Russell Wilson. The Texans will win the turnover battle 3-1 and it will feel like they will have a commanding lead in the game because of it, even though the game will be close. The Seahawks will get the ball one last time in the final two minutes but the final drive will stall at about midfield. The Seahawks will head home with their first loss of the season and for the 7th straight time, I will sit at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Monday afternoon disappointed (I hope I am wrong, obviously).

Texans 23, Seahawks 20

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Since I will not be around a computer all weekend I will not be able to post my Texans review until Tuesday afternoon most likely. Enjoy the game everyone! I’ll be sure to bring some 12th Man love to the lone-star state. Go Seahawks!

My Weekend in Arizona

12 Sep

Friday: My flight to Phoenix left Seattle at 3:20 Friday afternoon. I was in an aisle seat about 25 rows back and to be honest my flight could have gone a lot better. Let me touch on the one bright spot; there were at least 20 Seahawks fans on my flight and when we started to descend towards Phoenix, most of them started to get riled up. That was a lot of fun to be a part of. Now to the annoying part of my flight. The guy sitting next to me was wearing a Seahawks shirt and Seahawks hat, which was nice. About an hour into our flight while I was listening to music, he wanted to start a conversation about Sunday’s game. I told him about my annual road trip and what my outlook on the game was and he told me about his thoughts. While he was talking I remembered one of my least favorite things about talking to strangers about football; I ALWAYS seem to know more about the game than they do, so I had to listen to amateur analysis that either didn’t make sense or was completely irrelevant. To make things even worse, he was boozing throughout the entire flight. As the drinks went down, the more annoying and belligerent he got. I tried to make it clear I wasn’t in the mood to talk by putting in my headphones but he just would not shut up. The icing on the cake was that he would try to get up to use the lavatory at the most inopportune times including right when the beverage cart was in front of our row, and once the flight landed and everyone seated on the aisle was standing and grabbing for their bags in the overhead storage bins. At least I can say I didn’t have the most frustrating flight, as one of the other guys I traveled with got a condensed life story from an elderly woman he was seated next to.

After getting off the plane we headed for the rental car shuttle. Once we stepped outside it was like walking into a sauna. 90 degree temperatures at 6:00pm is uncomfortable but also add in the smelly Phoenix air and you are miserable, at least to start. I got used to it by the end of the weekend. After getting our car we drove about 20 minutes to Glendale, the site of both University of Phoenix Stadium and our hotel. We checked in to the Glendale Renaissance then drove to In-N-Out Burger for dinner. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and I took a self-guided tour of the place. Let me tell you, I have never stayed in a more luxurious hotel than this place. Unfortunately I was only there for the weekend and since we were busy for most of the trip, I was not able to take advantage of any of the amenities the hotel offered which includes a beautiful outdoor pool with bar, state-of-the-art workout room, or the spa.

We then walked around what is called the “Glendale Entertainment District” which includes our hotel, University of Phoenix Stadium, Westgate shopping center, and Jobing.com Arena (home of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes). All of these buildings are within walking distance. We spent the rest of that night at a pub called McFadden’s. If I had to simply describe McFadden’s, imagine if Finn MacCool in the U-District had a baby with a place like Coyote Ugly or Cowgirls Inc. The women are incredibly attractive and the beer is expensive. All in all, the four of us had 12 Guinness’s total which racked up a tab close to $80. To a college aged man, McFadden’s is a place to go drink and observe the people around you. Our bartender may have had the most clothes on of any bartender and she was only wearing a bra-type tank top and shorts that were so short her buns were drooping from the base of them. I’m not going to lie though it was fairly awkward being at a place like that with my dad. This bar became a talking point among the four of us for the duration of our trip because each night we pondered the thought of going back to drink there. When we got back to the room we called it a night. Even though we had landed at 6 at night, we definitely made the most of our first night in Arizona.

Saturday: After pounding a coffee and a cinnamon roll, the four of us headed to downtown Phoenix to tour Chase Field; home of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks. We have done a baseball stadium tour for the past three road trips and this one was one of the best. Among the stops, a pool located beyond the right-center fence, the club level, a suite, the visitors’ clubhouse, and the Diamondbacks dugout. After the tour we had an appetizer and beer at TGI Friday’s which is located in the second deck in left field. It is a similar setup to the Hit it Here Café at Safeco Field but because this restaurant is a TGI Friday’s, the food is leaps and bounds better than what is served at the Hit it Here Café.

After leaving downtown Phoenix we headed towards Peoria. I stayed in Peoria for my three trips to Mariners spring training so it was nice to see how the area had changed in the last ten years; the last time I went to Arizona. We killed some time at a mall (the same mall I had bought Pokémon cards at in 1999) before heading over to Buffalo Wild Wings for the Washington Huskies game against LSU. After some bickering (by my dad) about which televisions the Husky game was going to be on, I enjoyed some classic buffalo and spicy garlic wings while watching my Dawgs get pummeled by LSU. We left at halftime because the game was so bad. On the way back to the hotel we stopped to get beer for Sunday morning and to get a poster and pens so I could make a sign for the game.

When I got back to the hotel I made this sign:

Image

And then I called it a night in preparation for a HUGE day on Sunday.

Sunday: My alarm went off at 6:30am and I was immediately alert with adrenaline flowing through my veins. I pulled back the curtains on the window and witnessed a spectacular view of the stadium and then I turned on NFL Network to watch NFL Gameday Morning. After watching Warren Sapp make his “bold” prediction that the Kansas City Chiefs would beat the Atlanta Falcons 41-0, I took a shower and got in my gameday attire. I went down to the lobby to get another cup of coffee and cinnamon roll, not before I high fived two young girls who were wearing Seahawks jersey’s. The prefunction started in my room at 9:30am. While flipping back and forth between the Colts/Bears game and the Redskins/Saints game, I drank a 6-pack of Bud Light and then at 11:30 we headed across the street to the stadium.

Imagine walking into Costco on a 100+ degree day and walking straight into the frozen produce section in the back corner of the building. That is the only example I can think of when comparing the difference in temperature between outside the stadium and inside the stadium. There was easily a 25 or 30 degree difference and it really hits you once you open the doors and enter the stadium. I held my sign for the duration of pregame warm-ups, hoping FOX would get it on camera to use when the coverage of the game started on TV. Unfortunately I was not informed that my sign made it on TV by any of my friends watching back home so I just assumed all of the work I had put into it came short of my ultimate goal. The Seahawks had a great turn out in Arizona. I had several Hawks fans around me and I saw many 12th Man flags around the lower bowl of the stadium. After the Seahawks ran out of the tunnel, it was the Cardinals turn to be introduced and the building went absolutely crazy. I can easily say that it was the loudest environment I have been a part of on the road. Of course the noise level was not even close to CenturyLink Field, but it definitely came the closest of all the places I have been. Add in 50,000 white rally towels and it felt like a playoff game. The game had its ups and downs. I can’t remember the last time I screamed so loud after Sidney Rice’s touchdown. I wanted to make sure Cardinals fans knew I was there representing the Seahawks. After Braylon Edwards’s dropped pass on 4th and goal, I immediately slipped into a state of frustration, anger, and disbelief. I went back to the hotel and sat in a chair upset while listening to the broadcast of Sunday Night Football. After grabbing another burger at In-N-Out for dinner, I returned to my chair and sulked until I fell asleep about an hour after the Sunday Night game.

Monday: I woke up at 6:30am again in order to get ready, pack up, eat breakfast, and drive to the airport. Because one of our group members was heading to Detroit instead of back to Seattle, we had to get to the airport early because his flight left an hour before ours. I sat at the gate for a little over an hour before boarding my flight and I tried my best to get over the painful loss from the day before and to start focusing on Dallas next weekend. I noticed that there were some media members on my flight home; Ian Furness of Sports Radio KJR sat in the fourth row of first class and the cameramen and production team from Q13 FOX sat three rows behind me. I sat in row 19 by the window. This time around, I sat next to another Seahawks fan returning home but we did not communicate at all. Upon our descent to Seattle, I had a breathtaking view of downtown Seattle. Unfortunately my camera was not working on my phone so I could not get a picture. If I could have taken a picture, I’m confident I would have gotten likes on Facebook that would tally into the 30’s or 40’s haha. I made it home just in time for the Monday Night Football doubleheader and told my roommates all about my great but painful weekend.

I had a ton of fun on this trip. I highly suggest going to Arizona to see the Seahawks play. It is a trip that is easy to make with friends especially if you are staying in the Glendale Entertainment District. I hope my friends and I can put a plan together so I can make that trip once again next season!