Expectations for the 2013 Seattle Seahawks are sky high after they went 11-5 and came within 30 seconds of reaching the NFC championship game in 2012. In fact, the Seahawks were the No. 2 team in our "Shutdown Countdown" series, one spot ahead of the Denver Broncos. It would not be a surprise if the Seahawks and Broncos squared off in Super Bowl XLVIII next February, which is why many eyes were on the first half of their preseason meeting at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night.
In that first 30 minutes, the Seahawks scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in putting 33 points on the scoreboard. After their physical defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson led a 10-play, 65-yard drive that ended with him calmly picking up the snap he dropped and completing a 12-yard touchdown pass to first-year receiver Jermaine Kearse. A 42-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka gave the 'Hawks a 10-0 lead, which the Broncos chipped into with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Wes Welker.
Kearse returned the ensuing kick 107 yards for a touchdown, all but assuring himself a spot on the Seahawks' 53-man roster.
Despite the lopsided 40-10 score, the Broncos were able to move the ball against Seattle's defense. Turnovers, however, would be a difference on Saturday night. Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was stripped by Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner on the drive that set-up Hauschka's field goal. After Kearse's kick return for a touchdown, the Broncos drove all the way down to the Seahawks' one-yard line, but running back Ronnie Hillman fumbled on his way into the end zone, with Browner scooping up the ball before it rolled out of the back of the end zone and returning it 106 yards for a touchdown as the rout was on.
It's only a preseason game, so it's important to not overreact. However, with how physical the Seahawks defense played, even after the regulars were on the sidelines, and with how well the offense looked (without Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Zach Miller and 2013 second-round pick Christine Michael), it's clear that last year was no aberration and that the lofty expectations for this team are entirely justified.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert has taken a lot of criticism over his first two seasons in the league, most of which was deserved. Since it's important to give credit where credit is due, the 2011 first-round pick out of Missouri played very well in a quarter-plus of action during Saturday night's 37-13 loss to the New York Jets. Gabbert completed 13-of-16 pass attempts for 165 yards and a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Allen Reisner.
"I think we were just clicking, we tempoed them, had them off balance," Gabbert said of the offense's performance on Saturday night. "We worked the running game as well as some of the keepers and just had them on their heels. So whenever we can do that it is going to benefit the offense."
Of course, Gabbert's good night was not completely unsullied as he suffered a sprained thumb on his throwing hand after banging it against a helmet on his final pass attempt the night. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Gabbert will undergo X-rays, but the team is not overly concerned about the injured digit.
Jaguars not overly worried about Gabbert's thumb, struck on his last play of 13-16 for 163 yds, 1 TD night. Sprain but will have X-Rays
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 18, 2013
The Jets may have scored a blowout win over the Jaguars on Saturday night, but there are some issues head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik will have to sort out before the regular season begins in three weeks. The first issue is the quarterback position.
Unfortunately, the Jets' decision to allow second-round pick Geno Smith practice two days after he injured his right ankle in the preseason opener cost them an opportunity to see him get valuable playing-time against the Jaguars. Smith's injury allowed incumbent starter Mark Sanchez to get more playing time, which turned out to not be a good thing.
Sanchez finished the night 13-of-23 for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a 76.2 passer rating. In the second half, Sanchez led the Jets to a pair of touchdowns that erased a three-point halftime deficit and then another drive that resulted in a field goal to give New York a 27-13 lead at the end of the third quarter. Of course, the first touchdown drive began at midfield, while the other touchdown drive started at the Jaguars' 14-yard line. Of the 12 offensive plays on those two drives, the Jets only put the ball in the air twice. There may have been a good reason for Marty Mohrninweg going to the ground.
Early in the second quarter, a promising 80+-yard drive was sabotaged when Sanchez was intercepted in the end zone by Jaguars cornerback Marcus Trufant.
At the end of the first half, the Jets received an opportunity to take the lead when Jaguars wide receiver Tobias Palmer muffed a punt that was recovered by the Jets at Jacksonville three-yard line. On the first play, Sanchez had a wide open Clyde Gates in the back of the end zone but didn't make the throw. Instead, Sanchez scrambled for two yards. This is Sanchez's fifth season in the NFL and he's fighting for his job. Yet, in a preseason game, he was afraid to pull the trigger and make a play that there to be made. After another incomplete pass, Sanchez held the ball too long and threw an incomplete pass as time expired in the half, leaving the Jets with nothing to show from being handed the ball nine feet from the end zone with 24 seconds and a timeout remaining.
If Sanchez were a rookie, that sequence at the end of the first half would be understandable. But for a quarterback with 68 regular and post-season starts under his belt, that was inexcusable play and is a primary reason why Smith still has an excellent chance at being the Jets' starter when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 8.
Arizona Cardinals 12, Dallas Cowboys 7: As much as the Seahawks-Broncos felt like a regular season game, the Cardinals-Cowboys tilt felt exactly like how you would imagine a game being played at 2:30 p.m. local time on a Saturday afternoon in mid-August would feel. It was lethargic, there were plenty of turnovers and very little scoring, with the Cowboys turning the ball over five times in the first half and the Cardinals converting those takeaways into nine points. The one impressive offensive drive of the game was a 14-play, 82-yard drive by the Cardinals, going from their own 11-yard line to the Cowboys' seven-yard line in eight minutes and 33 seconds. As was the case for much of this sloppy game, that drive yielded in zero points as Carson Palmer could not connect with Rashard Mendenhall on a fourth-and-two play and the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs.
Cincinnati Bengals 27, Tennessee Titans 19: The Titans continue to struggle on defense, allowing a Bengals offense that was playing without left tackle Andrew Whitworth and wide receiver A.J. Green to gain 220 yards and put 17 points on the scoreboard in the first half. Andy Dalton was efficient, completing nine of 14 attempts for 115 yards and a touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu, while second-year running back Dan Herron gained 81 yards on nine carries, most of which coming on a 40-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay Packers 19, St. Louis Rams 7: Of the 27 possessions the Rams and Packers combined for on Saturday night, seven were three-and-outs. Packers kickers Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio made four of five field goal attempts to provide the scoring output for the first 45 minutes before Packers quarterback B.J. Coleman hit tight end Jake Stoneburner for a nine-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. St. Louis finally cracked the scoreboard in the final minute as Austin Davis connected with Nick Johnson for a 26-yard touchdown.
Houston Texans 24, Miami Dolphins 17: The first-team offenses for the Texans and Dolphins traded touchdowns in the first quarter, with Matt Schaub hitting tight end Owen Daniels for a 15-yard score to cap off an efficient eight-play, 66-yard drive that the Dolphins responded to by going 80 yards in seven plays, the bulk of which came on Ryan Tannehill completions to No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace. Tannehill and Wallace connected three times for 58 yards on that drive, including the nine-yard touchdown to tie the game. Schaub's night ended early, but Tannehill needs as much work as Joe Philbin can reasonably allow for the middle of August. On his final series, Tannehill led the Dolphins on an 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive, operating mostly out of the shotgun (nine plays, all before the Dolphins entered the red zone).
• The Seahawks are going to have to make some tough roster cuts later this month, but two names who appear safe are wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and cornerback Walter Thurmond. Kearse has scored three touchdowns this preseason, adding two in the first quarter on Saturday night. Kearse caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson before returning a kick 107 yards for a touchdown, solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster. The Seahawks brought in Antoine Winfield to be the nickel cornerback, but Thurmond is pushing hard for that role, flashing the speed and closing ability that prompted the Seahawks to select him with the 111th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft even though he was unlikely to play that season due to a horrific knee injury that ended his college career at Oregon.
• Mike Wallace is certainly one of the more dynamic receivers in the game and the Dolphins are thrilled to add him to the passing game. Miami's coaches were likely just as thrilled to see Wallace's outstanding block that sprung Lamar Miller for an easy four-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. To play receiver for the Dolphins, you have to be willing to block.
• The Titans signed kicker Rob Bironas to a two-year, $6.675 million contract extension that included $2.25 million in guaranteed money on March 8. Titans coaches and executives could not have been pleased to see him miss on two field goal attempts from within 40 yards on Saturday night.
• More bad news for the Jets: Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that Quinton Coples has a hairline fracture of his ankle that will require three-to-four weeks of rehab.
• Texans first-round wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins exited Saturday night's game with a concussion. Head coach Gary Kubiak described what sounds like a scary scene.
"I think it happened on the second ball he caught," Kubiak said. "We ran another play – the interception, actually – and it looked like his legs went out from under him. He just didn’t run his route. He was stumbling all over the place."
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