The Seattle Seahawks closed out a disappointing 2021 season with a satisfying 38-30 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Russell Wilson threw for 238 yards and three touchdowns and Rashaad Penny ran for a career-high 190 yards and a score to carry the Seattle offense to victory.
The Seahawks offense looked its best in the first, and last, games of the 2021 season. It was the extreme inconsistency that happened in between those two points that ultimately lead to Seattle finishing with its first losing record in a decade and being a spectator to the postseason rather than a participant.
“I thought we ended the season the right way," Wilson said. "We kept battling. We were able to get several wins along the way. Obviously, not going to the playoffs always hurts because we have such a great team and we can battle with anyone, but I think the cool part about everything was that in the midst of the storm we were able to stay the course
Wilson was responsible for two bad turnovers that directly led to 14 points for Arizona. A sack-fumble on the second play of the game was scooped up by Zach Allen for a 16-yard touchdown and a pick-six on an overthrow of Travis Homer hauled in by Jalen Thompson kept a struggling Arizona team in the mix.
But Wilson and Penny delivered that much more for the offensive side of the ball to overcome the 14 points gifted to the Cardinals.
There will be plenty of time to do a full autopsy on the season as a whole. For now, we're just sticking to thoughts from the final game of the season in Arizona.
Here are the takeaways:
-- Russell Wilson getting closer to vintage form.
Russell Wilson has always said he wants to leave the game at the end of his career as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. It is through that lens that it can be said that Wilson's 2021 season was not up to standard.
A serious injury to the middle finger of his throwing hand in October led to surgery that sidelined him for three games and forced him to be far less than 100 percent for at least three more. But Sunday's performance in Arizona was a version of Wilson that was far closer to previous Pro Bowl quality seasons.
Wilson completed 15-of-26 passes for 238 yards with three passing touchdowns and a touchdown on the ground as well. Even with the Thompson interception, Wilson posted a 110.7 passing rating for the contest and helped Seattle convert 8-of-12 times on third down.
"I think tonight was a testament of our season," Wilson said. "It's been a battle. It's been a journey. To be able to leave it all out on the field every play and every moment…I think that we definitely did that. I know that was important for me, just to give everything I had every play. We definitely did that tonight. It was a special game. A good football team on the other side, and we did a great job."
Wilson has had a rough season in Seattle. For most of the season, he was the worst quarterback in the league on third down, completing less than 50 percent of his passes on the critical down. After his injury, Wilson's accuracy suffered greatly in the first several games he played after returning to the lineup. The interception against Arizona was a play that reflected those struggles as his pass sailed over the head of Travis Homer.
"I think my hand is doing pretty good (now)," Wilson said. "I think that it was disappointing just to have my finger broken in several different places. It was a tough challenge. But you know what it was, it challenged me in new ways that I had never had before. I have had a lot of dings and things that have slowed me down here or there, and I've fought through them but this one I couldn't."
Wilson had six starts this season where he passed for under 210 yards. While one of those games was the game he left early against the Los Angeles Rams in October because of the injury, Wilson had two such games in the final four weeks of the season against the Rams and Chicago Bears.
In a lot of ways, the third down issue was the single most telling statistic of the Seahawks' season. Wilson's ineffectiveness on the critical down helps explain a lot of the team's struggles this year. That area improved significantly over the final month of the year and the Seahawks looked much more like the team they were expected to be.
"I thought he played a terrific game today," Carroll said. "He made the plays we needed to win the football game, the run on the goal line, holy cow. He went against one of the best tacklers in the NFL, and he was swashbuckling in the endzone. He did a great job."
Wilson has tied Peyton Manning for the most wins ever in the first 10 years of a career with 113 as well as the only quarterbacks to ever have 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in each of their first 10 seasons.
-- Rashaad Penny breakout stretch continues.
What an unbelievable finish to the season for Rashaad Penny.
After all the criticism through the last few seasons about his inability to stay on the field due to injuries, Penny has exploded over the final five weeks of the 2021 season.
Penny has had new career-high rushing performances in three of the last five games of the season. A 137-yard effort against the Houston Texans. A 170-yard day against the Detroit Lions last week. And now a 190-yard performance in the season finale against the Cardinals. The 190 yards against Arizona were the seventh-most in franchise history. Shaun Alexander (266, 201, 195), Thomas Rawls (209), and Curt Warner (207, 192) are the only backs to rush for more yards in a game.
Penny has been as explosive as any running back in the NFL to finish out the season. He finished the season with eight rushes of at least 25 yards despite starting just six games. That ties Penny with Jonathan Taylor for most 25-yard runs in the NFL this season despite Taylor playing a full 17-game schedule.
Penny is one of just 12 running backs since 2000 to have 170 rushing yards in two straight games.
"He just looks like you can't tackle him," Carroll said.
Penny has looked every bit like a first-round talent over the last six weeks of the season. Arizona was the best rush defense they've faced over this stretch and Penny had his best performance of his career anyway.
"I feel like my journey is really just beginning," Penny said.
Penny is set to be a free agent after the Seahawks declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Penny will likely have options in free agency if he doesn't sign an extension prior to the start of the new league year in March. However, Penny said he wants to stay in Seattle.
"I'd love to be back. This is home to me," he said.
A healthy Penny looks like an absolute star. With Chris Carson returning from neck surgery, it would seem to be a priority for Seattle to get Penny back on the roster for next season and potentially beyond.
-- Jordan Brooks sets franchise record for tackles in a game and season.
With Bobby Wagner missing the final game of the season due to a knee injury, second-year linebacker Jordyn Brooks stepped up and finishes off his sophomore campaign in style.
Brooks matched Wagner's record of 20 tackles in a game against the Cardinals. Brooks had 14 solo tackles and six assisted tackles in leading Seattle on Sunday. Wagner had previously set the benchmark in Seattle's overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans back in Week 2.
Additionally, Brooks' 20 tackles moved him past Wagner this season to finish with 183 tackles on the year, which is a new franchise record. Wagner had previously already broken his old record of 167 tackles from the 2016 season as well, but Brooks moved past him to set the new mark.
"It's a little bittersweet. I know if Bobby was still playing, he would still hold it so I feel like it wasn't a fair shot," Brooks said.
Brooks had made significant strides forward this season. He struggled in coverage roles at times earlier this year but has been really strong as a tackler all season. His speed is a significant asset and allows him to get quickly across the field.
"What a great start to the early part of his career," Carroll said. "He’s just a baller. It’s too bad Bobby wasn’t out here to battle him for it because I would have loved to see those two guys go neck-and-neck during the course of the game."
Wagner's injury last week essentially amounted to two fully lost games for Brooks to run him down for the new franchise mark.
Brooks' potential is one of the reasons Seattle didn't bring back K.J. Wright this season. While Brooks has had a few bumps in the road, he seems to be on a fantastic trajectory to handle the middle of the Seahawks defense moving into the future.
"I thought it was a good season of growth," Brooks said. "There was a lot of learning curve that I had to learn this year. I thought I grew just as the season went on. And so that's what I want to continue to do in the offseason and just try to take the next step."
-- Just a brutal injury for Quandre Diggs.
Ten minutes from the end of the season and Pro Bowl safety Quandre Diggs goes down with a serious injury that will require months of rehabilitation.
Football can really suck at times.
Diggs dislocated his ankle and fractured his fibula in the fourth quarter of the win over Arizona. Diggs was looking to absorb the block of pulling guard Justin Pugh when his right leg got caught underneath him. It was immediately clear the injury Diggs sustained was significant. Carroll said that Diggs' ankle was re-set on the field before he left on a cart with his leg in an air cast.
"Heart's broken for him getting hurt like that," Carroll said. "But he'll be back. He'll make it back. There's some months in here (for recovery) but he'll get back for the season next year and so that's the positive side."
Carroll's comments hinted at a relatively positive diagnosis for Diggs. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network later added that the damage is just the break and no additional ligament damage, which will greatly impact the speed of recovery.
"Just to see the pain and the hurt is heavy because I know he’s played at such a high level all year," Wilson said. "He’s been the MVP of our season just on how he’s played. I don’t think anyone has played any better across the league at that position. I know he’s a guy that deserves to get paid the right way. He’s a guy that deserves to get all the accolades.
Carroll said that Tyler Lockett and some additional staff members would stay in Arizona with Diggs overnight as he will need to have surgery to address his broken leg.
"Yeah, I mean, that's my brother," Lockett said. But I don't really think I'm doing anything that he wouldn't have done for me. I think that if the shoe was on the other foot, I think that that'd be the same thing that he would do for me. That's my best friend. That's my brother. We trained together. We went back and forth in college together. Fortunate enough to be able to play on the same team and so like I said, I'm doing exactly what I think that he would have done for me."
Photo Credit: Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks runs the ball for a first down during the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)