For the record, the story of Seattle's 27-24 victory over the Broncos at Denver's Mile High Stadium on Sunday, which moved the Seahawks up to an 11-2 record, tied with Denver at the top of the AFC West, will be written in the numbers: Dave Krieg, 30 pass completions in 44 attempts, 406 yards and no interceptions; and Steve Largent, 12 catches for 191 yards, his biggest day in a magnificent nine-year career, and the best day a Seahawk receiver has ever had. The story will bear two sad footnotes—Rich Karlis's 25-yard field goal try that hit the right upright with 39 seconds left and cost the Broncos a shot at overtime, and a bad call by an official that set up a fourth-quarter Seahawk field goal, which proved to be the margin of victory.
But the foundation for those numbers was built from the sweat and agony of the Seahawks' six interior linemen, who turned in one of the most remarkable performances of the year, one of the finest of modern-era football, which is keyed to stopping the air game through pressure on the quarterback. Krieg suffered no sacks. Zero. And that's for 44 throws.
Sackless games are not uncommon. When a team runs a lot and throws little, it will often go unsacked. Ditto when it's facing a defense that isn't very good at rushing the passer. But on Sunday the Seahawks came into the game with a running attack that was 21st in the NFL and next to last in the AFC in yards per carry (3.3). With Curt Warner's knee still in rehab, they knew they weren't going to run much on the Broncos—and the Broncos knew it, too. Seattle was going to have to put the ball in the air.
The Broncos aren't a great sacking team, but they're good enough—tied for fourth best in the AFC before the game. During the week, when coach Dan Reeves talked about Seattle's great takeaway-turnover ratio—29 more takeaways than turnovers—he said, "If you count sacks in there, sacks allowed and sacks achieved, we're ahead of them. We're Number One in the league. And you've got to count sacks, because they're almost like turnovers." Using Reeves's new math, combining a sack ratio with a takeaway-turnover ratio, Denver indeed led the Seahawks 43 to 41.
The Broncos worked hard at their pass rush schemes, their blitzes and stunts and twists, but the Seahawk interior line turned it all back. "A lot of the stuff I completed today," Krieg said, "a lot of the passes I was throwing to Steve, were possible only because I had the time. When you have time to watch a whole pattern develop, the good numbers will follow."
The idea was to work Largent inside, underneath the zone, and it takes a special kind of receiver to spend an afternoon heading toward the middle, where the linebackers live. If the time was there, Krieg could wait for Largent to run a deeper crossing route, into an area that had already been cleared out. That's how Largent got his longest gainer of the day—a 65-yarder in the third quarter that set up the touchdown that broke a 10-10 tie—crossing from left to right, shedding the coverage and heading for open space. Fourteen passes were aimed at Largent, and 11 were on inside routes, 12 if you count his three-yard touchdown, on which he started outside and then broke it back in, an optional move that Krieg read perfectly. And most of Largent's action came when he set up on the left side, away from the Broncos' All-Pro cornerback, Louis Wright.
The Seahawks wanted to work on the right cornerback, Mike Harden, and the safeties, Steve Foley and Randy Robbins, who was subbing for the dynamic Dennis Smith (out with a shoulder injury), but first they had to get Harden deep-conscious. They had to shock him, so they opened the game with a bomb to split end Daryl Turner, with Harden covering.
It shocked Harden all right—as well as the 74,922 fans—80 yards and seven points worth of shock only 15 seconds into the contest.
"Well, yeah, sure, I was a little shocked," Harden said. "I mean it was the first play of the game."
Turner caught no more passes after the 80-yarder. Krieg threw to him five more times, just to keep the rookie interested, but most of them were into Wright's coverage, a comfortable matchup for the Broncos.