*The wild, wild NFC West played host to a shootout in Seattle on Thursday night. In a back-and-forth battle, the Seattle Seahawks (4-1) laughed last as Greg Zuerlein's 44-yard game-winning field-goal attempt went wide right and the Los Angeles Rams (3-2) fell, 30-29, to kick off Week 5. Here's what we learned: *
- Fifty-nine points and five lead changes later, Thursday night's clash between the division-rival Seahawks and Rams came down to one drive and one kick. Both were botched. Up 30-29 and taking possession after an acrobatic Tedric Thompson interception, Seattle had an opportunity to close out the victory but went three-and-out against a Rams defense that used up its final two timeouts to retrieve the ball at its own 7-yard line with 1:38 to go. Needing only a field goal, Los Angeles embarked on one of its finer drives of the evening. Jared Goff hit Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett along the boundary, the latter hauling in a 28-yard catch-and-run in the middle of Seattle's defense to get the Rams into Zuerlein's field-goal range at the Seattle 30. But once the Rams reached the precipice of victory, they stumbled to defeat, thanks to some ill-advised pre-snap errors. After an incomplete first-down pass, L.A. attempted another pass to the sideline on second down. It fell incomplete, leaving the Rams with 20 seconds, two downs, no timeouts and few options to seal a win. Miscommunication and a delay-of-game penalty ensued, pushing L.A. back to the 35. On third down, Goff found Everett who ran out of bounds for a successful nine-yard catch. Out trotted Zuerlein, who less than nine months earlier had kicked the Rams to the Super Bowl with a 58-yard overtime winner in the Superdome. Surely a 44-yard game-winner would be no sweat. Well ... Greg the Leg pushed the kick right, and with it went the defending NFC champions' hopes for re-asserting their dominance in the NFC West.
- The Russell Wilson MVP campaign marches on. Dancing around oncoming sackers, splitting defenses on scampers down the middle and launching pretty parabolas from uncomfortable arm angles, the Seahawks quarterback enjoyed a near-perfect evening at the ballpark Thursday night in what was a quintessential Wilson game. Posting the second-highest passer rating in his career (151.8), Wilson was practically perfect, averaging 11.7 yards per attempt and throwing four touchdowns to four different receivers (Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, David Moore, Chris Carson). Wilson also led three lead-changing scoring drives, two of which came in the game's final 21 minutes. After the game, Pete Carroll called the effort "one of the best games I've ever seen him play." Entering Thursday's night game rocking a career-best completion percentage, passing YPA, TD-to-INT ratio, among other things, Wilson one-upped his own production against a Rams outfit that has given him fits over the years; no team had beaten, sacked and ransacked Wilson more in his career. At least for one night, Wilson can claim victory over his divisional nemesis, and on the season, superiority over damn-near every quarterback in the league, east and west of Patrick Mahomes.
- In trying to diagnose the Rams' success under Sean McVay, the tight ends are often overlooked in favor of the nine-figure quarterback, the eight-figure running back and the three complementary wide receivers. Not on Thursday night. The Rams' tight ends got their glow-up, just by being on the field at the same time. Long a proponent of 11 personnel, McVay sent out 12 personnel early and often against Seattle, utilizing two tight ends (Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee) on 35.8 percent of offensive plays. The Rams had run just 14 plays with two tight ends entering Thursday night; they ran 15 such plays in the first half, and 24 in total. The result? An improved running game out of the gate and more explosive plays downfield for both Everett and Higbee. The two tight ends combined for 10 catches and 183 receiving yards; Everett earned the lion's share, hauling in a career-high seven catches for 136 yards, his second straight game with five-plus catches. Los Angeles even broke out two plays with three TEs on the field (with a cameo from third-year player Johnny Mundt), both of which resulted in gains of at least 27 yards. This shift in offensive philosophy might be a temporary one for McVay and Co., but if that's the case, Thursday night was one hell of a one-night stand.
- When will Clay Matthews catch a break? The veteran linebacker fell victim to yet another questionable roughing the passer penalty on Thursday night, one that propelled Seattle to another first down on its game-winning drive. On first down from L.A.'s 40-yard line, Wilson rolled out of pressure to his right and, unable to find an open receiver, tossed the ball helplessly out of bounds. Almost simultaneously, Matthews, who had been in pursuit, knocked Wilson with his shoulder to the ground. A bang-bang play to the naked eye, it was followed by a late flag from the officiating crew, an incredulous Matthews and a first down for the 'Hawks at the Rams 25. They scored the game-winning touchdown six plays later. The call was a perfect example of the over-protection of quarterbacks in today's football, with Matthews playing the perpetrator yet again after the mad Packer got called for two egregious penalties in consecutive weeks last season. Think quarterbacks like these calls? Think again! Jared Goff was unhappy with the call following the game, as was one Hall of Famer and former Rams quarterback:
- Back to Wilson for a hot sec. How unbelievable were his throws against Los Angeles? Take his first touchdown pass as an example. On Wilson's "13-yard" touchdown pass to Lockett, the quarterback rolled out to his left under heavy pressure from Dante Fowler and launched a pass that traveled 39.2 yards into the back left corner of the end zone toward Lockett, who, despite being blanketed by Eric Weddle, caught the pass with little room to spare and dragged his two feet in-bounds. The completion probability for that score? Six-point-three percent, the second-most improbable catch of the Next Gen Stats "era." Stats aside, the play exemplified how easy Wilson makes difficult, nay, near-impossible throws look. We shouldn't still be marveling at this mini-magician in his eighth season on the job, and yet ...
- The Rams are third in the NFC West, just ahead of the winless Arizona Cardinals. That's where things stand through the first quarter of the season. With back-to-back losses to Tampa Bay and Seattle, Los Angeles has fallen a game behind the undefeated San Francisco 49ers and the Seahawks in a division it won going away just a season ago. A home clash with San Francisco awaits in 10 days. A loss to Jimmy G and a potentially still-unbeaten Niners squad could prove the death knell to the Rams' hopes of a division three-peat. The schedule doesn't ease up for Seattle, either, as the Seahawks will look to win their third in a row at the Cleveland Browns next week before hosting Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.