EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It didn’t matter that Richard Sherman wasn’t really certain which teammate was behind him.
What mattered is that he knew for sure that one of his teammates was.
“I know that Earl (Thomas) or Kam (Chancellor) are on their way,” Sherman said. “At all times they are speeding somewhere in the vicinity.”
So when Eli Manning lofted a pass toward receiver Hakeem Nicks in the end zone with 4:24 left Sunday, Sherman confidently tipped the ball back in play, where Thomas swooped in to grab it.
And when he did, he preserved Seattle’s first shutout of the season, a 23-0 win over the Giants Sunday afternoon here at MetLife Stadium that also allowed the Seahawks to take another big step toward securing all of their regular-season goals.
Because the 49ers beat Tampa Bay 33-14, the Seahawks could not clinch the NFC West title outright. But thanks to New Orleans’ loss to the Rams, all the Seahawks need is to beat either Arizona at home next week, or St. Louis the week after, and they will be NFC West champs and have the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (one 49ers loss, to either Atlanta or at Arizona will also do the trick).
And assuming they get that done, the Seahawks will become even more prohibitive favorites to return to MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Sherman said with a smile. “And we’d love to be back.”
A week after losing 19-17 at San Francisco to put a little bit of urgency back into their remaining schedule, the Seahawks played a game as complete as any this season in dominating from start to finish.
The Giants didn’t cross midfield until there was 7:08 left in the game and managed just 181 yards, the fewest allowed by the Seahawks this season.
Seattle’s defense also had five interceptions – including two each by Sherman and Byron Maxwell – and forced the Giants to punt on each of their other eight possessions.
Sherman said the defense was motivated by a few comments it heard from the Giants during the week, including one from Manning in which he noted how Sherman likes to “get his hands on the receivers” and that the Giants would “try to take advantage of his style of play.”
“Eli said we are over-aggressive and that they were going to take advantage of that,” Sherman said. “And I think we showed him we are over-aggressive, but it’s hard to take advantage of it. It’s easier said than done. We don’t like people coming at us in the media and saying negative things about us so we wanted to put that on tape and we are happy that we did so.”
Manning’s five interceptions gave him 25 for the season, most in the NFL.
The offense, meanwhile, shook off a sluggish start (four punts on their first five possessions) to score on five of six possessions from the middle of the second quarter to early in the fourth to put the game away.
“We had a terrific football game today,” gushed Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “Really loved the way we played across the board. … everybody hit, ran hard and played tough football the way we want to do it.”
Russell Wilson threw one touchdown pass to become only the third player in history to throw for 50 or more in his first two seasons (Dan Marino and Peyton Manning are the others) and also led Seattle with 50 yards rushing as the Seahawks had 134 on the ground, their most in the last four games.
And running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Doug Baldwin each had six receptions as Wilson hit seven different players in going 18 for 27 for 206 yards.
It was the defense that carried the day, though, holding the Giants to just 25 yards rushing on 14 carries, the fewest since holding the Rams to 17 on Dec. 17, 2002.
“We didn’t block anybody,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin after his team fell to 5-9. “We didn’t make any plays.”
The Seahawks, meanwhile, made plays all over the field. At the end of the first half, Manning threw a desperation heave near the Seattle goal line that either Thomas or Sherman could have picked off. Thomas gave way to let Sherman get it – his second of the day and sixth of the season which had him tied for the lead in the NFL when the game ended – then reminded him of it as they headed off the field.
“That’s what you do for your brother,” Thomas said. “And when you do good things like that, the ball always comes back and finds you.”
The Giants’ longest drive through the first three quarters was 29 yards, none lasting more than five plays, until midway through the fourth quarter when a personal foul on Chancellor on a completed pass finally got New York past midfield.
The shutout seemed doomed when the Giants got to the Seattle 13 a few plays later. But then on second down came the Manning pass to Nicks, and Sherman’s tip. And as Thomas had predicted, the ball did indeed come back and find him, bringing with a much-desired shutout.
“I tried to tip it up with enough air for someone to get under it,” Sherman said. “And Earl got under it. I owed him one.”