Pete Carroll called his defense to the sideline for a pep talk before the final do-or-die play against St. Louis. He wanted to tell them how fired up he felt, how cool the drama was. But when Carroll looked around, only safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Michael Bennett were there. Everyone else was still on the field.
“They were too tired,” Carroll said. “They couldn’t come to the sideline.”
Said Chancellor, “Both sides were tired, but it was about who had that last bit of energy, who had that will to win at the end.”
Making the final stop is further proof that this unit is different from last year’s, even if many pieces are the same.
The Seahawks surrendered seven leads in the fourth quarter last season, including the most devastating of all in the playoffs against Atlanta. The Seahawks still ranked as one of the league’s best units, but their resume as a great defense had a soft spot: closing games.
“It’s like Michael Jordan,” linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said. “Do you want the ball at the end or do you want to pass it? Every time the offense might give up the ball or we’re backed up, we get excited. We’ve got guys like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, and they want a chance to go get the ball. That’s the kind of personality we’ve become.”
Seattle’s defense has coughed up one fourth-quarter lead this season, in the loss at Indianapolis. But other than that the Seahawks have been nearly dominant.
In 14 clutch fourth-quarter drives, defined here as a 10-point margin or less, the Seahawks have allowed just one touchdown (against the Colts) and three field goals. They’ve forced five punts, one fumble, two interceptions and a turnover-on-downs against the Rams.
“We’re growing,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “We’re not a young team anymore.”
Thomas said that trust is what has changed this year. The defense is a year older, and most of the guys have played together for at least one season, many longer.
The Colts game is their only blemish. Seattle allowed Indianapolis to convert on four of five third downs in the fourth quarter, and Andrew Luck burned them with intermediate passes. But Seattle’s defense has otherwise held up in defining moments.
“If the offense is struggling, you’ve got to find a way to get the job done,” Wright said. “I believe we’ve done that.”