SEATTLE – About the time the first strains of “It’s a Holly, Jolly Christmas” were heard over department store Muzak, the Seattle Seahawks were 6-4, three games out of first place in their division and discounted, if not dismissed.
NFC West champions.
Home-field heroes, for as long as they need it.
A week off to heal.
Las Vegas’ Super Bowl favorites.
Survivors, yes. But scary dudes, again.
“It’s nothing,” said defensive end Michael Bennett, “to have our backs against the wall.”
Here’s how that went Sunday at CenturyLink Field, with that title and the home-turf hammer in the NFL playoffs at stake. Having buried Arizona with a franchise-record offensive onslaught a week ago, the Seahawks stumbled through the first half against the St. Louis Rams without so much as a point. Milk cartons were rush-printed to alert all to be on the lookout for Russell Wilson and the boys. In the stands, 12s consulted Kayak on their smartphones for fares to Charlotte and other playoff outposts. Football widows X’d the first weekend in January off their mates’ honey-do availability.
A couple of field goals got Seattle even, but by the end of the third quarter the Rams were getting their gash on, driving toward a go-ahead score. So naturally on the first play of quarter four, the Seahawks blew up the narrative with an interception.
The thief? Richard Sherman? Earl Thomas? Byron Maxwell? Maybe Bobby Wagner?
Nah. Jordan Hill. Three hundred and three pounds of backup defensive tackle. But that’s not the best part.
The best part was, the pass was, well, a spike that he picked off his shoetops.
“It was an OK catch,” Bennett teased, with Hill at the next locker. “I give it a three.”
“Gotta be at least a seven,” Hill countered.
Well, six anyway. Marshawn Lynch soon turned it into a touchdown, sans crotch-grab, and the Seahawks were on their way to a 20-6 exclamation point to the NFL’s best December story.
That was the game-turner, though two more soul-crushing defensive plays would follow – Bruce Irvin’s 49-return of a pass Wagner popped loose from Lance Kendricks (“Bruce-mode,” Wagner called the runback), and Thomas’ swat that knocked the ball loose from the Rams’ Benny Cunningham 6 inches from the end zone and became a Seattle touchback.
“Colossal,” Sherman called that one, and it was – even if it didn’t matter so much.
It was just one more example of how the Seahawks have not just rallied from what many saw as a wreck-in-the- making in October and November, but remade themselves – and why they deserve to be regarded as the most feared team between here and Super Bowl XLIX.
At least now that the Rams have been eliminated from the picture. Leave it to some 6-10 pissants to be Seattle’s toughest out.
You know from your Fox graphics on Sunday that the Seahawks led the NFL for fewest points allowed for a third straight season – the first team to do that since the 1969-71 Minnesota Vikings. That no teams surrendered fewer passing and total yards. That over the last six weeks, they allowed less than a touchdown and barely more than 200 yards per game.
“Overall, it was an incredible run of defense that we’ve watched,” said coach Pete Carroll.
But the subtext to all this bad-ass Seahawks defense has been an almost nonchalant resolve to rediscover the best of themselves – which made the Rams game “a microcosm of our whole season,” as Wilson put it.
It’s easy to go into terminal eye-roll at each reference to the soul-searching meeting Carroll chaired and the players’ endless references to “trusting and playing for each other” – but the fact is something changed six weeks ago, at it wasn’t the roster.
They all still have a different take on it. Wagner thinks, as Super Bowl champs, the Seahawks wanted the encore to be “too perfect.” Bennett believes they had to relearn that “no matter how the media drives one player more than the next, it’s always a team game.” Some mentioned playing with a target on their backs.
“But honestly, it didn’t feel that different,” insisted receiver Doug Baldwin. “People overstated things – that we were in a rough spot. But really, it was just the ball bounced another way – where it bounced our way last year. We were a fake punt and a third-down catch away from being 5-1 and it changed the analysis of us – but it didn’t change us.”
Which is not to say the snipers didn’t make this denouement more satisfying.
“It’s a little better,” Wilson admitted, “because you’re 3-3 and people are doubting.”
Maybe they are still. Hey, the Seahawks were being shut out at halftime Sunday.
“If somebody can get us, they’re going to have to play pretty good ball,” Carroll said. “We are in the finish mode right now.”
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