SANTA CLARA, Calif. – These were the five days that saved the Seattle Seahawks’ season.
These were the two wins – over San Francisco on Thursday night after topping Arizona on Sunday – that make everything possible once again.
In these five days, the questions changed from “What is wrong with the Seahawks?” to “Can they really go all the way again?”
Yeah, the turnaround victories, by identical 19-3 margins, have been that significant.
And this is what makes coach Pete Carroll worth the money owner Paul Allen pays him.
Carroll saw a team at a crossroads, perhaps on the threshold of being rendered irrelevant by its own divided interests. And he brought in the leaders and fashioned a message that hit such perfect notes it could have come from a tuning fork.
You’ve got to get back to playing for each other, he told them. You have to trust each other. Be who you were. Remember that feeling. Everything else is noise.
Playing as loose and confident as the team that rolled through the last post-season, they stonewalled Arizona and then made the Niners look every bit as bad in front of a national Thanksgiving audience already benumbed by tryptophan.
Facing a team they never beat on the road, the Seahawks owned the 49ers from the first series, establishing a tone of physical domination the first time the defense was on the field.
Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas laid some of the big early hits, but the beating continued to the point where it almost didn’t seem to matter that the offense continued to struggle in the Red Zone, settling for field goals on three of their trips inside the Niners’ 20.
This was a humbling dismissal of the Niners. Some of them said coming into this game that last season’s loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game was not a factor in motivating them this week.
Malarkey. How could they not be chafed by the searing vision of the Seahawks romping over Denver in the Super Bowl, the parades, the White House visit. They’ve had to watch Russell Wilson on every ad, and Richard Sherman plugging soup every time they turn on the tube.
Like every other team the Seahawks have faced this season, the Niners were at full amperage for this game, and they still got shoved around.
San Francisco managed just 164 yards and never threatened, even though the Seahawks were flagged for 105 yards on 14 penalties.
It all looked so familiar, the defense flying from sideline to sideline, strutting and swarming with the same competitive arrogance that fueled their Super Bowl run.
“These guys have rejoined together and recaptured what it was that we played with last year,” Carroll said afterward. “It took us some time to figure it out but we have.”
It won’t do any good, Carroll reminded, if they forget it all on the road at Philadelphia in their next game.
“But there’s no question in the last two weeks that we did elevate our game.”
Carroll said the roots of the revival rested with the defensive leaders. “They’ve really just touched what it is, the special attitude, intensity and toughness it takes. It really comes back to playing for one another,” Carroll said.
But it was really Carroll who decoded the cues and solved the mystery.
Prime-time Pete is now 12-1 in these big games with the Hawks. So, surely he has the requisite mastery of schemes and tactics and mechanics.
But this is the kind of coaching that sets him apart He has the sensory antennae that pick up on what is troubling a team, and he mixes the emotional epoxy to cleave a unit back together.
In a short time, this has gone from a troubled team on the verge of flaming out to one of the best teams in the NFL.
Don’t doubt that. Nobody wants to face them now.
When the defense plays like that, anything is possible.
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