Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

John Blanchette: With ‘best defense in the league,’ Seahawks earn redemption, NFC West crown

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) is sacked by Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed (90), center, and defensive end Benson Mayowa (95), left, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 20-9.  (Associated Press)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

And now it must all be taken back.

All those japes and zingers at the expense of what the Seattle Seahawks had the chutzpah to call a defense back in September and October… see, it’s almost impossible to kick the habit.

Remember all the great gags?

How opposing receivers led the NFL in yards after missed tackle. How the secondary played so soft that it was known as the Legion of Room. How the pass rush never touched the quarterback until the postgame handshake.

Thanks for all the laughs, fellas.

But now the Seahawks are champions of the NFC West for the first time since 2016.

And the reason is their defense.

That’s right. Defense is what’s cookin’.

For the second time in three games, Seattle held its opponent without a touchdown, beating the Los Angeles Rams 20-9 at Lumen Field in what seemed like a throwback to the Lombardi era. What fun it lacked in style, it made up for in redemption – the Rams having won five of the previous six meetings, and the Seahawks having lost their chance at the NFC West title in 2019 when Jacob Hollister was stopped inches from the goal line vs. the 49ers.

The same Jacob Hollister who worked open across the same goal line Sunday and caught Russell Wilson’s fade for the clinching touchdown.

“Little poetry right there,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

Except that Carroll seemed to find the whole day poetic, given the extended slander of his defense.

“There were times during the season when everybody had enough statistics to go ahead and blow us out, like we weren’t worth anything on defense,” he said. “This defense is good. And they’ve shown it, and they’ve declared it.”

Can’t be argued, really. Since an implosion at Buffalo at the season’s midpoint, the Seahawks have surrendered 23, 21, 17, 17, 3, 15 and 9 points in successive games. That four were against sub-.500 teams from the east – including the winless-at-the-time Jets – was a meal for the maligners that Carroll both acknowledged and then dismissed on Sunday.

“You look at the Jets thing now and it looks a little different, doesn’t it?” he said. “That was a very significant game for us. People didn’t see it that way but it was because of the way we attacked that opportunity – and you’ve seen what they’ve done the last couple of weeks.”

Offensively, the Rams are not necessarily full of Fourth-of-July fireworks. They’re running low on running backs and quarterback Jared Goff is running low on confidence. But they picked apart Seattle with their tight ends the first time around and let their own salty defense do the rest.

This time? Well, Cooper Kupp third-downed the Seahawks nearly to death early, but Seattle shut down the Rams’ diet of bootleg passes. And when Goff dislocated his throwing thumb on Benson Mayowa’s helmet in the fourth quarter, any downfield strikes became complicated.

But, really, the game was decided in the third quarter on a a goal-line stand Carroll called “one I’ll never forget.”

The Seahawks almost didn’t have the chance to make it. Darrell Henderson Jr. was headed for the end zone on sweep from the Seattle 7, but safety Jamal Adams tracked him down from the back side – and then his teammates brought the hammer.

Jordyn Brooks buried the Rams’ Malcolm Brown for a 2-yard loss on first down from the 2. Brown got three back before Adams met him at the 1 on second down. Goff’s sneak was stuffed, and on fourth down K.J. Wright pushed his blocker into Brown’s gap off right tackle and blew up the play – and, essentially, the Rams’ chances.

“Just give us a blade of grass to defend,” said Wright.

There’s a balance between determination and desperation in that slogan, whereas a couple of months ago the Seahawks were all desperation, on a NFL-record pace for yards allowed.

“They weren’t playing great across the board,” Wilson pointed out, “but they always had these key stops.”

Stopping Cam Newton on the goal line at the end of the New England game. Ryan Neal’s interception to thwart Dallas. Mayowa’s fourth-down tackle against Miami that Wilson turned into two-minute gold.

Carroll allowed that winning “as tough of a division as you can find” added to the fulfillment of ending three years not being on top of it. But he’s a defensive guy, and giving what was a league-wide joke some teeth might be most satisfying of all. Key acquisitions – end Carlos Dunlap, cornerback D.J. Reed – helped. So did getting Adams back to health and adjusting to his talents. Safety Quandre Diggs became a Pro Bowler. Jarran Reed and Poona Ford are the most unsung tackles in the league.

“To me, we’re the best defense in the league,” Adams boasted. “And you can quote that. You can do whatever you want with that.”

Except crack a joke.