SEATTLE – It came after a month of uncertainty, disappointment and downright ineptitude.
It followed three losses in a four-game span, when turnovers defined the offense and inability summed up the “D.”
But in its 28-21 win over the Cardinals on Thursday night, Seattle quelled fears that its 5-0 start was simply a mirage. And just like that, the Seahawks (7-3) look primed to emerge as the NFC West champs.
That may seem like a premature prediction given that six games remain on their schedule and they hold a mere half-game lead over the Rams and a one-game lead over Arizona. The Rams, mind you, beat the Seahawks last Sunday and held them to 16 points.
But there are signs the Seahawks are in tip-top shape to win this division. Suddenly, it seems like theirs to lose.
First, with running back Carlos Hyde back in the lineup, the elusive pass/run balance appears to have returned. He and first-string RB Chris Carson had missed the previous three games (Carson was out Thursday as well), and the burden on Russell Wilson was evident.
Forced to carry the offensive load, the quarterback threw two interceptions in a loss to the Bills three games ago and two more vs. the Rams the following week. Wilson lost three fumbles over those two games, too.
But in a departure from their strategy for most of this season, the Seahawks ran the ball on 31 plays and passed on 28 on Thursday. Hyde had 14 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown.
More significantly, the balanced attack allowed Wilson to take what was given to him, as he finished 23-of-28 passing with 197 yards and two touchdowns. Seattle didn’t commit a turnover, either.
“We’re a whole different team and style when those guys (healthy running backs) are pounding away at it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It felt like the Seahawks that we’ve all seen over the years.”
Second, the Seahawks finally look like they have a defense. The Cardinals came into the game averaging the most total yards (425.4) and rushing yards (168.9) per game in the league. Thursday, Seattle held them to 57 rushing yards on 18 carries. The Seahawks also logged three sacks and seven hits on Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray. The last time they played, Seattle didn’t hit him once.
But the once nonexistent pass rush has blossomed into a force that has QBs’ knees quaking. After recording just nine sacks through their first seven games, the Seahawks have tallied 13 over their past three.
Thursday, they got two from Carlos Dunlap – who played his third game as a Seahawk after being traded from Cincinnati – including the one that sealed the win on a Cardinals fourth-and-10.
“They brought me here to do one job, and I was happy I was able to get it done,” Dunlap said.
Of course, as linebacker Bobby Wagner said after the game, consistency is the key. It appeared the defense had turned a corner in a win last month over the 49ers, then disaster ensued in Buffalo and Los Angeles. But as the “D” gets healthier, it’s becoming more dangerous, and the pass rush appears to be real.
Finally, the Seahawks have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL. Taking opponents for granted would be a mistake, but the next four don’t seem imposing.
Seattle’s next foe is the 3-5-1 Eagles. After that, it’s the 3-7 Giants, followed by the 0-9 Jets, and then the 2-7 Washington .
The Rams, meanwhile, will face two teams with winning records (Tampa Bay and Arizona) along with the 4-5 Patriots and 4-6 49ers before meeting the Seahawks in their penultimate game of the season.
The NFL built much of its brand via parity and down-to-the-wire contests, so nothing is assured. But it looks good, make that great, for the Seahawks over the next few weeks
Thursday night was the most complete game Seattle played all season. The run game excelled, the pass game was efficient, and the defense was the best it has been all season. In fact, save for a pair of personal fouls on Wagner and safety Quandre Diggs during a third-quarter drive, Arizona likely would have had just 14 points.
Carroll has been preaching that this day would come all season, and the team’s fans have been waiting patiently. They finally got it, and it feels as though they’re going to get a lot more of it.
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