EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In seven weeks, MetLife Stadium will be the exuberant, though frigid, host of Super Bowl XLVIII.
On Sunday, however, the Seahawks turned the joint catatonic. It was hard to tell which was more lifeless: the crowd or the New York Giants.
The announced audience of 79,691 — which was about 30,000 too generous — endured the most methodical dissection the Seahawks could produce in a 23-0 victory. It was thrilling only if you love defense, particularly the Seahawks defense. It made you chuckle only if you were on the field scaring the competitiveness out of Eli Manning and rendering a once-potent offense useless.
“A pathetic offensive performance,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin called it afterward.
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One offense’s pathetic is another defense’s pleasing.
“It felt great to us,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “The biggest thing is how much fun we had. Guys were out there playing free like it was backyard football.”
The Seahawks took great joy in this mutilation. It was their first shutout of the season, and they allowed the fewest yards they had all year (181). If the Seahawks hadn’t crushed New Orleans, 34-7, and limited the Saints to 188 yards two weeks ago, you could say this was the best the Seattle defense had played all season. But this domination, which included four sacks of Manning and five interceptions, is just another trophy on the mantle of a fearsome unit.
“We’ve been doing a lot of good things this year,” defensive end Red Bryant said, grinning.
Because the Seahawks have become a more balanced team, it’s easy to lose some appreciation for a defense that gives them a chance to win even on its worst days. It’s easy to become infatuated with Russell Wilson’s wizardry or Marshawn Lynch’s power or Golden Tate’s acrobatics. It’s easy to spend all your procrastination time worrying about Percy Harvin’s hip and thinking that the team can’t return here for the Super Bowl without him.
But the defense is what carries the Seahawks and distinguishes them from the rest of the NFL’s elite. It’s the biggest reason the Seahawks (12-2) set a new franchise standard with a 6-2 record away from CenturyLink Field.
Sunday provided a highlight reel full of examples. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell both had two interceptions. The Giants rushed for only 25 yards, the fewest the Seahawks have allowed since 2002. The Giants didn’t advance past midfield until midway through the fourth quarter, and when they tried to sneak in a late score with 4:17 remaining, Sherman tipped a Manning pass and Thomas caught it in the end zone to preserve the shutout.
These days, the Seahawks do the spectacular and shrug. As much as they tried to downplay the shutout, they eventually admitted that it meant much.
“It’s important,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “In that locker room, it’s hugely important.”
Carroll couldn’t think of a better defensive performance in his four seasons in Seattle.
“It was a complete game,” he said. “It’s as complete a game as we’ve had.”
The Seahawks held Manning to a 31.9 passer rating and forced him to fall down and surrender on a couple of plays. During film study, the Seahawks noticed that Manning was most comfortable escaping defensive pressure by running up the middle. So they figured that, if they could bring pressure up the middle, Manning would decline to run outside to escape because he’s not very fast.
“We knew if we came right at him, he’d have no choice but to sit down,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Oh, he sat down. He surrendered at least twice in the game, including on the Giants’ first drive. On that play, Wagner only needed to touch Manning after he voluntarily slid down with five Seahawks converging on him.
“We did not block it up very well, and they got penetration right away, and I just knew I wasn’t going to have anything,” Manning said. “So I went down and tried to avoid getting backed up and trying to scramble, or do something and risk a safety, or make things worse than what they already were.”
The Seahawks looked at it another way, however. They thought their pressure was making Manning fidgety. So they were even more aggressive in rushing him. Manning completed 18 of 31 passes for just 156 yards to go with those five interceptions. The Giants were especially awful on third down, converting just one of 10 tries.
With two games remaining, the Seahawks have an opportunity at a special defensive triple crown. They lead the NFL in total defense and scoring defense, and they’re just behind Kansas City in take-aways. It’s a great accomplishment if they can hold onto the lead in those two categories, but adding a third would seal their greatness
“I feel like that’s a huge accomplishment that’s out there for us,” Bryant said. “When you think of great defense, you think of the 1985 Chicago Bears and the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa 2. We want to be revered like that. We’ll see.”
One thing’s for certain: This Seahawks defense sure knows how to silence a crowd.
But if they make it back here in seven weeks, the atmosphere figures to be just a little different.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer