Pete Carroll called his defense to the sideline for a pep talk before the final do-or-die play against St. Louis.
He wanted to tell them how fired up he felt, how cool the drama was. But when Carroll looked around, only safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Michael Bennett were there. Everyone else was still on the field.
“They were too tired,” Carroll said. “They couldn’t come to the sideline.”
Said Chancellor, “Both sides were tired, but it was about who had that last bit of energy, who had that will to win at the end.”
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Making the final stop is further proof that this unit is different from last year, even if many pieces are the same.
The Seahawks surrendered seven leads in the fourth quarter last season, including the most devastating of all in the playoffs against Atlanta. The Seahawks still ranked as one of the league’s best units last year, but their resume as a great defense had a soft spot: closing games.
“It’s like Michael Jordan,” linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said. “Do you want the ball at the end or do you want to pass it? Every time the offense might give up the ball or we’re backed up, we get excited. We’ve got guys like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, and they want a chance to go get the ball. That’s the kind of personality we’ve become.”
Seattle’s defense has coughed up one fourth-quarter lead this season, in the loss at Indianapolis. But other than that the Seahawks have been nearly dominant.
Against 14 clutch fourth-quarter drives, defined here as a 10-point margin or less, the Seahawks have allowed just one touchdown (against the Colts) and three field goals. They’ve forced five punts, one fumble, two interceptions and a turnover-on-downs against the Rams.
“We’re growing,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “We’re not a young team any more.”
There are two fourth quarters from this season worth dissecting.
The first is the game against the Texans. The Seahawks gave up 20 points in the first half, the most they’ve allowed before halftime all season. They looked out of whack.
In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks turned into a stone wall. On Houston’s three drives in the fourth quarter, Seattle forced two punts and Sherman returned an interception for a touchdown to tie the score.
Seattle forced two more punts in overtime before the offense drove for the game-winning field goal.
“The sign of a great defense is the ability to adapt,” Thomas said. “That’s plain and simple. Everything is not going to go as you planned.”
The other game is the most recent one against the Rams. It was one of the defense’s worst outings, even though it gave up just nine points. The Rams piled up 339 yards, as the Seahawks gave up a season-high 200 yards rushing.
Even in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Seattle allowed St. Louis to drive.
The Rams’ final series covered 96 yards and lasted more than five minutes, a methodical march down the field.
But with their backs against their own goal line, the Seahawks kept St. Louis out of the end zone, twice on pass plays and twice on runs.
Carroll debated calling timeouts to save time, but decided against it and put the game in the hands of his defense.
The Seahawks never looked right defensively (except for two interceptions), yet Thomas points to that final drive as adapting to the moment.
“A lot of guys get tight, they get tense in those situations and they start thinking they have to make a play,” Thomas said. “No, you have to trust that the guy beside you is going to make the play.”
Thomas said that’s what’s changed this year. The defense is a year older, and most of the guys have played together for at least one season, many longer.
The Colts game is their only blemish. Seattle allowed Indianapolis to convert on 4 of 5 third downs in the fourth quarter, and Andrew Luck burned them with intermediate passes. But Seattle’s defense has otherwise held up in defining moments.
“If the offense is struggling, you’ve got to find a way to get the job done,” Wright said. “I believe we’ve done that.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org