RENTON – If you consider a 16-game NFL season to consist of four four-game quarters, then the Seahawks are now assured of playing overtime.
Monday’s 34-7 win over the Saints made the Seahawks the first team this season to clinch a playoff berth.
The win over the Saints also completed a dominating third quarter of the season for the Seahawks, who beat Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Minnesota and New Orleans by a combined score of 135-61.
They also outgained those four teams an average of 414 yards to 275 in the process of building the league’s best record of 11-1.
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Yes, it was a good quarter, for a team potentially in the midst of a historic season.
As the Seahawks head to the homestretch, here’s a quarterly review of the offense, defense and special teams, handing out a few grades and awards along the way:
An offense that has battled injuries much of the season began to get whole the past month with the return to health of center Max Unger and tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, as well as the debut of receiver Percy Harvin.
Harvin might not be back this week, but the return of the linemen might be a bigger deal in the long run. After being sacked 27 times in the first eight games, quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked just three times in the past four.
That’s also been a key reason Seattle has not committed a turnover in the past three games, when it has had a 6-0 turnover margin. Getting better protection, Wilson has not thrown an interception in six of Seattle’s past seven games, and just two in that time, both against Tampa Bay.
Wilson, in fact, has been almost perfect the past four games, completing 73 of 100 passes for 1,041 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions, and an astonishing average per attempt of 10.45 (the current NFL leader is Philadelphia’s Nick Foles at 9.14).
Oddly, the running game has been hit-and-miss. Seattle is third in the NFL in rushing at 146.3 yards per game and had a combined 409 in wins over Tampa Bay and Atlanta, but was held to a combined 220 in the routs of the Vikings and Saints, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry against each.
The San Francisco game looms as a truer test of the running game. Overall, though, hard to pick many nits with the offense.
MVP: Wilson has been the MVP in each of our quarterly reports, and after his performance against the Saints, he’s building a case for NFL MVP.
Here’s maybe the most curious defensive stat of the year for the Seahawks: Seattle has allowed 95 points in the second quarter, only 91 in the other three combined. In the past four games Seattle has allowed 41 points in the second quarter and just 20 in other three combined.
Other than that, and a first-half lapse against Tampa Bay, the Seahawks have been about as dominant as could be hoped the past four games.
One stat that tells the tale? Seattle’s past four foes have gone three-and-out on 20 of 45 drives, 44 percent. By point of comparison, the offense that has the worst three-and-out percentage this year is the Jets, at 32 percent.
The defensive line has continued to be among the deepest in the NFL and gives the team a much-improved pass rush. Seattle has 30 sacks after getting 33 last season.
Bobby Wagner’s return to health has made the linebacking corps better, and the secondary has shown it doesn’t seem to matter who is playing cornerback.
MVP: Earl Thomas. Richard Sherman was our MVP choice after the first quarter, but Thomas has been the choice the last two, with a standout consistency that should also have him in the conversation for NFL Defensive MVP. Honorable mention this quarter to Cliff Avril with 3.5 sacks in the last four games, and linebacker K.J. Wright with 31 tackles.
Seattle has consistently won the special-teams battle all season, and continues with one of the most amazing stats this year in the NFL. The Seahawks have allowed just 15 yards on punt returns and none in the past four games. In fact, Seattle is suddenly within reach of what is one of the league’s oldest records. The record for fewest punt-return yards allowed in a season is 22 by the Green Bay Packers in 1967 (the team that won Super Bowl II), though that was in a 14-game season.
Special teams has been a huge reason Seattle leads the NFL with 16.3 percent of drives starting in opponents’ territory.
MVP: We gave this to kicker Steven Hauschka after the first quarter and Jeremy Lane and Heath Farwell for their work in coverage the second quarter. For this quarter, we’ll hand it to punter Jon Ryan, whose directional kicks play a big role in the astounding punt-coverage numbers.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta