There had been flashes of brilliance before from this Seahawks defense — a fleeting moment here, a one-off breakthrough there. Late-game stops against New England, Dallas and Minnesota early this season come to mind.
But there hadn’t been a complete performance like Seattle’s defense put together in a 20-9 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, clinching the Seahawks’ first NFC West crown since 2016.
And there hadn’t been anything like the dramatic goal-line stand late in the third quarter, which illustrated the magnitude of Seattle’s defensive turnaround the past six weeks — from (by far) the worst in the NFL to, well, “the best” in Jamal Adams’ words.
Adams played a starring role in that goal-line stand — a five-play sequence that coach Pete Carroll says he will remember forever.
“The ball was on the one-inch line,” Carroll said, “and they did not let it happen.”
Here’s a look at each of the five plays and how the Seattle defense did make it happen:
Second-and-five from the Seattle 7-yard line
The Seahawks don’t get an opportunity for a classic goal-line stand unless Adams chases down Rams running back Darrell Henderson, who beat every Seattle defender to the edge and had a brief opening to the end zone near the right pylon.
Carroll saw the play unfold live from the far sideline. It wasn’t until he later watched film of the play that he realized just how close Henderson had come to the end zone.
“He would have scored,” Carroll said.
It was the first of two touchdown-saving tackles Adams would make in this five-play sequence. The Pro Bowl safety had lined up on the defense’s right hash mark and made a perfectly timed break just as Jared Goff took the snap from under center at the other hash. Adams sprinted, untouched, parallel behind the line of scrimmage, running across the field some 25 yards before diving, using his left hand to trip Henderson’s left leg. (Henderson rolled his left ankle on the play and did not return.)
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger recalled an almost identical play Adams made as a rookie in 2017 with the New York Jets. It was just the second game of Adams’ NFL career, against the Raiders, and he saved a touchdown by sprinting from the backside and tackling none other than Marshawn Lynch at the 2-yard line.
“The closer he gets to the line of scrimmage, the better football player he is,” Baldinger said in an interview Tuesday. “He’s just a really talented player. … When he hits full speed, nothing’s going to slow him down. We know his timing on blitzes is really good, and when he gets going you’re going to get his full-brunt force.”
First-and-goal from the 2-yard line
Baldinger is also a radio analyst for Big 12 Conference games, and in that role he’d seen Seahawks rookie linebacker Jordyn Brooks up close when Brooks starred at Texas Tech.
“I knew he would be a good (NFL) player,” Baldinger said. “Brooks is a big part of (Seattle’s) turnaround.”
Brooks had eight tackles while playing just 28 snaps against the Rams, and he was involved in three of them on the goal-line stand. On first down Brooks was standing on the thick white goal line when the ball was snapped; he broke to the line, slipped a block from the left guard and hit running back Malcolm Brown for a 2-yard loss. Nose tackle Bryan Mone, elevated from the practice squad last week after beating out veteran Damon “Snacks” Harrison, was also in the backfield and was credited with an assist on the tackle for loss.
“When Jordyn runs through and smacks the guy in the backfield, now we’ve got a loss — now we’ve got the advantage,” Carroll said Monday.
Second-and-goal from the 4-yard line
Just when another Rams running back appeared to have an opening at the end zone — here again comes Adams. It was Brown this time taking the handoff from Goff and running to the right, away from Adams’ side of the field.
Adams, running parallel with the goal line, dived and used his shoulder pads to hit Brown at the 2-yard line. Brown fell forward and rolled just inside the end zone; he quickly got up and offered a hopeful signal for a touchdown — both hands raised — but officials ruled he was down just inside the 1.
It was Adams’ second touchdown-saving tackle.
Carroll, from the sideline, didn’t know who had made the tackle until watching the film later, and the play appears to have been executed about as well as the Rams could have hoped — all the Seattle defenders on that right side were blocked. Adams, again coming from the backside, was the only defender around to make the play.
“He had to make that tackle. I think the guy was going to get in,” Carroll said.
Third-and-goal from the 1-yard line
The Rams had their jumbo package — seven blockers lined up in tight formation — to try a QB sneak on third down. Goff, the Rams’ 6-foot-4 QB, didn’t have much room to push ahead; the Seahawks’ interior linemen — Jarran Reed, L.J. Collier and Mone — had held the point of attack, and linebackers K.J. Wright and Brooks got hits on Goff, who fumbled as he tried to make a second effort toward the goal line.
Goff had clearly been stopped short, and he clearly fumbled. But after Carroll threw the red flag to challenge the play it was ruled that there was no clear recovery of the fumble. The Rams kept the ball, and they would obviously be going for it on fourth down, trailing 13-6.
“We had a chance to get the ball on the quarterback sneak, and that’s why I challenged it,” Carroll said. “I’m thinking, ‘What am I weighing here? A timeout or a shot to get the football maybe if we can get a good look at it?’ We didn’t have any confirmation from our guys upstairs that we can see a recovery. We just knew the ball was loose.”
Carroll lost the challenge, but he felt it was a worthy gamble, and the time it took officials to review the play gave the Seahawks time to catch their breath before fourth down.
Fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line
Wright and Brooks — the old vet and the young rookie — came through again.
The Rams lined up with a single back, Brown, two receivers wide and Goff under center. Brown took the handoff, and much like the second-down play, ran to his right, behind a block from tight end Tyler Higbee. Wright blew up the play, pushing Higbee back 3 yards. That allowed Brooks to come free from the edge and hit Brown for a clean tackle, and no gain, with Bobby Wagner and Carlos Dunlap closing in to clean up at the goal line.
The Seahawks ran off toward the sideline in celebration.
“The thing that brings the most out of it was the response of our players, when they do get a stop on fourth down, and how they just screamed out of there,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks would hold the Rams to one more field goal the rest of the way, having kept the Rams out of the end zone for the first time all season.
“The goal-line stand, that really decided the division right there,” Baldinger said. “I just think they look like a really coordinated defense right now. … Seattle is going to be dangerous in the postseason. You want to play your best defense right now, at the end of the season, and they’re playing the best they’ve played all year.”