The box score will fool you if you did not watch the game.
It will tell a similar story to the Seahawks’ previous three wins — that a spectacular offense overcame a disappointing defense and carried them to a 4-0 start.
But as dominant as quarterback Russell Wilson and his receivers were Sunday, and as prolific as Miami’s offense was, Seattle’s 31-23 road victory should be attributed to the “D.”
This was a day that seemed like it might not come this season. The look on Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner’s face after the victory last week told a clearer story than any of his answers did. Dallas QB Dak Prescott diced the Seahawks up, their total defense plummeted to last in the league, and injuries on that side of the ball piled up.
The Seahawks entered Sunday’s game sans All-Pro safety Jamal Adams, cornerback Quinton Dunbar and linebacker Jordyn Brooks. It didn’t look as though they were going to challenge the Dolphins to score so much as invite them.
What ensued, however, was a 60-minute display of poise, patience and proaction that reintroduced the Seahawks’ defense to the league.
“I feel like the way we’ve been playing, it’s time for us to step up,” said cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who had one of two Seahawks interceptions on the day. “Everybody understands that in Seattle, it’s been a defensive team. It’s always been that way. And that’s something that we gotta continue to take pride in and understand that we still gotta be those guys.”
If you were looking for an indication that Sunday might be different defensively for these Seahawks, it happened four plays into the game. Linebacker Cody Barton — filling in for the injured Brooks — got a piece of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass before Seahawk safety Ryan Neal reeled in the interception. Seattle scored a touchdown six plays later and never relinquished the lead.
But staying up on Miami wasn’t necessarily a byproduct of Wilson’s brilliance (although he had his moments) so much as it was the defense’s perseverance. In the first quarter, the Dolphins (1-3) had it first-and-10 from Seattle’s 20. The Seahawks held them to a field goal and stayed ahead, 7-3. In the second quarter, Miami had a first-and-10 from Seattle’s 18, then a third-and-three from the 11 before linebacker K.J. Wright broke up a pass to force another field goal and keep his team up 10-6.
Later that quarter, the Dolphins had a third-and-four from Seattle’s 27 before the Seahawks caused another incompletion and forced a field goal to stay up 10-9. In the third quarter, another forced field goal to stay up 17-12. Then in the fourth, defensive lineman Alton Robinson tackled running back Myles Gaskin on third-and-three from the 9, which forced a fifth consecutive field goal and kept the Seahawks up by two.
It’s not as though the Dolphins couldn’t move the ball. They finished with 415 yards — just 26 fewer than the Seahawks. But Seattle basically was the neighbor who would wave you toward the front door before slamming it in your face.
“Everything was outstanding in my eyes,” Wright said. “I thought we tackled decently, and we didn’t give up those long balls that we’ve seen in those first few weeks, and I was tremendously happy about that.”
The defensive knockout punch came later in the fourth, when the Seahawks held a 24-15 lead. On a first-and-10 from Miami’s 36, Griffin intercepted Fitzpatrick at midfield, then threw the ball into the stands after going down. It led to another Seahawks touchdown, and though the Dolphins marched down the field for a score and two-point conversion to cut the lead to eight, they’d never get the ball again.
Don’t get it twisted: The Seahawks are more than a mere work-in-progress on “D.” They are one of the most vulnerable teams in the NFL on that side of the ball, and must make massive strides there if they are going to win the division and make a playoff run.
But Sunday, it was the guys protecting the end zone that won the game for Seattle. That’s how it used to be for this team, and for one day, at least, it’s how it was again.