For the Seahawks, this was a victory that spoke multitudes, one that more than any this season portended of much greater things ahead.
It was their gutsiest win, because they overcame massive depletion of their roster via injury. With key players sidelined on both sides of the ball, they still throttled the San Francisco 49ers, a key NFC West rival, by a 37-27 score that wasn’t really as close as it seemed.
And it was, you could argue, their most encouraging victory, because for three quarters they finally displayed the snarling, aggressive, physical defense that has been missing all season. And which will have to emerge with consistency for them to reach the heights they believe, more than ever, are possible.
The Seahawks have insisted all season that such a performance was hidden within them, just waiting to be unfurled. But it’s all just talk until it manifests itself — and it poured forth in cathartic fashion as the Seahawks built a 27-7 lead after three quarters.
At that point, Seattle had held the 49ers to just 112 yards and one score, thoroughly harassing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, making all-world tight end George Kittle close to invisible, and even displaying that most elusive of commodities this season: A pass rush.
In that stretch, this wasn’t just a statement game for the defense, it was a manifesto. As Bobby Wagner — a whirling dervish of manic energy during the week, and throughout the game — said, “I just felt like we need to stop talking and just do the work and let our play show. I felt like we were a lot more aggressive.”
Sure, some of that redemptive narrative for the defense was diluted by a fourth-quarter regression that flashed back all too vividly to the rest of the season. With Garoppolo sent to the locker room from an ankle injury, backup quarterback Nick Mullens shredded the Seattle defense for 238 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
But the 49ers could never make it a one-score game, and so coach Pete Carroll seized upon the progress and not what he termed “our whole fourth-quarter thing again.”
With copious and well-timed blitzing dialed up by defensive coordinator Ken Norton, the Seahawks sacked Garoppolo three times — two by Wagner — and harassed him on other occasions. After not getting a single quarterback hit on Kyler Murray’s 48 dropbacks last week, they had four alone from Wagner, plus four others.
Even with San Francisco’s fourth-quarter explosion, the Seahawks limited the 49ers to 351 yards, the lowest output of any Seattle opponents this season, and more than 100 yards below their per-game average.
“They were risky with a lot of their blitzes, and sometimes you like that,’’ 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You have to make them pay, though, and we didn’t. If we don’t make them pay for blitzes, guys are going to keep bringing it, and it took us too long to make them pay.”
Carroll saw enough to foresee a day when the Seahawks, despite being 6-1, aren’t regarded as a one-dimensional team with a championship-caliber offense that’s threatened to be undone by a suspect defense.
“I think we can really push to get better and really push down the stretch here,’’ Carroll said. “We’re not even to the halfway point. I have all the expectation in the world that we’re really going to be able to complement what this offense is doing and make us tough to beat.”
That notion had the coach bubbling with excitement. So did another gem of a performance by Russell Wilson (four touchdown passes) and another star turn by DK Metcalf (12 catches, 161 yards, two touchdowns).
But so, perhaps even to a greater extent, did the Seahawks’ ability to overcome a rash of injuries that could easily have brought them down.
On offense, they were missing their top two running backs, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde. But rookie DeeJay Dallas, in the first start of his NFL career, scored his first two touchdowns, one rushing and one through the air.
On defense, the Seahawks were without Jamal Adams, Shaquill Griffin, Ugo Amadi and Benson Mayowa, on top of the players who have been out for an extended time like Rasheem Green and Bruce Irvin. They were missing the reinforcements who weren’t yet ready to reinforce, like Snacks Harrison and Carlos Dunlap.
So instead, you had converted tight end Stephen Sullivan getting time at defensive end — and combining with Damontre Moore to make a big third-down stop that forced a 49ers punt. You had defensive back D.J. Reed, claimed in August by the Seahawks after San Francisco waived him, being activated for the first time this season — and intercepting a Garoppolo pass, among many impactful plays against his former team.
“The way we entered this game — if you look at our inactive list today and see all the guys that couldn’t play,’’ Carroll said. “Guys had to step up and fill in and play first-class football, and they did it. Guys came through in such a big way. I was inspired by their toughness and their guts and the way they handled it throughout the whole week. They just stepped up and never even batted an eye about it.”
In the end, describing his attempts to motivate the players to rise up in the face of so much adversity — and coming off a crushing loss to Arizona to boot — Carroll called it a “week of inspiration.”
If the Seahawks truly found the soul of their defense, and revealed the sort of character that can sustain a team, the inspiration could have staying power.