RENTON — After narrowly avoiding the agony of defeat, the Seahawks’ defense displayed the ambivalence of victory.
Yes, the Seahawks had just beaten Tampa Bay, 40-34, in overtime, but about half the locker room looked like it was fresh off a lobotomy.
There was little joy on the defensive players’ faces. They had allowed at least 28 points for the fourth time in five games. And when defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was asked about Russell Wilson bringing the Seahawks back, he launched into a self-critique.
“The defense needs to play better,” he said, a response echoed by nearly of all of his defensive cohorts.
That was in early November, when the Seahawks won in spite of their D. Over the next three games? They’ve essentially won because of it.
Something shifted on that side of the ball after that escape from the Buccaneers last month. Minus a couple rough starts and a regrettable breakdown, Seattle has looked like one of the best defenses in the league.
It forced three turnovers in a 27-24 victory over the Niners, which included two stops in overtime and a San Francisco fumble return for a score. It forced five turnovers in a 17-9 victory over the Eagles, who have scored at least 10 points in every other game they’ve played. The D forced two more turnovers in the 37-30 victory over the Vikings, who scored one touchdown off a Wilson interception. And though there was a miscommunication that allowed Minnesota to score on a 58-yard reception in the fourth, the Seahawks’ defense had allowed just 25 points over the previous 10 quarters.
If there has been any bad news for Seattle fans over the past three games, it’s that Wilson’s so-so play might have cost him a shot at winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. The good news is that the defense has shown that the Seahawks don’t need him to be an MVP to contend for a title.
So how did this happen? How did the D go from awful through those first nine games to awesome over the past three?
Linebacker Bobby Wagner said he thinks it came from searing the team’s worst performance and best into their memories.
“I think (the Tampa Bay game) was a game where you felt like you won the game but you didn’t feel that way. And then we had the 49ers game, where we looked at each other and said that’s the standard we need to play at, that’s how we’re capable of playing,” Wagner said. “I think everybody just made up their mind that that’s how they’re going to be, and that’s the product you’ve seen over the last few games — making the decision to be great.”
It didn’t hurt that the Seahawks acquired defensive back Quandre Diggs, who had an interception in his Seattle debut vs. the 49ers and a blistering hit on Irv Smith to set up a punt vs. the Vikings. But Diggs isn’t helping the pass rush, which racked up eight combined sacks vs. the Niners and the Eagles. And he isn’t responsible for the 13 tackles linebacker Mychal Kendricks had against Philadelphia, or the 12 fellow LB K.J. Wright had that same game, or the 30 Wagner has had over the past three.
That’s what has really stood out about the defense during this stretch — that the production is coming from everywhere. And though coaches and players are enjoying the results, they’ll also tell you it’s about time.
“We were all a little bit frustrated, waiting for it (the defense) to kind of click in where we’re starting to make some things happen. We gauge it by if we get the ball. That’s such a factor in how we play,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It really cranked up after that (the Buccaneers game). If you want to put the label on it, you can. I don’t know if it was that point or not. Certainly, we’ve been better since then.”
Time will tell if this recent defensive surge reflects an about-face for the Seahawks. Perhaps it is merely a good run. But Carroll-coached teams generally play better in November and December, and these Hawks are doing just that.
Replacing the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett — all Pro Bowlers who helped guide the Seahawks to a Super Bowl — is an impossible task. The recent dominance does harken back to those days though.
These Seahawks aren’t going to go down as one of the great defensive teams, but if the Lombardi Trophy is the goal, they’re showing that maybe, just maybe, their D will be good enough.