It was a dominant and classic performance by the Seahawks against the Cardinals, who had the NFL’s best offense this season.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — If some of the Seahawks’ defensive players didn’t know that history lurked on the horizon, they had at least one teammate staring through binoculars.
“I knew exactly where we were,” cornerback Richard Sherman said.
It was Sherman who told safety Earl Thomas a few weeks ago that the Seahawks could finish with the fewest points allowed in the NFL for the fourth consecutive season. Only one other team, the 1950s Browns, had done that before.
And it was Sherman who tracked the scores of the two defenses ahead of the Seahawks entering Sunday’s game at Arizona. So on Sunday when Cincinnati allowed 16 points to Baltimore and Kansas City gave up 17 points to Oakland, Sherman knew the Seahawks could make history.
Word spread on the sideline during the second half, and soon the players who didn’t know before the game caught on. Starters lobbied their coaches to keep playing. And when defensive back DeShawn Shead intercepted a pass near the end zone late in the fourth quarter, holding the Cardinals to just six points, Sherman, Thomas and the starters on the sideline sprinted onto the field.
The Seahawks finished the season allowing 17.3 points per game, just 0.1 points less than the Bengals allowed this year. Had the Seahawks allowed a field goal in place of Shead’s interception, they would have lost the scoring title.
“I knew what happened,” Thomas said. “Shead captured the moment. He captured us. Four straight years. That was a big moment.”
The Seahawks reminded everyone of just how dangerous they are, and the defense made the biggest statement of all. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, an NFL MVP candidate, had torched the Seahawks for 363 yards Nov. 15 in Seattle, and the Cardinals had more touchdowns than punts this season.
But the Seahawks played like an avalanche on defense. They picked off three passes. The defensive line created trouble all game. Palmer completed only 48 percent of his passes and was pulled at halftime because it was clear there was nothing left to play for.
“We can take really good players and really good teams and make them look average,” linebacker K.J. Wright said.
The Seahawks have collected many pelts over the years (Palmer, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning). But this isn’t about one dominant game, or even a dominant season.
It is about a stretch of defense that hasn’t been seen in the Super Bowl era.
When the Seahawks first led the league in scoring defense, in 2012, Gus Bradley was the defensive coordinator. Red Bryant, who now plays for the Cardinals, was a starter.
The Seahawks have had three defensive coordinators in the past four seasons. They have lost starters, quality players, and still the results don’t change, not when the dust finally settles.
“A lot of teams pick up our guys in free agency,” fourth-year linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “And we don’t rebuild. We reload. Other guys step in, D-coordinators leave us, and we still somehow maintain one of the best defenses in the league. I think that says a lot about (coach) Pete (Carroll), about the players here, and hopefully we can continue to keep it going.
“I think Pete does a great job of bringing our type of guys in. Our type of guys means guys who have faced adversity, who have been through stuff. That’s what our team is about. We know we’re a one-of-a-kind team in the league. It’s been great to be here four years, and hopefully I can be here four more years.”
More than anything, this streak a reflection on Carroll. He has perfected his defensive system, and whatever attention he receives for the way he coaches, it often overshadows just how good he is tactically.
Carroll doesn’t call for much variety with his defense, but the Seahawks know what they do, they know what they’re good at, and they perfect it. It’s like a five-star restaurant that serves only a couple of dishes, but those dishes are the best meals you’ll have all year.
“Our formula works,” Wright said, “and we just have to continue it.”
After the game, in the locker room, Carroll waited until the end of his speech to bring up the defense’s accomplishment. But by then no one was surprised.
“No, because we feel like we’re the best unit in the league,” Irvin said. “And that’s what happens when you’re the best unit the league.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org