Maybe sometimes you just need fresh eyes to see how good things really are. And to defensive end Carlos Dunlap, acquired midseason from Cincinnati, everything about the Seahawks is, in his words, “very lovely.”
Dunlap is digging the culture, the vibe, the energy, the positivity that he has felt in Seattle from his first day. That bonhomie extends, he says, from the front office upstairs to the valet at his hotel — and it didn’t wane when the Seahawks promptly lost the first two games with him in the lineup.
“This is a whole different environment, man … it’s contagious,” Dunlap said.
And maybe sometimes, as a football team, you need fresh blood to ensure how good things can be. The Seahawks, after their 28-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday, believe they are finally ready to forge a new path forward with their defense. After a season of nothing but tribulations on that side of the ball, coach Pete Carroll enthused afterward that “some pretty good things are happening.”
And Dunlap is at the heart of it. Acquired three weeks ago from a subpar Bengals team that had made the curious decision to phase him out of their plans, Dunlap has revitalized what had been a moribund Seahawks pass rush. In the three games he’s played, they have 13 sacks — a total that would have seemed unimaginable at times this year.
And Thursday, when the Seahawks shut down an explosive Arizona offense that had gutted them just a month ago, it was Dunlap who put an exclamation point on the exhilarating victory. With the Cardinals driving toward a potential tying score in the final two minutes — generating the kind of all-too-familiar surge that had Seahawk fans cringing at the impending doom — Dunlap drew sustenance from the roaring crowd at newly named Lumen Field.
What crowd, you might ask? Wasn’t the stadium empty, as per usual in this season ravaged by COVID-19? Yes, it was, but that didn’t stop Dunlap from imagining a full house spurring on the defense.
“I was just visualizing being on this side with the 12s, versus against the 12s in my previous occurrences,” he said.
First down at the Seattle 27-yard line morphed into fourth-and-10, at which point Dunlap led a charge of just three Seattle rushers — “it was an amazing race to see who was going to do it,” he said — to bring down the elusive Kyler Murray. Carroll termed it “a walkoff sack” that prompted jubilation from his teammates.
“Honestly, with the way the sideline erupted, I can only imagine what it would have been like if the 12s had been there,” Dunlap said — noting that Carroll himself led the reception line. “PC was fired up. He almost tackled me on the sideline. That was crazy to see a head coach that involved. The whole sideline was like our 12s today. Everybody was locked into the game the whole way through.
“This team is very exciting. I’m happy to be a part of it. I can’t go into much detail, but it is super surreal. It is refreshing. I feel lighter, rejuvenated. I’m excited to continue to go to work. They brought me here to do one job. … I was happy to get it done.”
The stated job description for Dunlap, of course, was to get to the quarterback, any which way. He arrived in the wake of the loss to Arizona in which Murray had not been touched once on 48 dropbacks. On Thursday Murray was hit seven times and sacked three times — twice by Dunlap. He credited the Seattle pass coverage for freeing him up to home in on Murray, particularly the job the secondary did on the lethally dangerous DeAndre Hopkins (five catches, 51 yards).
“They shut down Hop all game, so they gave us the opportunity to keep him (Murray) running around,” Dunlap said. “I like my odds. I’ll chase after a squirrel all day.”
What had Carroll so excited after the game is the prospect that the entire defensive unit could be coalescing for the stretch run. The addition of Dunlap and Snacks Harrison has revitalized the pass rush. And Carroll expects cornerback Shaq Griffin to be back when the Seahawks end their 10-day mini-bye to face Philadelphia. Defensive end Benson Mayowa returned from an injury Thursday, and rookie Darrell Taylor, out all season, could be back soon as well.
“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Carroll said. “There’s no reason we can’t come together and play really good football.”
The addition of a bona fide pass rusher in Dunlap — “a monster of a guy out there,” in Carroll’s words — is a good place to start. But Dunlap doesn’t see himself as a savior, but rather a cog, which is part of the beauty for the Seahawks.
“They said I was coming here to save the rush, but I see guys getting healthy, and all those guys getting sacks,” he said. “It’s not like I got the whole (13 over the past three weeks). To say I came to fix the rush; we just had to put ourselves in better situations and get guys healthy on the edge.”
Dunlap tends to punctuate his pronouncements with a slight giggle, as if he can’t believe his good fortune. Quarterback Russell Wilson called him “a true winner by nature,” though he didn’t experience too much in 10-plus years in Cincinnati.
“This is just a start,” Dunlap said. “I’ve still got a full story to write. I’ve still got to prove a point, and show up when called upon. This is something that I personally see myself being able to do for years to come, and I hope that you got a taste of it today.”
The Seahawks certainly did. And for them, it was very lovely, indeed.