On a night the Seahawks reclaimed control of the NFC West with a 28-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals, they also regained their identity.
For the first time this season, this was true Pete Carroll-era Seahawks football.
The offense played flawlessly while mixing the run and the pass the best it has all season, while the defense — if not quite back to the Legion of Boom heyday — played as consistently stout and tough as it has all season, most important making critical plays down the stretch when they were needed most.
With the win Thursday night at newly named Lumen Field, the Seahawks improved to 7-3, while Arizona fell to 6-4. The Seahawks also earned a split of the season series with the Cardinals, negating any Arizona head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.
“I think we obviously understood this game was big,’’ said Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner of the win, which snapped a two-game losing streak and a skid of three losses in four games that began with a 37-34 overtime loss at Arizona on Oct. 25.
In that first matchup, Russell Wilson threw three interceptions, a final one in overtime turning the tide for good, the beginning of a stretch of 10 turnovers in three games.
But Wilson played an almost spotless game Thursday night with no turnovers while completing 23 of 28 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to rely on a consistent rushing attack that gained 165 yards on 31 carries, only the second time this year the Seahawks have run more than passed (a 30-28 ratio against the Patriots).
“It felt like the Seahawks,’’ Carroll said of the run-pass balance. “It felt like the Seahawks we’ve all seen over the years.’’
So, too, did the defense for most of the night as it allowed the fewest points it has all season while holding an Arizona offense averaging an NFL-high 425.4 yards per game to 314 yards and a rushing attack averaging an NFL-high 168.9 yards to just 57 yards on 18 carries.
Most critically, the Seahawks held dynamic Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray to just 15 yards rushing on five carries (his previous season low was 29 on five, and he had 67 or more in each of the past four games) while sacking him three times. Murray had memorably not been hit or sacked once in the first game.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting to see,’’ Carroll said of the defense.
Said Wagner: “Definitely felt like he felt us more than the last game.’’
Never more so than after the Seahawks took a 28-21 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Jason Myers with 2:21 remaining.
Arizona moved quickly into Seattle territory, and to the 27 with just under a minute left. But it got no further.
After an incompletion on first down, Murray took a shot near the end zone to Larry Fitzgerald, but Quandre Diggs helped break it up. On third down, a Murray pass, as he was hit by Jarran Reed, to Andy Isabella was broken up by D.J. Reed.
That set up one last play for Arizona with 38 seconds remaining.
This time, Murray didn’t have time to get the pass off, sacked by Carlos Dunlap back at the 33 — the second of the game for the longtime Bengal acquired in a trade last month to help revive the pass rush.
“They brought me here to do one job,’’ said Dunlap, who has three sacks in three games. “I’m happy to say that I was able to get it done.’’
Dunlap said he yelled “ballgame’’ as he brought Murray to the turf, a play that set off a wild celebration on the Seahawks sideline, one of both joy, and surely also relief after the struggles of the last three weeks.
Wagner, who along with K.J. Wright are the only players left from the Legion of Boom heyday, said players knew their character was being tested in recent weeks.
“When you’re giving up the yards we’ve been giving up and the plays and things of that nature, at the end of the day, from a player’s standpoint, it comes down to pride and do you have it, and do you have heart,’’ Wagner said. “And we showed that.’’
No doubt. From the start Thursday, this seemed like a different Seahawks team — or should we say, one from the past.
They led 16-7 at halftime after what was its best half of defense all year, holding Arizona to 107 yards on 25 plays and just 4.3 per play, two yards per play less than its average.
The Seahawks scored on their opening possession, a methodical 75-yard march in which they converted three third downs before ending in a splash when Wilson evaded pressure and threw to DK Metcalf in the back corner of the end zone for 25 yards and a touchdown.
Wilson was 5 of 5 for 58 yards on the drive and ran once for nine yards, and a clear tone had been set.
Arizona would come back to score on three long drives of 50, 81 and 90, one touchdown each in the second, third and fourth quarter.
The first two times, the Seahawks responded with a long TD march of its own, taking the lead for good midway through the second quarter on a Wilson pass to Tyler Lockett.
After Arizona’s third TD, which cut the lead to 23-21 with 13:19 left, the offense was forced to punt, and the game appeared in danger of slipping away.
In two plays, the Seahawks’ defense made sure it didn’t.
On first down from the 14, Jamal Adams blitzed and forced Murray into a grounding call that moved the ball back to the 2. On the next play, a hard rush by L.J. Collier forced a hold by J.R. Sweezy, the former Seahawk, in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
That made it 25-21 and the Seahawks got the ball back at their own 40 and moved into position for a 41-yard field goal by Jason Myers that made it 28-21 with 2:19 left.
Arizona moved 46 yards in seven plays. But on its last four, it got zero.
To Carroll, it was a win that backed up all his recent faith that seemed to fly in the face of what was happening on the field. He believed that as injured players returned and some new players such as Dunlap got integrated, that the Seahawks were truly still capable of reaching their highest goals.
“You’ve been hearing me talking about it, but we’re getting better and we’re going to be stronger and we’re going to be better for it,’’ Carroll said. “… There’s no reason that we can’t come together and play really good football. There’s no reason from this point forward.’’