For the past 12 months, from the halfway point of the 2011 season until the halfway point of this one, the Seattle Seahawks defense acquired an adjective used so frequently it became a synonym.
The unit was called elite, as in: Itll be a shame if the Seahawks cant piece together an offense that complements their elite defense.
The Seahawks pieced together enough offense Sunday to win in Detroit. No, they werent flawless with the ball. They cost themselves a touchdown when Sidney Rice dropped a deep strike from quarterback Russell Wilson a critical mistake in a 28-24 defeat to the Lions.
But for once, the punchless Seattle offense wasnt an issue. The issue was Seattles elite defense. An elite defense, given 16 chances to make a third-down stop, doesnt remain on the field after 12 of them.
An elite defense, with 5 minutes, 27 seconds remaining and the other team on its 20-yard line, doesnt watch a three-point lead turn into a four-point deficit.
An elite defense, with nine full days of rest, doesnt surrender 415 yards to a team forced into a short work week after appearing on Monday Night Football.
That stat 415 yards surrendered isnt an aberration, merely the continuation of a three-week pattern for the Seahawks, who were torched for 475 yards by New England and then 313 yards by San Francisco. Since holding each of their first five opponents under 300 yards, the Seahawks are allowing an average of 401 per game in the past three.
A defense on its heels that much can mitigate the yards-allowed factor by creating turnovers. The Seahawks got their only turnover when safety Earl Thomas picked off one of the few passes Matt Stafford regretted throwing.
Stafford is a major talent, and he was surrounded Sunday by more playmakers than wide receiver Calvin Megatron Johnson. But the Lions careless mistakes on offense have forged them a label as underachievers.
Then again, careless mistakes often are a consequence of hurried plays made under duress. Stafford was rarely pressured. He had all the time he needed.
Remember first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin? Remember the pass rusher who, at something approximating the speed of light, pounced upon Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers for two first-half sacks at Century Link Field on Sept. 24?
Irvin, a rookie who remains a work in progress, was virtually invisible against the Lions. But so were Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and Alan Branch, who arent rookies and arent works in progress.
An exception was when Brandon Mebane broke through for a sack early in the second quarter. The big fella punctuated his bull rush with the sort of ceremonial exercise seen at a luau. All in good fun, tacky and yet tasteful, but when the most memorable moment for a defense is a 311-pound veteran performing a luau dance, nobody should be surprised to learn it gave up 415 yards.
The sacked quarterback, in any case, wasnt fazed. After Rice deftly dragged his feet in the end zone to catch the touchdown pass that gave Seahawks a 17-7 lead and a sense of momentum, Stafford, looking at a third-and-11 from the Seahawks 47, took a calm foothold in the pocket and lofted a ball that wide receiver Titus Young hauled in without breaking stride.
Young somehow breezed past safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman. By the way, it was Sherman, anticipating the challenge of locking down Megatron, who had changed his Twitter identity last week to Optimus Prime.
Optimus Prime, meet Titus.
Young finished with nine catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, gaudy numbers you might associate with Calvin Johnson. Titus Young? The second-year backup from Boise State was subbing for -Seahawks castoff Nate Burleson, who broke his leg Monday night during the Lions defeat at Chicago.
Before Sunday, Young had 204 receiving yards and a TD in 2012. In other words, against the Seahawks, he enjoyed a day more substantial than his entire season.
An elite defense doesnt enable Titus Young to collect statistics that suggest hell develop into a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An elite defense doesnt afford Matthew Stafford the option and it always was there of dumping off an unchallenged outlet pass that moves the first-down chains.
An elite defense, separated from its end zone by 80 yards, late in the fourth quarter, doesnt blow a 24-21 lead against the 2-4 Detroit Lions.
It should be a cringe-worthy term for Seattle fans, deserving of banishment in any discussion about the roster, about the season, about the playoffs.
The Seahawks win a road game on Sunday, and they win it by a comfortable margin, if their defense is no better than average.