The Seattle Seahawks are now the best team in the National Football League.
You can argue the point with them if you want, but it might cost you some teeth.
Because that’s how the Seahawks reached this stage, by playing defense like a pack of wolves, and approaching every play with an intensity generally reserved for a fist fight.
Sure, they had run up big numbers on a couple of bad teams in recent weeks, but on Sunday night, with a national prime-time audience tuned in, they physically dominated a physically dominant San Francisco team.
Amid all the stats and analysis that will come from a game that could represent a tidal shift in divisional power, perhaps the most compelling number was this: The Seahawks put up 42 points on the league’s No. 1 scoring defense.
And with this 42-13 win at CenturyLink Field, all things remain possible for the suddenly spectacular Seahawks. They earned at least a wild-card playoff berth, but a win over St. Louis next week, if the 49ers lose to Arizona, will give Seattle the NFC West Division title.
San Francisco made it to the NFC title game last season, and looked to be on pace for at least a run that far after going to New England and knocking off the Patriots last Sunday.
But the Seattle defense shut down the 49ers on their first drive, and the Seahawks scored on their own first drive. And after they had gone up 14-0, strong safety Kam Chancellor applied a hit on San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis that was so hard that commissioner Roger Goodell probably felt it.
A few plays later, Seattle defensive end Red Bryant blocked a field-goal attempt and irrepressible cornerback Richard Sherman returned it 90 yards for a touchdown.
The rout was on, but the Seahawks never stopped pounding away.
In the third quarter, bellicose back Marshawn Lynch swept wide on one play, and his momentum took him out of bounds. He seemed so disappointed that the play ended without violence that he turned back onto the field to hunt somebody down and run into him.
Remember when the Seahawks were considered a West Coast finesse team? You wanna say that to this bunch?
Fullback Mike Robinson tried to put the lopsided win into perspective but finally just started shaking his head. “I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “You just don’t do that to a team like that. Our coach preaches being physical, run the ball, be tough on special teams. They do that, too. They don’t beat themselves, but tonight was our night.”
Actually, it’s been their month, as they’ve outscored opponents 173-55 during the four-game win streak that’s lifted them to double-digit wins for the first time since 2007.
Center Max Unger was in the middle of the hostilities much of the night, and when he turned toward reporters in the locker room after the game, his face looked like he’d been in a knife fight.
“Well,” he said, “You know how good their defense is. They’re a very, very physical defense and you’ve got to have your mind right coming into this game.”
Lynch certainly had his mind right, rushing for 111 yards against the No. 3 rush defense in the league. And the Seahawks held the Niners’ No. 2-rated rushing offense to 82 yards.
Quarterback Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns and led the Seahawks to touchdowns all four times inside the Niners’ 20. At times he evaded exhausted defenders for so long their tongues were hanging outside their facemasks.
“I’ve played them about 12 times since I’ve been in the league, and they have the same mentality every time,” defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said of the 49ers. “You know that you’re in for a heavyweight fight. Every game is a grudge match, no matter what the records are.”
So, who’s better than Seattle? Denver is 12-3 and won 10 straight. But only two opponents in that streak having winning records. The Atlanta Falcons at 13-2? Maybe, but they lost to Carolina, a 5-10 team, three weeks ago. New England and Green Bay (both 11-4)? The Hawks already beat them.
Houston (12-3)? The Texans got thumped by the Vikings 23-6 on Sunday.
They’re all good teams.
But nobody is hotter, or more physical, than the Seahawks right now.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling