By the way he shouts salty exchanges with NFL offensive linemen, Michael Bennett must have lungs like an opera singer.
And balance like a belly dancer, because, well … that is what the pass-rushing standout likes to shake after sacking the quarterback.
But most importantly for the Seattle Seahawks, he continues to terrorize the New Orleans Saints.
There was a time Saturday when it felt like the Seahawks were headed for a blowout victory in their 23-15 NFC divisional playoff victory over the Saints at CenturyLink Field.
After scoring on two early Steven Hauschka field goals, the Seahawks then forced the game’s only turnover on New Orleans’ third series of the game.
On the first play of the second quarter, running back Mark Ingram went right up the middle. Bennett shifted over into the hole, got real low and not only stuffed the Saints’ ball carrier, he dislodged the football from Ingram’s grasp.
“He got up on me at the last second,” Ingram said. “I didn’t see him … and he just knocked the ball out.”
The ball squirted left on the ground, and Bennett – already down on his hands and knees – immediately pounced on it for a fumble recovery at the Saints’ 24-yard line.
“It was just so fast,” Bennett said. “Boom, I got the ball and (said), ‘Let’s play.’ I just knew we had to come out here and make big plays to be able to win this game.”
The turnover led to Marshawn Lynch’s 15-yard touchdown run, and Seattle led 13-0 with 14:17 left in the first half.
Bennett had a momentum-grabbing play in the Seahawks’ 34-7 regular-season victory over New Orleans on Dec. 2. He returned a fumble 22 yards for his first career NFL touchdown as Seattle broke out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead.
“Mike Bennett is a dominant player,” Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves. But it’s OK, as long as we keep winning (games), that is all that matters.”
It’s taken two trials for the Seahawks to realize what they have in the reliable, versatile Bennett.
Back in 2009, Seattle signed Bennett out of Texas A&M as an undrafted free agent. He was waived midway through the season.
Tampa Bay immediately snatched him up, and moved him to defensive tackle – a position he enjoyed much success at for 3 1/2 seasons with the Buccaneers.
Rebuilding the defensive line, the Seahawks signed Bennett to a one-year, $5 million deal last March. Playing both inside and outside, Bennett leads the team in sacks (nine, tying career-high set in 2012) and quarterback hurries (26).
“I’ve got mad respect for him,” Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said. “I’ve been watching him the last few years, and I knew he was a heck of a ball player. But it’s a different thing playing next to him. I’ve gained more respect for him, that’s for sure.”
Bennett admitted he thinks he’s been “underrated my whole life.” By the way he’s playing, that might change with a possible big payday on the horizon.
“Like I said, I’ve got three daughters, and I’ve got three weddings to pay for,” Bennett said. “Every time I go out there, I think about them girls and make sure they have a great wedding and a great life.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442