Late last week, Seattle Seahawks defenders still grumbled about the last San Francisco scoring drive that secured a narrow win for the 49ers the previous Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said the disappointment would “stay with us.”
He added his belief that the sting of it caused their “mindset and attitude (to be) exactly what you’d want it to be in terms of effort and focus.”
Was it ever.
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On Sunday, the Seahawks defense treated the New York Giants like they were little brothers in a backyard game, holding them to 25 yards rushing and intercepting Eli Manning five times.
It was the Seahawks’ best defensive effort and enhanced their status as the best defense in the NFL.
And if the Seahawks continue to roll into the playoffs, they might look back at the loss to the 49ers as the jolt that got them revving back up to the competitive redline.
Although they’re No. 1 in total defense and passing defense and scoring defense, they had seemed almost compassionate, to a degree, against the lower-tier teams they’ve faced.
Until they played the Giants, they had played six teams with winning records and seven that are now sub .500. The defense allowed the lower-rung teams to average slightly more points (16.1) than the good teams (15.3).
They held talented San Francisco to 22 points in two games, but let Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Houston each score at least 20 against them.
They gave up 17 to Jacksonville, but held potent New Orleans to seven.
Sunday, though, they stomped on the Giants from the start and didn’t stop until it ended at 23-0.
“I think that everything that we could muster to get on course to play really well showed up during the week,” coach Pete Carroll said of the performance against New York. “Guys were disappointed in that last drive (against San Francisco) is basically what happened, and they responded to make sure that they sent a different message. They didn’t want to feel that anymore, and they did a great job.”
The message was received loud and clear because the Giants looked stunned by the speed and aggressiveness of the Seattle defenders.
Manning ended up completing more passes to Seahawks defenders Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman (four combined interceptions) than he did to his high-priced receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks (three catches).
At 12-2, the Seahawks have the best record in the NFL.
But regular-season dominance hasn’t been a great indicator of postseason success recently. Only one Super Bowl winner in the past eight seasons had the best regular-season record in its conference (New Orleans, 13-3 in 2009).
It might sound like convenient rationalizing, but having put away the division title and secured home-field advantage with a win at San Francisco last week might have caused the Hawks to gear down for an entire month before their first playoff game in the divisional round.
“It would have been an entirely different challenge for us mentally, for the coaching staff, for the players as well,” Carroll said. “I mentioned it last week that this could be the best scenario, that you have to stay in it and keep battling.”
Last season Carroll talked about easing back the players’ work load in December to keep them fresh for a strong finish.
The schedule hasn’t been adapted much in this final stretch, he said Monday. “We’ve just kind of kept our nose down the whole time and kept pushing all the way through.”
The ever-improving NFC West Division keeps pushing back. The Hawks take on the Arizona Cardinals (9-5) at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. The Cardinals are still in the wild-card race, and have won six of their past seven games – including a 40-11 pasting of an Indianapolis team in Week 12 that topped the Seahawks back in October.
The Seahawks handed Arizona a 58-0 defeat at home late last season. We may presume that a few of the holdover Cardinals might be somewhat motivated to avenge that thumping.
Particularly with the San Francisco loss still fresh in their minds, the Seahawks aren’t likely to show up complacent.
“Right now,” Carroll said. “I think we understand clearly what we’re trying to get done here.”