Kam Chancellor has the intensity of a white-hot flame on game days. But he usually keeps that burning inside, fueling him alone.
Last weekend, for the first time this year, every Seahawk shared that internal heat. They used it to singe first-place Arizona.
Four days later the Super Bowl champions (7-4) prepare to kick off here against the San Francisco 49ers (7-4) with a huge chance to turn what’s been an uneven season into a roll. And the Seahawks are still feeling Chancellor’s passion.
Seattle’s defensive players had what outside linebacker K.J. Wright on Tuesday termed “an argument” on the field last week during practice. No-nonsense safety Earl Thomas berated some teammates for chewing sunflower seeds and not being focused enough during drills. High-volume bickering and bellowing followed.
The defense simmered for days. Then minutes before the Seahawks ran onto CenturyLink Field to play the Cardinals Sunday, defensive end Michael Bennett asked Chancellor to address the team in the locker room. Bennett and quarterback Russell Wilson usually do that before kickoffs. But Bennett sensed the thudding strong safety, finally healthy after 21/2 months of playing through pain, was the man for this job on this day after all the tumult of Seattle’s week and season.
Chancellor didn’t just speak to his teammates. He went man to man around the room. He looked into each of their eyes. He roared at them. That fire from within came out in a torrent of motivation and demand for brotherhood.
“Yeah, my first time right before a game,” Chancellor said Tuesday, chuckling that word of his talk got out. “Mike B. asked me to do it. I said everything that I’ve felt and always wanted to say. And I just said it from my heart.
“It was about trusting one another.”
Chancellor’s pregame scorcher of a speech did more than inspire his teammates to throttle formerly 9-1 Arizona to its season lows of 204 yards and three points. Chancellor did more than inspire himself to share with key middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (back after missing five games with turf toe) the team lead with eight tackles. Chancellor moved better than he had all season on bone spurs in his ankles and a sore groin. On Wednesday the NFL named him the NFC’s defensive player of the week.
His speech before he did all that transformed teammates.
“That’s probably one of the best ones I’ve ever heard in my life,” Wright said.
“I just felt it. Usually guys talk and it’s just talk. I actually felt him. He just spoke from the heart.
“We needed that. With the little thing, the little argument we had, we needed that just to get over whatever that was we were going through.
“That’s why we voted him captain.”
From an emotional standpoint, this short week helps the Seahawks. They arrived here Wednesday evening for this key NFC West showdown only three days removed from Chancellor’s revival session, instead of the normal six days between games. To hear them tell it, that makes the Seahawks more equipped mentally and emotionally than they were a week ago to contain Colin Kaepernick, gang up on Frank Gore and shackle San Francisco.
Team leader Doug Baldwin says Chancellor’s speech and this new sense of trust and togetherness may be turning around Seattle’s up-and-down season in time for this push toward the playoffs.
“I think so,” Baldwin said. “Everybody who plays in the NFL is talented, athletically, is gifted physically. However, the subtle difference between what’s good, what’s great and what’s legendary is the mental side of it and also the emotional side of it. You have to play this game with emotion and play this game with love and trust and commitment to each other.
“That’s probably the hardest thing for anyone to stop, when you have a collective that loves each other, that is connected to each other, that is trusts each other, and is coming at you.”
The Seahawks, for the first time in their adventurous season, are coming at the 49ers while feeling “right” again.
“I would say (that) for our whole unit,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “I think there have been good games by individual guys and outings by the team, but I think that (last weekend) felt maybe the most connected we’ve had been defensively this year, yes.”
Baldwin said: “We are all playing collectively. Together.
“It was a feeling that was missing. And we are getting it back.”
They are going to need it against the rugged 49ers in their new Levi’s Stadium.
Seattle hasn’t won on San Francisco’s home field since Oct. 26, 2008. That was the day Mike Singletary, at halftime of his first game as 49ers’ coach, infamously dropped his pants in the Candlestick Park locker room. It was a motivational attempt not nearly as effective or popular as Chancellor’s was for the Seahawks last week.
These Jim Harbaugh 49ers have won three consecutive games following a 4-4 start that had the Bay Area going ballistic.
Kaepernick has two basic reasons for the 49ers’ consecutive victories over New Orleans, the New York Giants and Washington.
“Our defense has played phenomenal,” said the quarterback with 15 touchdowns, six interceptions and an NFL-high seven fumbles (four lost) this season.
“And our offense has been more sound than it was in the past.”
Just not always in the fourth quarter.
Kaepernick and Washington’s struggling Robert Griffin III are the only quarterbacks who were starters in Week 1 and have yet to throw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
The last time these teams met, of course, Kaepernick thought he had a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. That was in January’s NFC championship game, a pass the 49ers thought was going to send them to the Super Bowl. But Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tipped the ball away from Michael Crabtree and into the arms of arriving Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith in the end zone. That secured Seattle’s entry into the Super Bowl instead.
Not that Kaepernick or Harbaugh think thrilling, excruciating ending means anything for this Thanksgiving rematch.
“No,” Kaepernick said. “This is one more game to get towards where we need to be for the playoffs.”
And this is one more game for the Seahawks to prove last weekend’s revival and renewal of trust wasn’t just Chancellor being a one-time wonder.
The last time Chancellor played the 49ers, in that NFC title game, he had 11 tackles, and interception and knocked down two passes. Wagner had 15 tackles.
Both are as good as they’ve been in months for this rematch.
“It’s an enormous matchup … this is a great one,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I think we should feel very humbled that we’re playing in this setting. The country gets to watch you play football — such a great tradition to play on Thanksgiving. And we’re fortunate that we’re part of that.
“So we’re going to get ready to make sure that we do our part to make it a good one.”