Suddenly, the Seattle Seahawks have gone from meandering to monstrous again.
So what’s changed? How has a defense that got ransacked for 190 yards rushing by Kansas City three games ago, for 270 yards passing four games ago by Eli Manning and the New York Giants and 401 total yards last month by Dallas suddenly become the 2013 Seahawks reincarnated?
Revived Seattle (8-4) has beaten first-place Arizona and NFC West rival San Francisco by a combined 38-6 in a span of four days this week. The Seahawks have surrendered just two field goals — including one on a drive set up by three defensive penalties Thursday night in a 19-3 win at San Francisco. They have allowed 368 yards combined while smacking the two teams they have to beat to win the NFC West Division; two rivals who were 16-5 combined before they ran into Seattle’s suddenly dominant defense.
Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor have happened.
Wagner smiled and chuckled somewhat sheepishly at that assertion Thanksgiving night inside the visitors’ locker room at Levi’s Stadium. But the numbers don’t lie.
While the middle linebacker was out five games with a torn foot ligament and broken bone in a foot tendon he suffered in the Game 5 loss to the Cowboys through the 24-20 loss at Kansas City on Nov. 16, Seattle allowed averages of 22 points, 298 total yards and 110 yards rushing per game while going 3-3.
Since Wagner, who was on a team-record pace for tackles before he got hurt, has returned the Seahawks are surrendering just three points, 184 total yards and 64 yards rushing per game. Ten of the defense’s 11 starters have been healthy for these past two wins. It’s been the first time the Seahawks have had that many starters available on defense since mid-October.
The only exception has been nose tackle Brandon Mebane. He was destroying double-team blocks in the middle before he tore his hamstring and was lost for the season three games ago. But Thursday night, his replacement Kevin Williams, a five-time All-Pro and 11-year veteran, had his best game as a Seahawk. He fired off the ball quickly to beat 49ers rookie center Marcus Martin and ruin San Francisco’s blocks up the middle.
“We are just having fun, man,” Wagner said. “That’s one thing I wanted to bring back when I came back, was the passion. I wanted to remind everybody, just have fun. This game’s fun. We’ve been playing it since we were kids. It’s supposed to be fun. Play with no pressure, you know, we’ve been doing this for so long.”
Oh, yes, they are having fun now.
Thursday night the Seahawks danced over the fallen 49ers. Marshawn Lynch, fined $100,000 for not saying anything, got flagged for taunting San Francisco at the end of a second-half run. The Seahawks also taunted a stunned, then disgusted home crowd with yells and raised arms. Richard Sherman said he got a glass bottle fired at him from a fan in return.
They basically ransacked San Francisco’s fancy new place. Had a great time doing it, too.
“We had a lot of guys injured, a lot of guys out,” Wagner said. “But now we are getting back healthy, and we are getting back right. That’s bringing the swagger back that you all saw last year.”
The other key man in Seattle’s middle who is healthier is Chancellor. The strong safety is still playing through bone spurs in his ankles on which he contemplated having surgery in September. But the two games Chancellor sat out this month, the wins over Oakland and the Giants, to rest those ankles plus a sore groin and achy hip on which he had surgery last spring has seemed to revitalize him.
Against Arizona and San Francisco, Chancellor was flying to the ball and smacking runners like it was 2013 again. And before the win over the Cardinals, the usually internally intense veteran fired up the Seahawks with what linebacker K.J. Wright said was the best pregame speech he’d ever heard.
“These guys have really joined together and recaptured really what it was that we played with last year,” coach Pete Carroll said.
It’s been enough to have Chancellor go all metaphorical after the latest dominant performance.
“I look at this team like my hand,” he said. “When I’m just holding my hand open there are different tendons, different fingers, different parts. But when I ball my hand up, it creates a fist — a tight fist — and it creates a powerful punch.”
One that has delivered knockout blows these past two games with Chancellor and Wagner back that not even the 2013 Super Bowl champions, the NFL’s top-ranked defense last season, delivered.
The fewest yards Seattle allowed in back-to-back games last season was 457 yards, in the wins over Tennessee and at Arizona in mid-October. The fewest points surrendered in consecutive games was seven points in the opening win at Carolina and then three the next week at home against the 49ers.
“It’s always been here. We just needed to pick it up a little bit,” Wagner said. “We had to understand, being Super Bowl champions it wasn’t going to be like last year because we’ve gotten everybody’s best shot.
“I’m happy with how we’re playing now. You can just tell, we seem a lot faster than the offense.
“We’re just going to keep it going.”