K.J. Wright warned everyone four days earlier: “Don’t sleep on us, man.”
The whole NFL – including its best team – is now fully awake after what just happened in Seattle.
The Seahawks are back. Or at least they sure were Sunday night. Like they never left – or ever were missing Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.
Bradley McDougald, Sheldon Richardson, Bobby Wagner and coordinator Kris Richard staked Seattle to a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter against the league’s highest-scoring offense. That was after Richardson got off a block and ripped the ball from Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz to force a fumble out of the back of the end zone for a touchback and Seattle ball instead of an Eagles touchdown that would have tied the game at 10 in the third quarter. ‘
“Sheldon’s play changed the game,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
Then Russell Wilson went magical again. His three wondrous plays led to his touchdown pass to J.D. McKissic midway through the fourth quarter. Wilson pumped his right fist then pointed to the joyous Seahawks sideline. That’s where teammates joined rockin’ CenturyLink Field in celebrating the clinching score of their 24-10 grounding of the previously soaring Eagles Sunday night.
“Are you WOKE?!!” a beaming Wright said in a Seahawks locker room that pulsated with loud music and great-again vibes.
The Pro Bowl defensive end’s key blitz on fourth down was part of five consecutive Eagles drives into Seattle territory the Seahawks’ defense turned away without allowing points.
“Word did get back to me, and they (the Eagles) did say some things that we’re not the same defense, ‘We’ve got nothing to worry about,’ ” McDougald, the fill-in strong safety for Chancellor, said.
“I think we went out and proved otherwise.”
The Seahawks (8-4) moved into the fifth position in race for the NFC’s six postseason spots, with four games remaining in the regular season. Seattle is tied with Carolina in record but the Seahawks have a better conference mark (6-3 vs. the Panthers’ 4-4).
"It's December,” Wilson said. “It's time to play. It's time to be great."
The Seahawks also stayed one game behind the Rams after Los Angeles won at Arizona. The Rams (9-3) play at Seattle on Dec. 17. That’s after the Seahawks play at AFC South co-leader Jacksonville (8-3) next Sunday, while the Rams host these Eagles (10-2) the same afternoon.
“We know we still have it,” Wright said. “We know how good we still are."
Wilson finished 20 for 31 passing with 227 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating was a sterling 118.6.
“Russell was phenomenal tonight,” Carroll said after his team improved to 22-4-1 in primetime games under him. “He was showing you everything that he is all about.
“He did everything tonight. I think he had one of his best games.”
And he got help from a running back for a change this season; new lead runner Mike Davis had 64 yards on 16 rushes.
The Seahawks took that 14-point lead into the fourth quarter. Then Wentz, out-played by Wilson to that point, showed why he’s a top candidate with Tom Brady for the NFL MVP award. Wentz made two exquisite plays to avoid Seattle’s rush. The first was for 51 yards. On the second Wentz ran right up and out of the pocket, then coolly waited for his receiver Nelson Agholor to run behind a sneaky pick by his teammate Torrey Smith and past Seattle’s Byron Maxwell down the opposite side of the field for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Seattle’s lead was 17-10 with 12, tense minutes remaining.
Wentz finished 29 for 45 passing for 348 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The second-overall pick in the 2016 draft had a passer rating of 86.2.
But then Wilson made two, ridiculous plays – two more in his wondrous, most valuable season.
His first was a scramble up the middle on a third-and-8 from the Seattle 42. As he approached midfield and some Eagles he spotted Davis off his right shoulder. Wilson then flipped the ball mid-run back to Davis, who ran 17 more yards to the Eagles 35.
“Don’t do that! Great play,” is how teammate Doug Baldwin described his reaction to Wilson’s flip.
Then Wilson scrambled far left away from what should have been a sack, then threw across his body to Nick Vannett for 21 yards to the Eagles 14. Wilson finished his astounding, game-breaking drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass, a flip down the left sideline to wide-open McKissic. That put Seattle back up 24-10 midway through the final quarter, and Seattle partied like it was 2013.
Richard’s game plan and calls kept Wentz and the previously soaring Eagles inert. Philadelphia got into Seattle territory on five consecutive drives – and did not score.
For two games and the first three quarters, Richard relied on a four-man pass rush and dropped seven into coverage. On two fourth-down tries by the Eagles in the fourth quarter, Richard called his first blitzes of the night. Wright stormed in untouched off the left edge to force Wentz to throw incomplete and keep the game 17-3 early in the final period. Then Wagner blitzed free to force Wentz into a bad pass on fourth and 6 at the Seattle 40 with 5:48 left.
That and Byron Maxwell’s interception in the end zone with 1:59 remaining sealed the battered defense’s night – and the reassuring win.
Richard then unleashed Seattle’s blitz, three times on the final four plays of Philadelphia’s ensuing attempt to answer. On fourth and 6, Wagner blitzed free and forced Wentz to throw high and incomplete. Seattle took over at its own 40 with just under 6 minutes left.
Earlier this season, after he and Wilson burned the New York Giants’ “zero coverage” and blitz with no safeties in the field’s middle for a touchdown, Baldwin wondered aloud when teams were going to learn to not play zero coverage against Seattle.
Philadelphia did on third and 1 midway through the third quarter. Wilson saw it. He changed the play to a fade pass to the left sideline to Baldwin, who was one on one outside. The 47-yard pitch and catch set up Wilson’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett three plays later for a 17-3 Seahawks lead.
Richardson has changed the line of scrimmage, and thus games, in Seattle’s favor multiple times in his Seahawks debut season since his trade from the Jets for Jermaine Kearse and a draft pick in September.
McDougald, starting his third consecutive game at strong safety with Chancellor’s career in doubt because of a neck injury, made three plays on third downs to end fruitless drives by the Eagles.
The Seahawks bottom third of the league in first-half scoring, at just nine points per game. The Eagles came in outscoring teams 169-75 in the first half, including 78-18 in the first quarter.
Seattle went up 10-0 in a rousing opening period. How refreshing was that? The Seahawks scored a total of 39 points in the first quarter through their first 11 games.
Wilson’s dump-off pass for 23 yards to Davis, who returned from missing last week’s win at San Francisco because of a groin strain to start at running back, and two defensive penalties got Seattle to the Eagles 11-yard line.
Wilson then took a quick drop and threw outside left to Jimmy Graham. He was one on one with a six-inch height advantage of Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, and Graham easily snatched the ball from Jenkins for his ninth touchdown catch in eight games. All were in the red zone, where for two years the Seahawks have been trying to figure how Graham fits.
He sure fits inside the 20 now. This is the second-most prolific stretch of his career. He had 10 TDs in first eight games of the 2013 season with New Orleans, on his way to career-best 16 scores and a four-year, $40 million contract extension the Saints traded with him to Seattle before the 2015 season.
Graham’s catch was the first touchdown allowed by the Eagles’ defense in 144 minutes, 35 seconds, back to week nine late in blowout win over Denver.
The Eagles had just 128 yards and three points in the first half. They led the NFL at 31.9 points per game entering Sunday.
“It wasn’t about proving everybody wrong,” Baldwin said.
“It was about proving ourselves right.”