For a while last week, it appeared the only thing that might be able to derail the resurgent Seattle Seahawks would be a case of salmonella.
I mean, after Richard Sherman walked around the 49ers home turf in Santa Clara with his victory turkey Thanksgiving night, the bird sat out in the locker room while grimy teammates repeatedly came by and tore off chunks of meat.
The metaphor was ripe, even if the bird was cooling. As Sherman said last year, when the Seahawks’ defense was at its best, it plays like a pack of hungry wolves.
And Seahawks defenders definitely are playing at their best again, having won five of their last six and having knocked off their prime divisional rivals, Arizona and San Francisco, by identical 19-3 scores.
Never during Pete Carroll’s five seasons with the Seahawks have they strangled back-to-back opponents with a total of just six points allowed — let alone the likes of an Arizona team with the best record in the NFL, and then their prime division rival on their own field.
The domination was so thorough that Arizona and San Francisco each managed just one possession inside the Seahawks 30.
While adhering to the professional mandate of observing time only in weekly increments, Carroll likes to break the NFL season down into four-game “quarters” for assessment.
The most important, of course, is the fourth quarter. On their way to the Super Bowl last season, the Hawks went 2-2 down the stretch with losses at San Francisco and home against Arizona. But this run of Seahawks excellence actually started with a five-win December in 2012.
The two wins in five days last week put the Seahawks exactly where Carroll wants them.
“It took us a notch higher, and we’re playing like we’ve been capable of in the past,” Carroll said after the San Francisco win. “It’s an important time, and it’s really cool, it’s exciting. The finish is always the important step, and this is finish time. Hopefully we can kick into the fourth quarter and every game is a monster game.”
If not monster, at least significant, starting with next week’s East Coast visit to Philadelphia (9-3), with San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis following.
The win over Arizona brought a run at the division title back into play, but the Hawks (8-4) already have two more losses than the Cardinals, and will need help.
The Cardinals (9-2) are at Atlanta on Sunday, then have Kansas City (home), St. Louis (road) and San Francisco (home) on the docket. A Seattle road win at Arizona would bring the Cards a loss closer, but somebody else would have to contribute.
Getting to 11 wins would likely assure a wild-card berth, as no 11-victory team in the modern era has missed the playoffs in the NFC. The 1985 Broncos and 2008 Patriots missed out in the AFC with 11 wins.
And 10 wins leave the issue in doubt. Arizona stayed home at 10-6 last season, as did Tampa Bay and the New York Giants in 2010.
As of Sunday morning, the Hawks were in line for the fifth seed, holding the first wild-card ranking with edges over Detroit and Dallas, the two other 8-4 teams.
After the win Thursday, the Seahawks acted as if they didn’t understand what the word “playoff” meant.
“We’re not worried about the playoff picture because that’s not in our control,” receiver Doug Baldwin said.
“We’re a team that preaches finishing all the time,” safety Kam Chancellor said. “No matter what it is, no matter what the circumstance is — just finish.”
Heading into last week, Carroll said he liked the way the divisional games stacked up in front of them, providing the best chance to claw back into the race.
“What better way could it go?” Carroll said. “This is as good as it gets, so we’ll take it one shot at a time.”
The standings and schedule may be rendered irrelevant, in fact, by a ravenous Seattle defense that has decided that opponents aren’t going to get into the end zone the rest of the way.