Thanks to the magic of replay review, the turnover that best defined the swashbuckling Seattle Seahawks defense never happened Sunday.
The New York Giants, who hadn’t crossed the 50-yard line until they benefited from a goofy “defenseless receiver” penalty midway through the fourth quarter, appeared to be putting together a scoring drive after quarterback Eli Manning completed a pass to Brandon Myers at the Seattle 34. As Myers came down, Malcolm Smith stripped the ball, and fellow linebacker Bobby Wagner recovered it.
A bedrock principle of Fundamental Football — Walter Camp was preaching this 100 years ago — is that defensive players must hold onto the football after the opposition gives it to them. The Seahawks had a 23-0 lead. No reason to be greedy.
Then again, we’re talking about a team coached by Pete Carroll, which is to say: This team kind of makes things up in the spur of the moment.
So instead of protecting the precious cargo, Wagner lobbed the ball, hot-potato style, to safety Earl Thomas, who took off toward his own end zone.
Had Thomas lost his bearings, the way Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall did during his infamous wrong-way run in 1964? Nah. Thomas was just plotting for some room to maneuver. After changing direction, Thomas ended up gaining 5 yards from the spot of the fumble.
Between Smith’s ball-stripping tackle, Wagner’s defiant lateral and Thomas’ long and winding road for a short gain, it was a classic Seahawks sequence that drew applause from Carroll. And then the officials overturned the call, ruling Myers’ knee had touched the ground before he surrendered possession.
No sweat. Six plays after the Giants were spared by the review booth, Manning threw a pass that cornerback Richard Sherman deflected to Thomas in the end zone, preserving the shutout.
Once in a while, a victorious team’s defense can be more entertaining to watch than its offense. Such was the case on Sunday, when most of the highlights — and all of the risk-taking — were done by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s guys.
Quinn set the tone early, during the Giants’ opening drive, when he dialed up a Wagner blitz on a third-and-10 play. Manning was sacked. His historically frustrating afternoon — five interceptions, including two apiece by Sherman and Byron Maxwell — had only just begun.
Because the defense exuded electricity with speed and power and imagination, little was required of a Seattle offense that was slow to start and never really clicked.
“We weren’t very clean,” Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini said during a postgame radio interview.
Penalties of the careless kind — false starts, delay of game — contributed to the sense the Seahawks were depriving themselves a chance to blow out a team that had nothing at stake.
“The Giants are only down 10-0,” Fox TV analyst John Lynch noted during the second quarter. “They probably feel like they’re winning.”
Uh, no. When an offense can’t run, and the quarterback literally is throwing more passes caught by the opposing cornerbacks than his own wide-receiver duo (Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz combined for three receptions), winning is a fleeting sensation.
It was as if the Seahawks respected the Giants more than the Giants respected the Giants. Punter Jon Ryan was put to work three times with the ball in New York territory, including a fourth-and-2 at the 45 and a fourth-and-1 at the 48.
Carroll, realizing the Giants’ offense had yet to wipe the sleep from its eyes, decided to roll the dice on a fourth-and-goal play at the 1. But after some sideline deliberation that turned into confusion and a delay-of-game penalty, the Hawks settled for a field goal. The rest of us settled for another opportunity to watch a superior defense wreak havoc.
Remember when Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel were sidelined with injuries late in training camp, and Bruce Irvin was looking at a four-game suspension? Remember when defensive-line depth raised concerns about the Seahawks’ ability to mount a pass rush?
Remember, more recently, when such rookie running backs as the St. Louis Rams’ Zac Stacy and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike James sliced through the defensive line without having to break stride?
That’s so yesterday but worth recalling. There’s an intriguing cycle of life about the 2013 Seahawks: Whenever the defense lapses, the offense responds with high-octane proficiency. On Sunday, when Marshawn Lynch produced more yards as a receiver (73) than as a running back (47), it was a show-stealing defense that allowed the Seahawks to return home with a league-best 12-2 record and a belief that the best is yet to come.
Concluded Giacomini: “We want to be perfect.”
Reminds me of something Chris Petersen said during the news conference introducing him as the Washington Huskies’ football coach.
“We’ll strive for perfection and settle for excellence,” he vowed.
Perfection on a football field is impossible. But the pursuit of it? The idea of it?
That’s the stuff of an excellent adventure — an adventure the ball-hawking, lateral-tossing, go-your-own way Seahawks were born to fulfill.