So what suddenly changed for the Seahawks’ defense? How did they get their swagger and their domination back after blowing 17-point and nine-point leads in the fourth quarters to lose the previous two games?
First, they weren’t playing undefeated Cincinnati or Carolina Thursday night in Santa Clara. It was San Francisco (2-5), which pretty much disintegrates each time it plays Seattle nowadays.
The 49ers had just 142 total yards, their fewest since November 2006. They punted nine times. They had 17 net yards passing on 17 drop backs in the first half by Colin Kaepernick, who got sacked six times -- a career-high 3 1/2 times by Michael Bennett. The half-dozen sacks set Seattle’s season high.
But defensive coordinator Kris Richard, the subject of so much scrutiny and some scorn after the 2-4 start with four late leads blown by his once-vaunted unit, saw other reasons than it was just the 49ers.
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“We played like a team. We came out and we handled our business the way we know we are capable of,” Richard said in the hallway outside the Seahawks’ locker room, on his way to the team bus. “The only thing that mattered was the fact that we just kept playing. There wasn’t going to be a circumstance where, good or bad, that was going to have an effect on how we responded.
“We maximized each play.”
Bennett said his theme to defensive mates this short week between games was “chopping wood.” The result: Seattle’s fewest yards allowed since the 139 to which it held Philadelphia in a 24-14 win last Dec. 7.
“That’s just a worker’s mentality,” Richard said. “Put your hard hat on, strap on your boots and just go to work.”
I asked Richard if he felt there was a need to reinforce that mentality this week, after allowing 27 points in each of the previous two games.
“Yeah, absolutely,” the coordinator said. “In light of our past two games it’s was ... Just. Go. Play. Don’t worry about anything else. Not finishing. Not all the other stuff that’s come about. You can make a big deal about all that stuff right there, and all of a sudden that rallying cry becomes something more of a dreadful thing. Really, the main thing is to just keep playing.”
Richard credited defensive-line coaches Travis Jones and Dwaine Board for the plan that got the Seahawks the six sacks, including 1 1/2 from Cliff Avril.
The defensive end opposite Bennett doesn’t dance as Bennett does and is far quieter -- who isn’t quieter than Bennett. Avril just continues to excel. I think he’s been the best, most consistent Seahawks defender through seven games.
“They were prepared,” Richard said. “The guys locked in. They studied. And they executed.
“A great exhibition of Seahawks football.”