Early in the third quarter with the 49ers looking to convert on third-and-4, the Seahawks dialed up a blitz call that included middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey and running back Jerick McKinnon both attempted to block the oncoming All-Pro linebacker, but Wagner simply powered his way through them and into quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the sack.
The play was part of a dominant three quarters for the Seahawks defense in a 37-27 win over the 49ers, and was also an example of a great player, one who was unhappy with the way the defense was playing, saying enough is enough and stepping up when his team needed it.
"I just felt like we needed to stop talking and do the work, and let our play show," said Wagner. "I feel like we were a lot more aggressive and we were able to get in the backfield and get their quarterback off his spot. Obviously, we still have things to work on, but I think it was a step in the right direction."
Wagner finished the game with two sacks, four quarterback hits, a team-high 11 tackles, including three for a loss, and set the tone for a defense that responded to subpar start to the season with its best performance of the year.
The Seahawks came into the game having allowed the most yards, passing yards and first downs in the NFL, and allowed 37 points in last week's loss to the Cardinals. But on Sunday, with its captain leading the way, the defense took big steps in the right direction. Yes, the 49ers did manage three late touchdowns after the Seahawks built a 30-7 lead, but through three quarters the Seahawks allowed only 117 yards and one scoring drive, one that required a fourth-down conversion by the 49ers and a debatable roughing-the-passer call on Alton Robinson.
"The thing I liked probably best about the game was the defensive play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Up until like the fourth quarter, they had 112 yards or something like that. Run, pass, the whole thing, we really played really good ball today. Kenny (Norton Jr.) called a great game. Guys played great. Bobby Wagner was just everywhere on the field, as well as a bunch of other guys that played well."
Wagner's two sacks and four quarterback hits were the result of more blitz-happy play-calling by Norton, and with his defense needing a bounce-back performance, Wagner put it on himself to step up to the challenge.
"Definitely," he said. "I feel like as the leader of the defense, you have to address the team, you have to bring the issues to light and get everyone on the same page and talk about discipline and consistency. That's kind of what we did. Everybody locked in this week. We had a great practice, a great week and it showed in the game."
Making Sunday's performance all the more impressive is that the Seahawks did it playing at nothing close to full strength. All-Pro safety Jamal Adams missed his fourth straight game with a groin injury—he’s expected back next week, Carroll said—Pro-Bowl cornerback Shaquill Griffin was out after sustaining a concussion and a hamstring injury last week, as were starting defensive end Benson Mayowa (ankle) and nickel defensive back Ugo Amadi (hamstring). But whether it was D.J. Reed recording six tackles and an interception in his Seahawks debut, or Alton Robinson getting a sack in his first start, or Stephen Sullivan, a rookie tight end who made the move to defensive end just a few weeks ago, playing a role as a third-down pass-rusher, so many players stepped up for a short-handed defense.
"It was a really big step, especially for those guys," Wagner said. "We had other guys out, we had guys playing in other positions that they have never played before. But they went out, executed and did great. I'm definitely excited about the step in the right direction but, it's just one game. It has to be consistent and I look forward to doing that."
Looking forward, the Seahawks should get back Adams this week and perhaps others, they'll add defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was acquired in a trade last week but could not play due to COVID-19 testing protocols, and veteran defensive tackle Damon Harrison is still on the practice squad getting himself game-ready. But as exciting as it is to think about the reinforcements that are coming, what stood out most on Sunday is who stepped up with so many players out, and not just on defense. On the other side of the ball, rookie DeeJay Dallas had to carry the load at running back with both Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde out, and the Seahawks had a total of seven players inactive due to injury even though they only needed to declare six inactives.
"The way we entered this game, if you take a look at our inactive list today, you see all the guys that couldn't play, and guys that had to step up and fill and play first-class football, and guys did it, and came through in such a big way," Carroll said. "I was inspired by it. I was inspired by their toughness and by their guts and really, just the way they handled it, through the whole week. They just stepped up, and never even batted an eye about it.
"It is a statement, and that's why I went into this week, that's why I was talking that this was a week of inspiration. Who's going to be able to pull through, come back and uphold their end of it, step in and all that? I think it says a tremendous amount that it didn't matter who was playing. The guys just stepped up and did their job and busted their tails to get it done. We love seeing that. We talked about that in the locker room in getting this game on our side. I was really excited about that, I think it says a lot. It was a good illustration."
The best photos from Week 8's Seahawks-49ers game at CenturyLink Field. Fueled by Nesquik.