The Seahawks went to Dallas having lost two straight, including a lopsided loss at home to the Los Angeles Rams, but they beat the Cowboys in a must-win game in what was what head coach Pete Carroll called "a fantastic response by our guys."
Carroll offered his thoughts on the game and on what's next for his team during his weekly appearance on 710 ESPN Seattle. Here are five things we learned from Carroll on the Brock and Salk Show:
1. The importance of Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright is undeniable.
The Seahawks improved in a lot of ways to end a two-game skid, but one of the most obvious factors was the return of K.J. Wright, who missed the previous five-plus quarters with a concussion, as well as the improved health of Bobby Wagner, who left Seattle's loss at Jacksonville in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, and who was clearly limited by that injury last week. On Sunday, Wagner had eight tackles and a quarterback hit, while Wright had six tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
"You can't deny how powerful their presence is, and their savvy and their wherewithal and their communication, I mean look at the difference, that was huge," Carroll said. "… Those guys are legit ballplayers, and in a game where they tried to run the ball right down your throat, we needed all the help we could get, we needed all the help we can get."
Carroll said the importance of those two is showing "now more than ever," because of injuries to other veteran leaders on defense like Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman.
"Because of the other guys that aren't around, those guys are more significant because their presence and their leadership and their consistency is just something we can bank on," Carroll said. "And they're better now than they've ever been."
2. Byron Maxwell's forced fumble was "a classic."
A huge reason the Seahawks won Sunday was the defense's ability to create three turnovers, the first of which was a throwback to 2013 and 2014 when Byron Maxwell was establishing himself as a starter in the NFL. During his first tenure in Seattle, Maxwell was known for, among other things, his knack for being able to punch the ball out of the hands of receivers. Maxwell, who re-joined the team that drafted him earlier this season, showed that ability again against the Cowboys, punching the ball away from Dez Bryant to cause a fumble that Wright recovered to set up Seattle's first touchdown.
"That was a great one, a classic," Carroll said. "… He really proactively goes after it, and he did it beautifully."
Carroll and his coaching staff have long preached the importance of creating turnovers, but knocking the ball out the way Maxwell does requires "a different level of awareness," Carroll said, which is why Maxwell has 11 forced fumbles in his seven-year career—plus one in Super Bowl XLVIII—an unusually high number for a defensive back.
"It's just not something everybody can do," Carroll said. "Certain guys have a special awareness, and once they gain it, they're better than other guys at it. Earl (Thomas) is one of those guys—he's always going after the football—Bobby's one of those guys, Kam's one of those guys. You can't imagine how much we've emphasized this over the years, so to see it happen so beautifully is awesome."
3. The Seahawks are focused on the task at hand, not playoff scenarios.
Carroll said Sunday that he and his players weren't paying attention to what was happening in other NFC games prior to theirs that day, nor will they worry about the Carolina at Atlanta game that affects their playoff chances in Week 17.
Yes, the Seahawks need the Panthers to beat the Falcons in order to make the playoffs, but they know if they get distracted and don't take care of their own business Sunday when they host Arizona, then what happens in Atlanta won't matter.
"There's nothing you can do about it," Carroll said. "The only thing is it can mess with you if you put too much into it. The main thing is to just keep on rolling and take care of business… I don't care. It doesn't matter. All we have is one game to go play a championship opportunity, and we'll see if we can finish this thing up right and give ourselves every opportunity that comes our way."
4. The offense struggled, but "responded properly" to turnovers to get the job done.
In game where, as Carroll put it, "it was going to take a really concerted solid across-the-board effort" to beat the Cowboys, the Seahawks offense didn't have a very good day overall, gaining a season-low 136 yards while going 4 for 11 on third down. But one thing the offense did very well was take advantage of the opportunities created by the defense, turning two turnovers into touchdowns—Seattle's other turnover was a Justin Coleman pick-six, so no offense was needed for that score.
After Maxwell's forced fumble, the offense went 43 yards on six plays, with Russell Wilson finding Jimmy Graham for a 2-yard touchdown, the tight end's 10th touchdown this season. When Wright intercepted Dak Prescott in the third quarter, the offense went 79 yards in 13 plays, with Wilson hitting Doug Baldwin for a 6-yard score to give the Seahawks a two-score lead.
"I thought the best part about it was, the defense made the plays and the offense responded," Carroll said. "We didn't have a great day on offense at all, but we did respond properly and did get the scores we needed and did all right."
5. The Seahawks were "very fortunate" in the injury department.
In addition to leaving Dallas with a victory, the Seahawks also flew home Christmas Eve with a pretty healthy team, sustaining no new significant injuries in the game.
"Luke Joeckel hurt his foot a little bit, but other than that, we got out clean," Carroll said. "We were very, very fortunate, so we'll go into the last game healthy for the most part and raring to go."
On a less positive note, Carroll said running back Chris Carson, who is on injured reserve because of a leg injury sustained in Week 4, won't return to practice this week: "He's not quite there, unfortunately."
The Seahawks come away victorious 21-12 against the Cowboys in Week 16 at AT&T Stadium.