The Seahawks defense hit rock bottom in Seattle's Week 9 loss at Buffalo.
In that game, the second of three losses in a four-game span, the Seahawks gave up 44 points, the most they've allowed in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era.
After that loss, Carroll said of his team's defense, "It's such an out of character game across the board that I don't even recognize us."
Yet for all of Seattle's early-season struggles on defense, Carroll, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and veteran leaders like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright insisted that things would get better.
It may not have seemed likely at the time, but the Seahawks defense has indeed turned things around in a huge way, and it showed again in Sunday's 20-9 victory that improved Seattle's record to 11-4 and clinched the team's first NFC West title since 2016.
The Seahawks started the year 5-0 in large part because Russell Wilson and the offense were putting up such insane numbers, but they're finishing strong, and as division champs, because they are back to playing the type of defense that was the calling card of Carroll's teams last decade.
"There were times during the season where everybody had enough statistics to go ahead and blow us out and like we weren't worth anything on defense, but this defense is good, and they've shown it, and they've declared it," Carroll said. "This is the kind of defense that we've played in years' past when we really had good teams down the stretch. To show like that again, week after week after week, and to show it again in the most difficult challenge that we had, and not give up a touchdown all day long, that's big time. It was really consistent, the mentality was great, it didn't matter who was making plays, it was just guys playing football together in a really connected way, and it really showed up."
Jamal Adams, who came to Seattle in an offseason trade and has lived up to the billing, making another Pro Bowl while recording 9.5 sacks, 80 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in 11 games, took it a step further than his head coach, declaring Seattle's defense the best in the league.
"For everybody out there, they need to start putting respect on this defense's name," Adams said. "Because this defense is playing lights out. And to me, we're the best defense in the league. You can quote that, you can do what you want to do with it ,but at the end of the day, I believe in these guys, I believe in this coaching staff and what we bring to the table day in and day out. I know how hard we work, so we're just going to continue to get better because we haven't even played our best football yet and that's the scary part."
And while on the surface it might seem preposterous to say that about a defense that was giving up more than 30 points per game for half a season, Adams and company have indeed played as well as any defense in the league ever since the Week 9 loss in Buffalo.
Following that loss to the Bills, the Seahawks ranked last in total defense (455.8 yards per game), last in passing defense (362.1 passing yards per game) and 30th in scoring (30.4 points per game). The following week, the Rams got off to a quick start, but Seattle's defense showed signs of improvement in the second half, and has continually improved throughout the second half of season.
Including the Week 10 loss to the Rams, the Seahawks, over the past seven games, have had the NFL's best scoring defense (15.0 points per game), ranked third in total defense (302.1 yards per game), sixth in pass defense (203.0), third in opponent yards-per-play average (4.6), fifth in opponent passer rating (78.3) and recorded 24 sacks, tied for the most over that span.
It's been an impressive turnaround by players and by Norton and the rest of the defensive coaching staff, and Sunday's performance against the Rams was arguably the best performance yet by Seattle's defense, which for the second time in three weeks kept its opponent out of the end zone. Not only did the Seahawks put forth another dominant performance, they did it against a Rams offense that has given them a lot of trouble ever since Sean McVay took over as head coach, and they played well from start to finish in a game that, thanks to a strong performance by the Rams defense, required Seattle's defense to play well to keep the Seahawks in the game until the offense got on track in the second half.
"It feels like every year this team is always in our way," said linebacker K.J. Wright. "It seems like it's always a challenge to get over the hump with this team. They've scored a lot of points on us, they've won the division a few times, so to beat this team felt really good. Hat's off to them, we may see them in the playoff again, but to win this game felt really good."
By holding the Rams to nine points, the Seahawks have now held five straight opponents under 20 points, something they last accomplished to finish out the 2014 season, and like that Super Bowl team, this version of the Seahawks believe they are playing the kind of defense that can take them far in the playoffs.
"It's everything, man," Wright said of the defense turning things around so dramatically. "It starts with Coach Norton and him putting us in great position to be successful, and the rest of the coaching staff, and we just we figured it out. We figured it out and guys are just being accountable, we're communicating like no other, just to hear guys' voices each and every play is just truly special. Defense wins championships, we know that. Going down the stretch, it's going to be some tough, tough battles. Playoff time is around the corner, and defense always win championships. We're just get started, we've got to keep going down the stretch and just finish strong."
The best photos from Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams at Lumen Field. Fueled by Nesquik.