Quinton Jefferson hesitated when the question was asked. A few minutes earlier, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had declared Jefferson’s performance as his best since joining the team in 2016, so did the defensive lineman agree?
While Jefferson paused a moment before he answered, fellow D-lineman Branden Jackson shouted from a couple of lockers over, “Yes! Yes!”
And it’s hard to argue with either Carroll or Jackson that Jefferson had indeed put together the best performance of his career in Seattle’s 21-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. In a tight game where every big play mattered, Jefferson came up with several of them, including a pair of sacks, three quarterback hits, two passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, including one on a crucial third-down play late in the game, and a pressure on Andy Dalton that appeared to contribute to the quarterback fumbling the ball into the air, allowing Al Woods catch it for one of three Seahawks takeaways in the game.
“He had a great game,” Carroll said. “He had six tackles, he had two tackles for losses, he had two sacks. He had a couple pass defenses, knocked down or whatever. He had a terrific game today. It was definitely the best game he’s had for us. We needed every bit of it.”
With a bit of prodding from his fellow defensive linemen, Jefferson was eventually able to concur that it was indeed the best game of his career.
“I felt like it was,” he said. “It was just a good day. I was just playing hard and trying to make the plays as they came… That was my biggest thing this year, just finish. Any play that comes to me, just finish, make the plays. I feel like I can play at a Pro-Bowl level, and that’s what I want to continue to do.”
And on a day when the Seahawks struggled at times to slow down Cincinnati’s passing game, the play of the defensive line as a whole was one of the highlights on that side of the ball. In addition to helping Seattle all but eliminate Cincinnati’s rushing game—the Bengals gained 34 yards on 14 carries—the defensive line also recorded four sacks, three passes defensed and a forced fumble, which was the result of a Rasheem Green game-clinching sack on the Cincinnati’s final play of the game.
That the Seahawks did that with Ziggy Ansah inactive and with Jadeveon Clowney on a pitch count having only arrived last weekend is an encouraging sign for that group going forward.
“Huge production for those guys, and it will just be better,” Carroll said. “It will just be better in general when everybody is out there and doing it together… Those guys made some nice plays up front. That’s such a big way to finish. When you have a chance and they only need a field goal, and they only have to get about 30 yards, and our guys rose to the occasion. They played down the stretch, and that was Rasheem’s sack that ended the thing.”
In addition to his fumble recovery, Woods, a free agent addition earlier this year, also had a big stop on a fourth-and-1 run, and he drew a holding call late in the game that helped kill a Bengals drive in the red zone, forcing Cincinnati to settle for a field goal while down four points.
Clowney, meanwhile, made an impact in his debut despite limited playing time, recording a sack, a pass defensed, a pressure that helped set up Jefferson’s first sack, and a tackle for loss on a running play.
“It’s been like nine months since I played in a game, and I was a little rusty, but it was good to get out there and get going,” Clowney said. “I’ve been here for what, five, six days with the team. I’m just glad to be out there playing football right about now.”
Added Jefferson, “We were having a ton of fun. We were just trying to live in the backfield and make plays, and I feel like we got that done today.”
On the big plays late, including Green’s forced fumble, Jefferson added, “I told them guys, ‘We’ve got to go out there and get a strip sack, we get a strip sack and it’s over.’ Sheem went out there with the cross chop, got the sack, it’s over. That’s what happened. It was pretty dope to end the game like that.”
Jefferson joked that with Ansah and 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier both inactive, he needed to “rack (the sacks) up while those dudes are sitting down,” but he also knows that the line will only get better when those two are back and when Clowney is fully up to speed.
“We’ve got some guys here, and adding them just helps,” Jefferson said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun, there’s a lot of plays to be made. I’m excited, I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.”