Facing one of the league's best run defenses, the Seahawks rushed for 214 yards in Monday night's win over the Minnesota Vikings, but even the players who paved the way for that impressive performance knew it wasn't the story of Seattle's 21-7 victory.
While the plays the Seahawks made on offense and special teams were important, what really made the difference in a win that moved Seattle a step closer to a playoff berth was the dominant performance by a defense that shut the Vikings out for more than 58 minutes before Minnesota finally scored, down three touchdowns, with 1:10 left in the game, and after Seattle's defense had scored a touchdown of its own.
"Our defense did a hell of a job," center Justin Britt said. "They're the reason we won this game. Offensively we just weren't clicking; it was really a defensive game, and our defense almost threw a no-hitter, and they scored a touchdown. That definitely helped us out."
For three-plus quarters of an eventual 21-7 win, the Seahawks struggled to sustain drives and score points despite running the ball rather well, but after three-plus quarters, the Seahawks led 6-0 because Minnesota's offense was having an even harder day than the Seahawks offense.
Seattle's big day on defense featured not just Jacob Martin's sack/forced fumble that Justin Coleman returned for a touchdown, there were also two crucial fourth-down stops, including one in the red zone, more standout play from linebacker Bobby Wagner, great coverage from Seattle's secondary, and a pass rush that kept Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins uncomfortable all night long. Leaving out a one-play kneel-down at the end of the first half, the Vikings' first nine possessions, prior to their late touchdown, went: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, turnover on downs, blocked field goal, and fumble. And Minnesota didn't even move the ball into Seahawks territory until a defensive holding call pushed them just across midfield with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
"That was a classic defensive ball game all night long," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "We had a lot of respect for this team we were playing because they're so good all the way around, and they showed it. It was really hard for us to get the ball down field and score points. We were fortunate to play a really good game on defense—we had some great stops tonight, just classic short-yardage stops, and down there on the goal line Bradley gets in the way on the fourth-down play in the end zone. Just some beautiful football—not the kind of football everybody loves, but the kind of football that we love."
After Carroll focused on other aspects of the game, including the running game, he paused and added, "It's really about the defense tonight. I loved the way they played. They played so hard and so spirited."
The Vikings passing attack came into the game averaging 274.8 yards per game, which ranked seventh in the NFL, but were held to 199 on Monday. And through three quarters, the dominance was even more pronounced when the game was still tight, with Cousins completing 6 of 13 passes and the Vikings totaling only 47 passing yards and eight first downs while going 1 for 7 on third down. Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, who came into the game with 98 catches for 1,166 yards and nine touchdowns, didn't have a catch until midway through the third quarter.
"That's a great defense," Thielen said. "They're flying around, they're rushing the passer, they're creating havoc in all levels of their defense. We knew that coming in. They're playing at a high level, that's why they're winning games."
Coleman, who scored his third touchdown in two seasons with Seattle, said the Seahawks didn't really do anything special to contain one of the league's most prolific pass-catchers: "We played our game. We had our schemes and we wanted to take out their best receivers, and I feel like we did that for the most part."
As good as the Seahawks defense played in the spotlight of primetime, it might be easy to say it was reminiscent of performances by defenses of past years, but after an offseason of significant roster turnover, the 2018 defense isn't looking to be compared to those great defenses of the past. For veterans who were here when the Seahawks were leading the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons from 2012 to 2015, players like Wagner, the message is, "You don't have to be the dudes that used to be here. You can make the position special yourself. You don't have to be like (Richard Sherman), you don't have to be like Kam (Chancellor), those are amazing players, they're once in a lifetime players, so you don't have to be that, you just go out there and do your job, do what God called on you to do and be whoever you are. You don't have to be anyone else. That's what it is, guys just going out there having fun being themselves."
But even if this is a new year and a new defense, there was one nod to the past, and in particular to Carroll's first year in Seattle, with the Seahawks using a seven-defensive-back look on a number of occasions, including an early third down that saw Akeem King and Delano Hill both blitz to force an incomplete pass and a Vikings punt. Back in 2010, the Seahawks had success at times putting seven defensive backs on the field for what they called their "Bandit" package.
"It was a little changeup," Carroll said. "Something the defensive staff kind of came up with, (defensive coordinator) Kenny (Norton Jr.) and the guys. I thought it was a beautifully timed plan for these guys. That team is really good and they protect well and have an experienced quarterback. I think (Norton) had them off-kilter a little bit, and the mixes of the calls worked out quite well for us."
Monday's win was not just important because it improved Seattle's record to 8-5, putting them solidly in position to earn a Wild Card berth, but also because of how they won. Already this year the Seahawks have shown they can win a high-scoring game by trading blows throughout the second half, they've shown they can come from behind, and they've shown they can build a comfortable lead and play from ahead. But Monday was a different game, a "classic defensive ball game," as Carroll put it, which required Seattle's defense to make stop after stop to keep the Seahawks in the lead.
"It's good, especially for the young guys, to see that we can win however," Wagner said. "Whether it's a defensive game, offensive game, special teams game, it's always good to have these kinds of wins throughout the season, because you can use it in the playoffs."
Added quarterback Russell Wilson, "If you want to be a championship team, you have to find ways to win even when it doesn't look pretty."