FOXBOROUGH, Mass.— Practice is everything for the Seahawks.
That important aspect of Pete Carroll's coaching philosophy was highly apparent on the final play of his team's Week 10 matchup with the Patriots at New England's Gillette Stadium.
Trailing 31-24 with 14 seconds left, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady used his team's 4th-and-1 play from Seattle's 1-yard-line to lob a ball up to the left corner of the end zone intended for 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end Rob Gronkowski. Kam Chancellor, playing in his first game after missing Seattle's past four contests with a groin injury, found himself in coverage on the pivotal play, and as it turned out, it was the exact play the Seahawks strong safety saw on the practice field to close out the work week.
"In practice we actually ended the same way," Chancellor recalled of his team's most recent workout following Seattle's 31-24 victory. "Same exact play, same side of the field, and it was against [Seahawks practice squad tight end] Marcus Lucas. There's definitely a lot of irony in that and it just felt good."
Chancellor won that one-on-one battle in practice, and more importantly, he won the one-on-one battle on Sunday Night Football against one of the game's top playmakers. Brady's pass to Gronkowski fell incomplete, and for a second week in a row, Seattle's defense held on for a win in the game's waning moments.
"Interestingly the last play of the week of practice was a one-on-one shot with the tight end out there and he happened to win in kind of the same fashion," Carroll said of Chancellor. "It was a big moment in practice because Kam was battling because he wanted to prove he could do it. Somehow that just works out. Marcus Lucas was the guy he went against to give us the look and Kam slammed the ball, went crazy in practice, just because it was that moment. It's interesting that it came right down to that same thing."
The coverage effort capped off a strong showing for Chancellor, his first time in a Seattle uniform since before the team's Week 5 bye. He finished with eight bruising tackles, recorded one pass defensed, and notched one of the Seahawks' two turnovers on the night when he forced a fumble of Patriots wideout Julian Edelman midway through the fourth quarter that cornerback Richard Sherman recovered. The takeaway came with Seattle up 25-24 and led to the third touchdown of the night between Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin, a score that pushed the Seahawks' lead to seven points. Against a Patriots team that had just six turnovers on the season coming into the night, Seattle finished plus-two in turnover differential, with cornerback DeShawn Shead picking off Brady earlier in the game, the first interception a Patriots quarterback has thrown all season.
"Getting Kam back was huge," said Sherman. "Obviously he made a ton of impact plays. The end of the game was a huge one, but the forced fumble, a ton of plays that nobody's ever going to talk about in the run game, great job on the trap. He's one of those guys that's a glue guy and really there's no putting a number on how effective he is. Then you've got DeShawn Shead coming out with a big turnover, I think that was Tom Brady's first interception and of course it would come on Shead, because not on Shead."
Against one of the NFL's hottest teams that also happened to be coming off of a bye, a Seahawks defense that had been on the field for 80- and 90-plus snaps in recent weeks continued to come up with game-altering plays.
"Defense just had to hang with them," Carroll said of his defense's effort against New England's potent offense. "They're just so good. They do so many good things and so many great throws and catches by their best players that they made it hard on us.
"But when it got down to it, when you've got a chance to win a game on the 1-yard-line, there isn't anything like it in football. That's one of the great challenges that a team and a defense gets. We've had some bouts down there in the last few weeks and our guys just came through and hung in there and just fought for every inch and let us walk away with a win on this one."
While Chancellor's coverage on the Patriots' final offensive play will lead the postgame conversation, and deservedly so, there were three other plays prior to that 4th-and-1 stop that also had to go in Seattle's favor.
The Seahawks stopped Brady for a 1-yard gain on 1st-and-goal from the 2 and held running back LeGarrette Blount — who finished the night with three touchdowns — to no gain on 2nd-and-goal from the 1. Brady mishandled the snap on 3rd-and-goal from the 1 and lost a yard on the play, but a penalty on Seattle moved the ball back within one yard of the end zone, where Brady failed to connect with Gronkowski on 4th-and-1 with Chancellor in coverage.
Seattle's mindset during that series? "Believe, believe, just believe. That's it," said free safety Earl Thomas.
"We make it tough on everybody we face when they get down to that red zone," said Thomas, who finished with a team-high nine tackles, including one jarring hit on Gronkowski. "Up front, big T-Mac [Tony McDaniel], big Rube [Ahtyba Rubin], everybody putting their body on the line just to fight for every inch, every blade of grass, and we got it done."
Added Carroll: "It was Rube and all the fellas, Tony, the guys up inside just battling and digging, clawing, scratching. Bobby [Wagner] and K.J. [Wright] had to knock those plays back. Everybody was fighting. Those plays are just a clump of guys, everybody's battling to get that done. But it starts right up front, right in the middle."
The give-it-your-all effort helped up Seattle's record to 6-2-1 on the season, which means the Seahawks currently own a two-game lead in the NFC West over the Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1).
"This is what we do," Chancellor said. "We stay positive. Any call we get we say we're going to execute it. We stay positive. We tell everybody keep your head in it. The guys up front are going to get a great push, guys on the back end flow to the ball, and the guys that are covered keep your eyes on your man. That's what we do. We just tell everybody stay positive the whole time."
See some of the action from Sunday Night Football, Seahawks at Patriots during Week 10 at Gillette Stadium.