SEATTLE — For much of Monday night's game against the Bills, the Seahawks defense had a hard time containing Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy. But late in the fourth quarter, when Seattle was clinging to a six-point lead, the unit that has had plenty to do with the Seahawks' current first place ranking in the NFC West found a way to come through when it mattered most.
Seattle led 31-25 as Buffalo's offense marched its way down to the Seahawks' 10-yard-line with 1:09 left to play. The Bills set themselves up with a first-and-goal situation and four shots at securing a potential game-winning -- or at least game-tying -- score.
McCoy picked up three yards on first down to bring the Bills to Seattle's seven, but after that positive gain things started to shift in Seattle's favor. On second down, Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright made a solid open-field tackle to sack Taylor for a loss of one, and on third down it was defensive end Cliff Avril, the NFC's Defensive Player of the Month for October, who worked his way to Taylor for a 7-yard sack, Avril's ninth sack of the season. The two quarterback takedowns set up one final shot for the Bills from Seattle's 15-yard-line, but Taylor's fourth-down pass to the end zone intended for receiver Robert Woods fell incomplete with free safety Earl Thomas in coverage. The Seahawks took over on downs, ending the game in victory formation and improving to 5-2-1 on the season.
"That's a great moment out there for a defense when you have to stop them and you've got to keep them from getting in the end zone and those plays just keep coming," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said postgame. "Any one of those plays could lose the game. The great tension that's going on and the intensity of that is very special for the players and it's why they take so much pride when you get out of there and you're winning and all that."
After surrendering 162 receiving yards to Woods, 85 rushing yards to McCoy, and with Taylor going 27-of-38 for 289 yards and two touchdowns, one with his arm and one with his legs, the feeling amongst Seahawks players in the locker room after the game was one of 'bend, but don't break' and 'fight until the final whistle.'
Here's a look at what some of Seattle's key contributors had to say about the team's final goal-line stop:
Cliff Avril:"You've got to do what you've got to do, man. Bend but don't break, at least that's what I'm chanting to the guys, 'Bend, but don't break!' Yeah, they got 40 yards, but bend but don't break, that's kind of our motto down there."
Frank Clark: "I wasn't surprised. That's our defense. We try our hardest out there to get the job done. We rehearse going through these late-game situations and it's about getting the job done at the end."
Kelcie McCray: "Everybody on defense, we knew what was at stake and we wouldn't want it any other way. The game on the line, we feel like we're the best defense in the League, and we want to be on the field."
Richard Sherman: "That's the difference between champion defense. Guys have been in tough situations, backs against the wall plenty of times, both good and bad results. We knew what we had to do and you've got to give credit to our D-line for getting after them. D-line, linebackers got after the quarterback, got him out the pocket, and I think that was the difference."
Bobby Wagner:"We're confident in our defense. We don't care what happened, we don't care how everything played out. We're confident that no matter where we're at on the field, even when we got the ball down on the 1-yard line we feel like we could stop it. That's our mindset, go out there and get the ball back to the offense. We've been in the that position so many times, we're really confident."
K.J. Wright: "It felt good, man. We've just been battling all year. Our bodies are on empty when we're out there but we just keeping finding a way. We look each other in the eyes and say, 'Hey, we've got to get it done.' That's something I'll remember 20 years down the line, just how special this team is, how much we care for each, how much we just find a way to win. … We preach grit all the time. It's just something that's special, it's something that goes back when they drafted us. They pick certain guys that they know won't give up, certain guys that fight until the end, and we just care about each other so much that we're always going to be there for each other. We'll go battle."
And from Doug Baldwin, an eager onlooker during the goal-line stand: "They've been in that situation so many times before and they've come through for us countless times. Obviously a little on edge just because of the fact the game has been so up and down at that point, but really had the utmost confidence in our defense to get the job done when we needed it the most."
Despite the impressive finish, each one of Seattle defensive players and coach Carroll mentioned things they can clean up. While credit was deservedly given to Bills playmakers like Taylor and McCoy for their ability to at times outmaneuver and outpace the Seahawks defense, Seattle cited tackling and getting off the field on the all-important third down — Buffalo converted 12 of its 17 tries — as areas where improvement is needed moving forward.
"We need to get off the field better on defense," Carroll said. "You saw that in the third-down thing that kept us from getting our opportunities."
Added Avril: "A lot of improvements to be made. I think we tackled poorly today. But credit to those guys, too. They've got some elusive guys back there. They can make some plays. We've just got to get better at tackling and making the plays we're supposed to make."
Yet as Carroll and the Seahawks coaching staff is fond of saying, it's not how you start but how you finish, and on Monday night against the Bills, Seattle found a way to do just that.
"It's an excellent, excellent win," Carroll said.
See some of the action from Monday Night Football, Seahawks vs Bills during Week 9 at CenturyLink Field.