GLENDALE, Ariz. – As J.J. Nelson broke free in Seattle's secondary, it appeared for a moment that the Arizona Cardinals' receiver was on his way to scoring what would not only be the game's first touchdown, but an overtime game-winner. But before Nelson could score and end the game, Seahawks safety Kelcie McCray, who was the only player with any hope of catching Nelson, chased the receiver down and took him down with a diving, shoestring tackle.
Nelson still gained 40 yards on the play, but that tackle kept the game going, and after the defense stopped running back David Johnson on a pair of runs, the Seahawks stayed alive thanks to a Chandler Catanzaro missed field goal.
The game would end in a 6-6 tie after the Seahawks missed a missed field goal of their own, and McCray's tackle was just one of many examples of the heart and determination Seattle's defense showed in one of that unit's most impressive performances under head coach Pete Carroll.
"There were so many chances where we could have let up and given an opportunity to win it, and the guys just wouldn't do it," Carroll said. "The Kelcie McCray tackle down there to give us a chance to stop them… Kelcie's play was phenomenal, because he was the only guy who had a chance and he got it done."
That play was just one of 90 the Cardinals ran against the Seahawks on Sunday, an absurdly high number in an NFL game, and they held the ball for 46 minutes, 21 seconds, the 11th highest time-of-possession total in a regular season game dating back to 1977 when time of possession was first tracked, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Yet for all of that time and all of those plays that explosive Cardinals offense spent on the field, Arizona ended the night with only six points to show for it.
"It was incredible, all night long," Carroll said of his defense. "It starts right up front; (Arizona) ran a million plays right in the A-gap, stuff it at you, and we kept slugging it out. It was just an incredible display of who they are and what they're all about. These guys have been fighting together for a long time, and you can tell. You can tell it means the world to them. They fought like that until there was no time to play. It's just an incredible bunch of guys.
"I could rave about our guys forever. This isn't just one game that we're like, 'Boy this was a good performance.' These guys have played like this for years around here, and it matters to them and they care so much about it and they'll lay it out there. That's why they can find a way to play like that, play 90 plays in this game and still finish, when getting off the field, they can't even walk. These guys couldn't walk off the field because they're so drained. That's what we've come to understand and what we love them for."
Indeed the game took its toll on some of Seattle's defensive players, but they never let it show while fighting to contain Cardinals running back David Johnson, who came into the weekend leading the NFL in touchdowns and all-purpose yards, or while sacking Carson Palmer four times and hitting him 10 times, or while coming up with a massive fourth-down stop early in the second half, then two goal-line stands in overtime.
"We just let it hang and just go," said safety Earl Thomas. "We stayed together, we moved as one, and we were so confident. Confidence is very, very powerful. And we had so much courage."
Added linebacker Bobby Wagner: "It just shows how talented we are, how strong we are, how we're willing to fight for a win. It's unfortunate it came in a tie, but it felt like we played pretty well.
"It was a grind, man. You had to fight through it. A lot of guys were cramping up, a lot of our guys had a lot of aches and pains, but it shows how strong we are. We were willing to fight to the end to try to get the win."
And just as Seattle's defense came up with big plays to keep the Seahawks in the game, special teams had some game-altering moments as well. The Cardinals could have had a bigger lead in the first half, but Bobby Wagner blocked a field goal attempt by hurdling long-snapper Aaron Brewer before swatting down the kick. That play, combined with a Frank Clark sack at the end of the half, were crucial in keeping it a one-score game so Seattle could force overtime. And that tying kick was set up by another big special teams play, with rookie Tanner McEvoy blocking a punt late in the fourth quarter to give the offense a short field.
As impressive as Seattle's defense was, limiting the Cardinals to 4.9 yards per play and those two field goals, they still found ways to be critical of their performance. Cliff Avril, who had 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits, noted that the defense could have helped the offense even more by forcing some turnovers.
"We did some great things on defense, but there's always room for improvement," Avril said. "We'll watch the film, keep getting better. It's a bitter-sweet type of feeling."
Small critiques aside, however, Avril understood how impressive of a performance he and his teammates turned in in what was a very long day at the office.
"It just shows how tough we are mentally to be able to keep battling, keep chopping away," he said. "Guys showed some heart today. We're going to pay for it tonight and tomorrow, but guys showed some heart today."
Seattle's offense, which struggled until putting together a couple of nice drives in overtime, was appreciative of what the defense did to keep the team in the game.
"They're the reason why we were in the game," receiver Jermaine Kearse said. "They played great, they played really well. They kept them to three points (in regulation), had a bunch of stops, a fourth-down stop. You've got to take your hat off to them."
Game action photos from the Seahawks' 6-6 tie against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.