SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Defensive end Michael Bennett recorded a personal best 3.5 sacks on Thursday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers, putting forth a highly-disruptive effort that helped the Seahawks notch a 20-3 victory at Levi's Stadium.
It was no doubt a dominant performance by Bennett, who upped his 2015 sack total to 6.5, just a half-sack less than the number of quarterback takedowns he had all of last season (7). But for all of those hits on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, 12s who have followed Bennett's career in Seattle closely might have been wondering one thing.
Where was his signature sack dance?
"They've been on people for doing the pump," Bennett said of the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties celebrations like his hip-swiveling gyrations have received in recent weeks. "... So as a good teammate I tried to stay away from it."
So Bennett's creativity was put to the test as his sack celebrations shifted away from what Seahawks fans have grown accustomed to seeing. He banged his helmet with both hands after one, stood up and saluted the stands after another, and gave his bicep a flex and a kiss on another, an imitation of Kaepernick's big-play antics that Bennett said he used to remind his own wife what he has to offer.
"I just figured I've got great muscles," Bennett said. "So why not show my wife?"
Led by Bennett, Seattle collected a season-high six sacks against San Francisco, giving the Seahawks 13 sacks over their past three games after logging just six through their first four. The pass rush was present all night long, with defensive Cliff Avril adding 1.5 sacks and defensive tackles David King and Brandon Mebane earning a half sack each.
"Guys were getting off the ball great," said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. "Mike was causing problems and just getting off the line of scrimmage really well. Everybody contributed, Cliff had a really good night, too. It was good to see everybody be involved. Mike is such a disruptor. He really caused problems. Even when he wasn't getting to the quarterback he was causing some issues. It was a really good night for him."
The six sacks Kaepernick took against the Seahawks on Thursday night were tied for the second-most of his career. According to ESPN, five of Kaepernick's six sacks came from standard pressure, meaning Seattle sent four or fewer pass rushers after the Niners signal caller. The five standard-pressure sacks Kaepernick suffered rank tied for second-most in a game against any quarterback in 2015.
"I couldn't imagine playing those guys," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said of the night had by Bennett and Avril. "They're tough. They're exciting players to watch. They can play everywhere, they make plays, get to the quarterback, and they make it tough on their offense because they bring pressure."
Tough on their offense indeed. Bennett, Avril, and the Seahawks pass rush were a big reason why San Francisco was only able to muster 142 yards of total offense, the second-fewest yards Seattle has ever allowed under Carroll. Nine of San Francisco's 11 offensive possessions ended in punts, one ended as time expired before halftime, and one ended with a field goal.
"Up front, those guys played hard, man," said strong safety Kam Chancellor. "They're relentless, they get to the ball, their technique is impeccable. So those guys, we give them a lot of credit up front because they work hard at what they do."
That credit Chancellor speaks to goes both ways. Bennett was quick to praise the play of Seattle's secondary for its work in coverage of San Francisco's pass catchers, noting he was able to find success in the sack department because Kaepernick held onto the ball longer than usual on a night that saw the 49ers quarterback fail to record a single rushing attempt for the first time in his career as a starter.
"The quarterback held the ball today, so it just gave me the time to get there," Bennett said. "The DBs did a great job today."
Bennett's 3.5 sacks mark the second-most sacks by an individual player in any NFL game this season. It's a number that's runner up to Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who had 4.0 sacks in a win over the Tennessee Titans this past weekend.
"I think Michael Bennett is an All-Pro, Pro Bowl player who doesn't get the credit he deserves," said cornerback Richard Sherman. "But hopefully people were paying attention tonight, 3.5 sacks and should have been four. We'll see."
Speaking of credit players deserve, there was a bit of playful banter building among teammates in the Seahawks locker room in regard to how some of Thursday night's sacks were distributed. Mebane, who registered half a sack on a play with King, jokingly lobbied to have a whole sack on his final stat line, thinking he played a role worthy of another half-sack on a play that saw Bennett credited in full.
"That wasn't half a sack," said Mebane, who got his belly roll celebration going against San Francisco. "That was a whole sack on my part. I'm going to tell Mike Bennett we're going to go to court, we're going to fight it. My wife's a lawyer."
Which player wins that battle is yet to be determined, but after letting fourth-quarter leads slip away the past two weeks in losses to the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers, as a team Seattle finally found a way to seal a win at San Francisco. Bennett said it was thanks in part to a new motto he and the defense have adopted: "Keep chopping wood."
"We just stayed focused on what we did, man," Bennett said. "The last couple weeks I think we started looking ahead too far and our new motto is just 'keep chopping wood.' Look down and keep going forward. Don't look at the scoreboard. Sometimes with a lot of young players they look at the scoreboard and think that you can stop letting them get ahead, but this time we just kept going and grinding."
The grind paid off for Seattle in the Bay Area as the team improved to 3-4 on the season.
Said Bennett: "We just played a complete game today."
In Santa Clara, the Seahawks dominated on both sides of the ball and return to Seattle with a 20-3 win over the 49ers.