The Seahawks could feel it on the sideline long before it was evident on the scoreboard.
"We had juice on the sideline, you could tell," Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said. "It was just more vibrant, more energy."
That juice, that more vibrant energy was just part of what allowed the Seahawks to bounce back from their worst performance of the season with a dominant 40-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
"The guys had a blast," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "This was really fun playing football tonight. You hope to have games like this every once in a while; you can't get them every week. Our guys enjoyed the heck out it."
No one could explain exactly what happened after last week's loss other than to chalk it up to a bad day at the office combined with a good performance by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and as bad as that 14-5 loss was, Carroll and his players were confident the team would put that performance behind them and return to the type of play that helped Seattle win three straight prior to that loss. And sure enough, the Seahawks followed that loss with one of their best performances of the season on both sides of the ball to improve their NFC West leading record to 8-3-1.
"We just wanted to get back to who we are," Baldwin said. "We just wanted to be ourselves, have fun, have juice on the sideline and play the style of football that we know we're capable of."
That style of football included another dominant effort by the Seahawks defense, which lowered its league-leading scoring defense average to 16.2 points per game by holding the Panthers to a single touchdown, a score that came on a busted coverage one play after Earl Thomas left the game with a broken leg. The Seahawks forced two turnovers, their fourth straight game with two takeaways, and limited reigning league MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers offense to just 271 total yards.
But perhaps more significant than another good day for the defense in a season—OK, an era—full of strong performances was the way the offense responded to a sloppy outing in which it produced just three points while allowing six sacks. Not only was Seattle's point total its highest of the year, the Seahawks also established season highs in total yards (534), yards per play (7.5), first downs (29) and rushing yards (240). The Seahawks' rushing average of 8.3 yards per carry wasn't just a season high, it was the fourth highest mark in franchise history.
"We prepared for this and I feel like we got back to being who we are this week," said center Justin Britt, whose return from an ankle injury made a big difference for the offense. "Not pressing, not trying to do too much, just playing Seahawks ball. It was just a good feeling, everything clicking, everything being right."
In particular, getting a fully healthy Thomas Rawls on track paid dividends for an offense that is at its best not just when the Seahawks are moving the ball on the ground, but also imposing their will on teams while they're doing it.
"How many rushing yards did we have?" Baldwin asked after the game. Told it was 240, he continued, "That sounds about right… Obviously we wanted to come back and play well. It's not about trying to respond to anything, we just wanted to play our style of ball. If you see the receiving stats, a lot of us had five, six, seven catches, 60-or-so yards, then we had 240 yards rushing. That's the way we like to play offense."
On Rawls, who finished the game with 106 yards and two touchdowns on 15 physical carries, Baldwin said, "It juices us up, but more so it's just important because the style with which he runs, it forces the defense to try to account for him, and when they have do that, it opens so much stuff in our passing game."
The Seahawks know every game won't go quite this smoothly, but as they showed emphatically with this performance, last week's loss was not a sign of any troubling trends so much as it was a case of being, as Carroll put it, "way off" as an offense.
"We were so much different and so far off (last week), it was obvious that that was the case," Carroll said. "The great thing is that we answered it and came back. We had a great week. You could tell by their focus, and I never know at game time, but once we got going in the game, things just got cooking. It turned out great."
Added cornerback Richard Sherman: "We're a really good team when we put it all together and do what we're supposed to do. We're a sound football team, we're incredibly talented on both sides of the ball."
Check out some of the best action photos from Week 13 at CenturyLink Field vs the Panthers.