GLENDALE, Ariz. — When DeShawn Shead outleapt John Brown to intercept a pass at the goal line late in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks already had a 36-6 lead over the Arizona Cardinals. But even though the result wasn't in doubt at that point, Shead's play and subsequent 40-yard return, as well as Steven Terrell's pass breakup near the goal line two plays earlier, meant a lot to Seattle's defense.
By keeping the Cardinals off of the scoreboard late in the game, the Seahawks finished the season allowing 277 points, or 17.3 per game. That total, which is just two points fewer than the 279 points the Cincinnati Bengals allowed, is the lowest in the NFL this season, which means for the fourth straight year, the Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense.
"I know that there's a record I couldn't be more proud of than to see our guys go four straight years leading the league in scoring defense," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "That's a remarkable accomplishment by a bunch of guys dedicated to the program and what we're doing and all of that. It's hard to do things over a long period of time that well."
Doing what the Seahawks have done is a testament not just to their talented roster, but to Carroll and his coaching staff, that has managed to keep the defense playing at such a high level year in and year out despite inevitable roster turnover and the loss of two defensive coordinators, Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn, who are now head coaches in Jacksonville and Atlanta.
"That says a lot about Pete and about the players here," linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "Hopefully we can continue to keep it going.
"Pete does a great job of bringing in our type of guy. Guys who have faced adversity, who have been through stuff. That's what our team is about. We're a one-of-a-kind team in the league."
Before the start of the game, Richard Sherman and some other players were aware of what they had to do, based off results in the earlier games, to earn a fourth straight scoring defense title. To accomplish that feat, which had never been done in the Super Bowl era—the Cleveland Browns did lead the league for four straight seasons in the 1950s—Seattle would have to hold the league's No. 1 scoring offense to eight or fewer points.
What seemed like a very unlikely accomplishment became suddenly realistic when the Seahawks held Carson Palmer and the potent Cardinals passing attack to six points, 129 yards and a 60.2 passer rating in the first half.
"We can take really good teams and make them look average, and we can take good players and make them look them look average," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We just do our thing, and no one can stop us."
With Drew Stanton taking over the second half with the score so lopsided, the Seahawks shut the Cardinals out in the second half, thanks in part to an impressive stand by what at that point was mostly Seattle's backup defense.
The Cardinals, who coming into this game had more touchdowns (57) than punts (55), punted four times in the first half and had one interception while Palmer was still playing.
"I'm incredibly proud," Sherman said. "It's a big deal. That takes a tremendous amount of consistency and diligence from every position group… It's a testament to how hard guys work and how guys prepare every week."
With the Seahawks losing four of their first six games, giving up some bigger-than-usual numbers in some of those games, plenty of people started wondering if the Seahawks defense had taken a step back. Yet when the dust had settled after 16 games, a team on its third defensive coordinator under Carroll once again led the league in scoring defense, and was also first in run defense (81.5 yards per game), and second in total yards (291.8) and passing yards (210.2) allowed.
"It's just us playing our style of football," Sherman said. "People sometimes forget who we are. They let a few penalties or a few miscues change their perception. Then we come back and remind them.
"We never stopped being grinders. We never stopped playing that way. It's just, people sometimes get spoiled by good play. You sit there and say the defense is playing awful; most teams would kill to have this defense and the statistics we have right now—number two in just about every category, number one in scoring defense. Most teams would love to have that, but people say we fell off."
In the end, the Seahawks didn't fall off. They finished on top once again in the statistical category that means the most.
"That's the stat," Carroll said. "Of all the stats, that's the one that demonstrates the most. That's why we're so proud of that."
In their final game of the regular season the Seahawks dominated the NFC West Champs on the road with a 36-6 victory in Glendale, Ariz.