Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner had a pregame message for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
Despite having only five career interceptions to his name, and none in the 2014 regular season, Wagner confidently told Smith that he would intercept him during Friday night's game. According to Wagner, Smith laughed off the playful pregame trash talk, but while Smith and the Chiefs came away with a 14-13 victory, Wagner did indeed intercept Smith, adding a 25-yard touchdown return for good measure. For the final 10 or so yards, Wagner stared Smith down as if to say, "See, I told you."
"I just sat back and read his eyes," Wagner said. "I felt the receiver (Jason Avant) behind me, and I just broke on it a soon as he threw the ball.
"I just stared at him because I told him I was going to do it before the game."
Apparently the Utah-Utah State rivalry carries over to the NFL.
"It's all fun," Wagner said. "He's from Utah, so he's used to Utah State beating him.
Well, that might not exactly be accurate—Utah has won 13 of the past 14 meetings, and Smith never lost to the Aggies—but Wagner did win that one battle in Friday's game, and the reward was his first touchdown since he played tight end at Colony High School.
Yet as big as that play was, Wagner's interception might not have been the best play made by a Seahawks linebacker in the game; not with the way K.J. Wright was playing. Wright finished the game with a team-high six tackles, two for a loss, and five of those came in the first quarter alone. Most impressively, Wright sniffed out a screen pass for Jamaal Charles so early in the play that when he broke through the line of scrimmage with Smith still holding the ball, Wright didn't pursue the quarterback, but rather he chased Charles before the throw, putting himself in position to make a tackle for a 6-yard loss right after Charles did make the catch.
"K.J. had a hell of a game," Wagner said. "He was all over the field, seemed like every tackle, every play that was out there K.J. made the tackle. He definitely deserves a lot of credit. He balled out."
Wright didn't say exactly what he saw that helped him diagnose that play—"I can't give away my secrets, man."—but he said film study paid off this week. In fact, Wright noted that this week featured a bit more game-planning than a typical game, the result of the Chiefs running game having a huge day against Seattle last season when Charles rushed for 159 yards and two scores.
"We really game-planned this week, more than we did last week, and we were on them from the get-go," said Wright, who helped Seattle hold Kansas City to 238 yards and 98 rushing yards. "I believe the defense for the most part played pretty good tonight. We were just trying to play better than we did last week… Last year, it was embarrassing. We really don't like teams running the football like that, so we wanted to come out here and stop them."
Whether it was game-planning or just their talent level, Wright and Wagner led the way on what was an impressive day for Seattle's linebackers. In addition to the starters making big plays, the backups showed why linebacker is one of the deepest position groups on Seattle's roster.
"Brock (Coyle) and a lot of the young guys are doing great," Wagner said. "(Tyrell Adams) was doing great, (Kevin Pierre-Louis) was doing great, Alex (Singleton), (Eric) Pinkins, I feel like we have a lot of depth at the linebacker position."
Wright and Wagner, however, were the stars Friday night.
"I really did take note that that Bobby and K.J. were all over the place," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Of course Bobby scores a touchdown, but more than that, there were a lot of plays on the perimeter; they were running and flying around and getting themselves ready to play NFL football. It was exciting to see that."
In fact, Wright looked so good that one reporter asked if he was any faster, a question he laughed off, saying, "No, just more instinctive."
Wagner, however, disagreed, interrupting to say, "Hell no, you're faster, K.J."
Wright had no response other than to laugh. Perhaps he realized, unlike Smith, that crossing Wagner was a bad idea on this particular night.