SEATTLE—When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz lunged for the end zone for what he hoped would be a game-tying touchdown, Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson had other ideas. And just before Wentz hit the ground, Richardson stripped the ball, which eventually bounced out of the end zone, giving the Seahawks the ball via touchback.
That play was, as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put it, "the turning point" in Seattle's 24-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. And on multiple occasions when the Eagles needed a big third-down conversion, strong safety Bradley McDougald, a player who opened this season as a backup but who is now starting for an injured Kam Chancellor, kept making key stops to help get Seattle's defense off the field.
The Seahawks held the league's No. 1 scoring offense to just 10 points Sunday night, more than three touchdowns below Philadelphia's average, and it was fitting that they got big plays both from standout, Pro-Bowl players like Richardson and Bobby Wagner, who had a game-high 13 tackles, two for a loss; but also from players filling in for injured starters like McDougald and Byron Maxwell, who had an interception late in the game against his former team to help put the game away.
Sunday's victory over the previously 10-1 Eagles showed that while the Seahawks wish they still had key players like Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril, who are all out for the season, two things are still true about their defense. One, the Seahawks have a ton of star-power, even without three injured Pro Bowlers—how many other NFL defenses, even at full strength, have top-end talent like Richardson, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark on the line, Wagner and K.J. Wright at linebacker and Earl Thomas anchoring the secondary? And two, in the spots where injuries have taken away top players, the Seahawks are in pretty good shape thanks to the likes of McDougald and Maxwell, players with significant starting experience in their past.
"We understand we have injuries that make people on the outside think we don't have enough to win this game, but we still have a lot of dogs in this room and we can still be a really great defense as long as we stay on our keys and play together," Wagner said.
Asked if this was a statement win, Wagner said, "Was it a statement? That's on you guys to decide. I felt like everyone was sleeping on us and nobody expected us to win this game, but we expected to win this game. This is not a surprise to us."
Whether you want to call it a statement or not, what the Seahawks did against the Eagles was incredibly impressive. They limited a team that was averaging a league-best 31.9 points per game to a single field goal in the first half and to a season-low 10 points in the game—and the Eagles needed a pair of spectacular plays by quarterback Carson Wentz to get that one touchdown. Seattle also held the league's No. 2 rushing offense to 98 yards on 26 carries, marking the first time since the season opener that the Eagles were held under 100 rushing yards. It all added up to the Eagles being held under 20 points for the first time all season and under 30 points for the first time in their last six games.
"The thing about it is, when you come out here and put a great performance together, a dominant performance like that, it shows it doesn't matter who we got out there," Thomas said. "We're very prepared, we've got great coaching, and we hold each other to a high standard and we're getting it done."
Holding any team to 10 points is a pretty good day of defense in the NFL, but the Seahawks were especially excited about their performance because of the opponent it came against. Just as when the Seahawks held the Rams to 10 points in Week 5 when Los Angeles had the league's No. 1 scoring offense, the Seahawks defense showed it can still make life difficult for even the NFL's elite offenses.
"I thought the defense did a fantastic job," Carroll said. "This is an offense that just rips. This is a running game that rips, and none of those things were the big factors. We gave up the one touchdown drive with two miraculous plays by their quarterback, which is nothing new; he has been doing it all year. He's an amazing player. But the defense did a terrific job."
A few days prior to what ended up being, considering the opponent, the most complete victory of the Seahawks' season, Wright talked about how some players had noticed that the Seahawks were a rare home underdog, and how some people had written them off given the injuries on defense and the inconsistent play that led to a 7-4 start. Wright's message that day was, "Don’t sleep on us man. This team is really good. We’re still talented." And on Sunday night, the Seahawks backed those words up with an emphatic victory.
"I told y'all this week," Wright said with a grin. "When guys get hurt, other guys are going to step up. We lost Kam Chancellor, but Bradley McDougald is still a heck of a player. Guys stepped up and handled their business. It's just the culture we have on this team, on this defense. We put it all together, communicated well. We can do special things when that happens."
While some players like quarterback Russell Wilson try to "ignore the noise," others have occasionally let themselves hear that outside noise and use it as motivation. It hasn't gone unnoticed by players like McDougald that some people are writing 'Legion of Boom' obituaries because of Chancellor's and Sherman's injuries, and Carroll doesn't mind that fueling his players.
"I think they're taking it personally, and there's nothing wrong with that," Carroll said. "They've got a lot of pride too."
Asked if he took it personally that some have written the Seahawks and their injured defense off, McDougald said, "For sure. Guys take that personally. Kam went down, and everyone in this locker room, in America, knows Kam Chancellor is one of the one of greatest strong safeties that every played the game, a Hall of Famer potentially. But we've still got a season to go, and we've got guys willing to step up and make plays right now. We can't worry about that, we've got to keep pushing forward."
Game action photos from the Seahawks' 24-10 victory over the Eagles in Week 13 at CenturyLink Field.