The Seahawks have won three straight and are now heading into a December home stretch that will determine if they can get back to the playoffs after falling just short in 2017. While there's still a lot of work left to do, the Seahawks feel good about the direction of the team having won three in a row and seven of their last 10 since starting the year with consecutive road losses.
"We're in a very upbeat mode about going after this end of the season," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "The fourth quarter is starting, so it's time to try and finish this thing. We kind of know what we're trying to do, we've got a good feel for it. Now we've got to go play good games one week at a time… We just have to just keep our head down and keep grinding and trying to stay focused on getting better and doing the things that we do well and keep that going. We've got to clean things up. We had too many penalties last week. We had some busts that we have got to get rid of on defense. That's just the process. Keeping your head down and grinding is really what it's all about at this point. We're upbeat and we're positive. We know that we can win every game and we're going out to get that done."
With the fourth quarter of the season kicking off this week, we take a look back at the players, moments and trends that stood out during the third quarter of the season:
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson has been really good all season long, as is evident in his numbers. His 115.5 passer rating, 66.6 completion percentage and 8.3 yard-per-attempt would all set or match career highs if he maintains his pace, and with 29 touchdowns he's on pace to top his career-high total of 34, which is also a franchise record. That touchdown total ranks fourth in the NFL even though he has thrown the fewest attempts of any quarterback to play in all 12 games this season. Wilson is throwing a touchdown on 8.9 percent of his pass attempts, the second-best rate in the league and highest of his career. Meanwhile he has thrown just five interceptions, and only two since Week 3.
But as Wilson has done throughout his career, he is getting better as the year goes along, and over the past four games, he has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, posting a passer rating of 130.1 during that stretch.
After Wilson threw four touchdowns on just 17 attempts against the 49ers, Carroll joked Monday that he's "Trying to figure out how Russ could be so effective with so few throws. He maximizes his opportunities in a big way."
And as has always been the case with Wilson, his ability to make big plays while also taking care of the ball has made him very valuable to Seattle's offense, which has committed a league-low nine turnovers this season.
"Russ has done that for a long time in his career," Carroll said. "He's been great at it. We've been on top of the turnovers whenever we're winning and we're doing it and he's been a big part of that. To be in such a volatile position too, but to control that so well, he's done a great job for us. He's had a great conscience about what we're trying to do and how to do it, and he's adapted over the years to suit that. Really, we couldn't ask for a whole lot more. He's done a great job of that."
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Bobby Wagner
Wagner, like Wilson, has been great of late after already being really good throughout the season. Wagner ended the third quarter of the year recording 13 tackles and three passes defensed in a loss to the Chargers, then continued that hot streak with 13 tackles against the Rams, nine against Green Bay and 13 against Carolina. Wagner then put together what is arguably the best game of his career in Sunday's win over the 49ers, recording 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown that was the longest in franchise history. With 99 tackles, Wagner is on the verge of topping 100 tackles for the seventh time in as many seasons, something no other player in franchise history has accomplished, and his 11 passes defensed are a career-high.
"I really think it's extraordinary when guys continue to be really good," Carroll said. "It's not that it has to be better than or have some other things happen that have never happened before—although it did—it's just that they continue to be great. That's really the mark of a great competitor and a great player and performer and all that, not just show once in a while that they can. He's been so solidly consistent, and I think it's the consistency at the top of his game that is just remarkable."
Special Teams MVP: Punter Michael Dickson
Dickson, who leads the NFL in gross punting average (48.7) and net average (44.2), earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Month honors in November, and opened December with another strong game against San Francisco.
Over the past four games, the rookie from Australia has averaged 52.1 yards-per-punt and had a net average of 46.1, both league bests during that span.
"He has been huge," Carroll said. "This is a big part of how we're playing the game. We're counting on that ball being inside or around the 10 yard line when we take over (on defense) a lot of times. Whether he's got to bomb it to get there or he's got to kick it high to get it there, he's got the ability to keep us down there and he's really been accurate. He's been a great weapon for us."
Best Rookie: Running Back Rashaad Penny
While cornerback Tre Flowers has been the most consistent rookie performer over the course of the season, Penny has made a big difference over the past four games, emerging as a back capable of both carrying a big load, as he did filling in for an injured Chris Carson in Week 10, or being a dangerous complement to Carson and Mike Davis when the running back corps is at full strength.
Penny enjoyed something of a breakout game in Los Angeles, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in a loss to the Rams, showing off the burst and vision that made him a first-round pick.
"He was explosive, read the line of scrimmage really well on four or five different runs, saw things really clearly, showed good speed on the edge—a good burst—scored easily and we haven't seen many of those," Carroll said after Penny's big game against the Rams. "That was really nice. It was just great to see him play football and contribute. This is the guy we've been watching and we saw in camp and all of that, and just haven't had enough good looks up to this point but he was ready for it. He's been working hard and we've been pushing him and it was great to see him come through."
Penny backed that performance up with 46 yards on eight carries the next week, and last week he added 65 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown, on seven carries.
Best Free Agent Signing: Tight End Ed Dickson
We've already recognized starting guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker in the first-quarter and midseason honors, and either would be worthy picks again for the last four games, but for the sake of spreading the love a bit, we'll go with tight end Ed Dickson, who came off the non-football injury list in late October and has been a big part of the offense ever since.
While Dickson's numbers have been modest—six catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns in six games—he has played a big role in Seattle's offensive success, both with his blocking in the running game and also in how he helps in pass protection, giving Wilson time to make some of the big downfield throws that have become a staple of Seattle's offense.
And though Dickson hasn't had a lot of catches, he had one of the biggest receptions of the season, a 15-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that proved to be the game-winner in a Week 11 victory over the Packers.
Unsung Hero: Tackle George Fant
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed got the nod here four games ago, and maybe he should again, but then again, with 6.5 sacks and a team-high 17 quarterback hits, he might be a little to, um, sung, to qualify as an unsung hero at this point of the season.
Instead, tackle/very large tight end George Fant gets some much deserved recognition for what he has brought to the offense, seeing significant playing time every week as an eligible sixth lineman. In Sunday's win over San Francisco, Fant played 47 percent of Seattle's offensive snaps, and since stepping into that role earlier this season, he has been a big factor in the running game as well as in pass protection.
"Really, really big factor," Carroll said Monday on 710 ESPN Seattle. "He has been a great factor for us. It's hard to find anybody that plays the tight end position that can block that well. He can really move his feet."
Fant, a former college basketball standout at Western Kentucky who signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted rookie in 2016, was on track to be the starting left tackle last year, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. In part because of that injury, the Seahawks ended up acquiring Duane Brown in a midseason trade, a Pro-Bowl tackle who has without a doubt helped Seattle's offense, but who also blocked Fant's clearest path to playing time. But in this new role, Fant is getting on the field every week and making a difference for Seattle's offense.
"George's attitude and his outlook is just so upbeat and so positive," Carroll said. "He's having a ball. He's really having fun playing football, he likes his role, it's got a lot of variation to it and a lot of different things that he does. He knows he's a big part of it and he knows he's doing well too. He's blocking the heck out of those 6-techniques and the big defensive ends that line up on the tight end. He's able to do all kinds of stuff, so he's a big factor."
One more name worth mentioning here: receiver Jaron Brown, who added two more touchdowns Sunday to bring his total to five this season. The Seahawks haven't thrown to Brown much this season, but he is making the most of his opportunities, turning 11 catches into a career-high five touchdowns.
Best Play: Bobby Wagner's 98-Yard Interception Return For A Touchdown
There have been more significant plays in terms of how they affected the outcome of the game, including Dickson's touchdown catch against Green Bay, or Wilson's game-tying touchdown pass to David Moore on fourth-and-3 late in a win over Carolina, but no single play was more impressive than Wagner's interception late in last week's game, the second turnover he forced in the red zone in that game. When the ball was snapped, Wagner momentarily stood still while the play unfolded in front of him—the second time in as many weeks that he made a huge play in part because of that patience, having done the same thing before stuffing Cam Newton on a fourth-and-2 run. Wagner diagnosed the play, then broke on Nick Mullens' short pass, reached out to make a tough catch, then raced 98 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
Trend To Build On: Finishing Strong Late In Games
The Seahawks have been in every game this season, but in all five of their losses, they couldn't quite get the finish right, either because of turnovers or because late-game drives came up just short. But in two games that were huge to Seattle's playoff hopes, they earned close wins over Green Bay and Carolina because they were able to finish strong. Against the Packers, Wilson and the offense drove down the field for the go-ahead touchdown pass to Dickson, the defense got a stop, then the offense got the ball back with more than four minutes left and was able to run out the clock.
A week later in Carolina, the Seahawks tied the game on a 35-yard touchdown pass to David Moore, then the defense, which had a tough time all game slowing the Panthers offense, got a stop that forced a long field goal attempt. After Carolina missed the kick, keeping the score tied, Wilson hit Tyler Lockett deep to set up the game-winning Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
While the Seahawks won comfortably against the 49ers, there are bound to be more close finishes down the stretch, so it's a very encouraging sign that the Seahawks are closing out games successfully.
Another very positive trend has been the Seahawks' ability to take care of the ball on offense, having committed a league-low nine turnovers. Since committing five turnovers in their first two games, the Seahawks have just four over their past 10, including none in their last two games.
Thing To Clean Up: Allowing Big Plays On Defense
One of the best things the Seahawks have going for them of late is their ability to make big plays on offense. Over the last four games, the Seahawks have a league-high 44 explosive plays, defined as runs of 12 or more yards and passes of 16 or more yards. Seattle's 22 explosive runs also leads the NFL over the past four games.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks have also been giving up more big plays than they would like, allowing 35 explosives over the past four weeks, including 26 explosive passes.
Carroll feels like this is something his defense can clean up, saying of last week's game in which the 49ers had 386 passing yards, "We had some busts that we have got to get rid of on defense… There's a couple play concepts we didn't play very well in the throwing game. We missed a couple tackles in open field that really weren't difficult tackles. DB's, really, had three big misses that caused a lot of yards. We had a big bust on the 75-yard play that should never happen. That's about it, that's enough. That's about 250-yards worth right there. We can fix that."
On a more positive note, Seattle's defense has made a ton of big plays in the red zone, meaning those yards aren't always costing the Seahawks on the scoreboard. In the past two games alone, the Seahawks have stopped the Panthers on fourth-and-short inside the 10 (Wagner and others), intercepted Cam Newton in the end zone (Bradley McDougald), forced a fumble against San Francisco inside the 10 (Wagner), and intercepted Nick Mullens just in front of the goal line, returning it for a 98-yard score (Wagner, yet again).
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 13 game against the San Francisco 49ers.