It was fourth-and-10 from the Seattle 27. Thirty-eight seconds left on the clock. Trailing by seven points, with top billing in the NFC West on the line, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray had one final opportunity to engineer a comeback. Murray is no stranger to late game heroics, having masterminded three fourth quarter comebacks already in 2020. With the play clock at single digits and Murray in shotgun, the ball was snapped. Seahawks fans held their breath. That's when defensive end Carlos Dunlap came off the edge like a lime green wave of terror, using a swim move to beat his blocker and bring Murray to the ground. The defense cavorted. The sideline erupted. For a moment, the energy was high enough to make you forget there were no fans in the stands. All that remained was victory formation.
"We knew the game was on us and that's how we wanted it," Dunlap explained postgame. "Everybody was locked in and it was an amazing race to see who was going to do it."
For Seattle, it was another thrilling finish under the bright lights. The Seahawks are 32-8-1 in primetime games since 2010. But for Dunlap, it was his first game at Lumen Field in a Seattle uniform, and it felt more like a beginning than an ending.
"This is just the start," Dunlap said with a smile. "I still got a full story to write. I still got to prove a point and show up when called upon. This is something that I personally, still see myself being able to do for years to come and I hope you got a taste of it today. There's going to be more games to play so I just got to continue to show up. This is what they brought me here for, so I'm just happy I could deliver."
The 31-year-old Dunlap has 3.5 sacks and 7 quarterback hits in three games thus far with the Seahawks. Dunlap's contributions are impressive considering the limited amount of time he's had in Seattle's system since being traded by Cincinnati in late October. According to Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, Dunlap did everything he could upon arrival to absorb the information he needed. "He's just a really good football player," Carroll explained. "He's a monster of a guy out there. He knows the game. He can adjust well. He's flexible and can do a lot of things for us. He's learned his stuff beautifully already and away we go. I think it's a very positive effect on us at this point and it's going to be only better."
Dunlap admitted that Carroll nearly knocked him down in celebration after his fourth down sack of Murray. "PC was fired up," Dunlap recalled. "He almost tackled me on the sideline. That was crazy to see a head coach that involved."
It wasn't just Carroll though. "The whole sideline was like our 12s today," Dunlap noted. "Everybody was locked into the game the whole way through. Don't matter who was out there. Field goals, everybody was celebrating. Seeing Bobby and Russ running out there after every field goal. This is a whole different environment. The culture here is very lovely and its contagious."
It's not easy to leave a team you played with for more than ten years, no matter what stories get told near the end. Dunlap spent a decade in Cincinnati, the team that drafted him in the second round back in 2010. Dunlap said after Thursday's game that he has nothing but respect for Bengals owner Mike Brown and the entire organization, but he was also excited to start the next phase of his career. "This is a new chapter," Dunlap said. "I'm at peace with everything and I'm excited for what's to come and the future. It's electric, just like this green. Sky is the limit."
Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider have a knack for identifying players whose personalities and style of play fit well in Seattle's established culture. By Dunlap's own admission, he appears to fit the bill.
"It's just contagious, the culture," Dunlap explained. "From upstairs, the city, to the valet of the hotel that I was staying at when they first put me here. How in tune everyone is. How positive everyone is, consistently. Even though, with the way that we started off – we had those two losses back-to-back – everyone was consistently positive. No one was second guessing anything. Everybody was honest with themselves, willing to work, acknowledged what we needed to do better, and we worked at it. All the layers of the culture here. It's just positive. Believe in it. The leaders, Russ, (Duane Brown) and Bobby, they speak it, they follow up and they are out there on the front lines doing it with you. They lead the way and I'm just trying to find my place."
Whether it's culture, accountability or improving health, the Seahawks pass rush continues to progress. The Seahawks have 16 sacks over their past four games, and both Carroll and Dunlap believe the defense is just getting started.
"The corners are getting healthy," Dunlap said. "Still getting guys more healthy and getting the d-line back, getting that depth back. And when the offense is controlling the ball game like they did, running, scoring at will, long drives, I think the sky is the limit. That's a great recipe that I love."
Carroll spoke optimistically about the return of cornerback Shaquill Griffin and rookie defensive end Darrell Taylor after Thursday's win.
"There's no reason that we can't come together and play really good football," Carroll noted. "There's no reason, from this point forward. We just have to get comfortable with everybody that's out there."