SEATTLE -- At its most fundamental and basic, football is about imposing your will on an opponent. You can do that at times schematically or mentally in the course of a game, but it's always the most fun, players say, when you do it physically. At least for the winning team.
Exhibit A on this Sunday was the Seattle Seahawks' 27-7 victory over the visiting Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field -- nicknamed in these parts, and wonderfully so, "The Clink.'' The Seahawks didn't just beat the previously high-riding Cowboys in this one, they beat on them, and beat them down until their will to win broke. And they did it with a style of physicality and aggressive brand of football that has not really been a trademark of Seattle football for quite some time.
"I felt like them guys [the Cowboys] didn't want to play,'' Seattle's superb young free safety Earl Thomas said in blunt assessment in the winning locker room. "They kind of shut it down after a while. Once we stopped their run, [Tony] Romo was throwing passes fading away. We know if we kept the rush on Romo, it was going to be a hard day for him.
"We made it a physical day for them, and they weren't prepared. We lasted longer than them, and I feel like we were in better shape. So that's the kind of mentality we've got to keep playing with, and if we do, it's going to be hard for us to get beat.''
It was indeed a hard day to be a Cowboy, but a confidence-building one for Pete Carroll's Seahawks. Seattle took the action to Dallas all game long, and as the afternoon wore on, the Seahawks seemed to thrive on their smash-mouth style of play, and took delight in the toll it was taking on the Cowboys. Combining a punishing defense with a stout running game, and mixing in big-play special team contributions and steady play by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks struck on a highly effective formula for victory against Dallas. And this is the team they intend to be all season long.
"That's what we're going to try to do; that's our blueprint,'' Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. "The physicality was there all day, and that's the brand of football we really want to play. We executed it even better in the second half than the first half, but we did what we planned to do.''
And they did it in so many different ways. On special teams, Seattle set the tone for the game by separating Cowboys return man Felix Jones from the ball on the opening kickoff, with fullback Michael Robinson causing the fumble and Thomas recovering it to help set up a chip-shot Steven Hauschka field goal. Minutes later, it was 10-0 Seattle when linebacker Malcolm Smith blocked Chris Jones' punt and strong safety Jeron Johnson gathered it up and returned it three yards for a touchdown.
The defense pitched in with a third-possession interception of Romo by cornerback Brandon Browner, and the secondary started to lay so much leather on Cowboys receivers that tight end Jason Witten dropped three passes and receiver Dez Bryant added two more.
"We were just on the attack,'' said Carroll, whose Seahawks improved to 1-1 after losing narrowly last week at Arizona. "This is a very aggressive group and I think you could see it. I felt it, really, in all phases. This is the way we'd like to do it.''
It did all work together almost seamlessly for Seattle on Sunday, with the Seahawks starting slowly in the running game but sticking with it and pounding out 182 yards on 41 carries (4.4 average), with Marshawn Lynch leading the way with 122 of those on 26 attempts. On defense, the Dallas running game went nowhere as Seattle limited DeMarco Murray to just 44 yards on 12 rushes, with a long gain of nine. And the more difficulty the Cowboys had running, the more pressure Seattle was able to get on Romo, holding him to a 251-yard passing day (23 of 40), with one touchdown, one pick and a sub-par 74.1 passer rating.
"We thought we had an opportunity to win two on the road, which would have been a great way to start,'' Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of his 1-1 team. "But they had other ideas, and they imposed their will on us today. We've got to look at that and learn from that, and that's what the NFL is.''
No play typified Seattle's muscular approach to the game more than the devastating block Seahawks receiver Golden Tate laid on Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee early in the fourth quarter. It was one of the most violent-looking plays you'll see in the NFL, and though Tate wasn't penalized on the play, he could wind up being fined by the league for hitting a defenseless player.
With Seattle leading 20-7 and facing a 2nd-and-12 from its 22, Wilson couldn't find a receiver and tucked the ball down on a scramble to his left. Peeling back toward the defensive pursuit, Tate blindsided Lee with a helmet-first hit that was upper-chest high, knocking him off his feet and snapping his head back dramatically. A penalty flag did fly on the play, but it wound up being a dubious call against Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter for a late hit on Wilson out of bounds, tacking another 15 yards onto the quarterback's 14-yard run. Eight plays later, Lynch sliced in from three yards out, giving Seattle a 27-7 cushion and draining the last bit of fight from the Cowboys.
Lee actually returned to the game, but Tate's big hit fired up the crowd and the Seattle sideline, and became the moment everyone would remember from this one-sided brawl.
"It sent chills through my body,'' Thomas said of Tate's crushing blow. "When you see guys giving effort like that, both sides of the ball feed off it.''
Tate said it was his biggest hit ever in football, and sent a message that everyone on Seattle's roster is capable of the physical style of play that both Carroll and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable preach.
"Yeah, it felt good, because those linebackers and safeties are always trying to take our heads off as receivers, and trying to make a big play, so who says an offensive guy can't do the same?'' Tate said. "We have a very physical defense, but who says you can't have a physical offense?
"I saw Russ duck his head and take off and I just looked for someone to block. He happened to be right there, pursuing the ball, and I figured it was either me hit him hard or he was going to hit our quarterback hard. So I hit him. We want to be able to out-physical a lot of teams.''
Entering Sunday, it was the Cowboys who had all the momentum after their Week 1 upset win at the Giants on the national stage that the NFL's kickoff game provided. The Seahawks were the team in need of a boost, having lost in Arizona, and then facing the absence of starting left offensive tackle Russell Okung, who was deactivated Sunday with a bruised knee. But Seattle's offensive line did a stellar job against DeMarcus Ware and Co., and Wilson turned in a very solid 15 of 20 passing performance for 151 yards, one touchdown and a cool 112.7 passer rating.
In logging his first career win, Wilson got more accurate and looked more in command as the game wore on, playing free and easy like the same promising young quarterback who beat out free agent signee Matt Flynn for the starting job in preseason.
"He did a great job with handling the huddle and calling the plays,'' Tate said of Wilson. "We just stuck with our game plan, even though in the first half we really didn't do much with our running game. As an offense our motto is play longer and harder than the other team. We kept running and eventually it opened up the passing game. We stayed with it and eventually those guys got tired.''
In other words, the Seahawks imposed their will on the Cowboys, wearing them down and eventually taking them out. In Seattle this season, that's a pattern the Seahawks hope to repeat again and again, no matter how highly regarded the opponent -- and a Monday night visit from Green Bay is next on the schedule.
"We've got a lot of firepower here,'' Thomas said. "If we all play hard and physical like we played today, it's going to pay off for us on Sundays. But we've got to just keep playing situational football and keep grinding. That's our way.''
Without a doubt, it was the right way to beat the Cowboys. An aggressive and physical style of play might still be rather new in Seattle, but it suddenly seems to suit these Seahawks very well.