RENTON, Wash. (AP) Less than a week ago, the question was whether the Seattle Seahawks were on the verge of falling out of contention in the NFC West and on their way to being the latest Super Bowl champion to miss the playoffs.
And in five days, the Seahawks completely changed the tenor of their season.
Seattle's 19-3 win over San Francisco on Thursday night elevated the Seahawks from just being in the playoff race. With a defense that appears to be returning to its 2013 form, Seattle is back in the conversation among the best in the NFC.
''We're having a good time. We're dedicated to one another right now. When you're on the field playing for one another, we're playing like some 9-year-old, 10-year-old kids, not worried about the outcome, not worried about individual stats or anything like that,'' cornerback Richard Sherman said after his two interceptions against the 49ers. ''Guys are just playing really hard for one another, enjoying one another. When a team's playing like that, we're really hard to beat.''
It was the Seahawks (8-4) second straight 19-3 victory following their win over NFC West-leading Arizona last Sunday. The dominance of Seattle's defense was overwhelming in both victories and the first time since 2005 - when Seattle made its first Super Bowl trip - the Seahawks did not allow a touchdown in consecutive games.
The 164 total yards allowed to the 49ers were a season-low for Seattle and the ninth time since 2010 the Seahawks have held an opponent under 200 total yards. Seattle is 18-1 in regular season and playoff games under Pete Carroll when holding its opponent under 250 total yards - and both the 49ers and Cardinals have been added to that total in the last week.
''Everybody feels very clear about what we're trying to get done now,'' Carroll said on his radio show Friday morning. ''We're on point with what it takes to prepare and take it to game time.''
Much of what Seattle has accomplished on defense can be attributed to the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and the improved health of strong safety Kam Chancellor. Wagner led Seattle with 10 tackles against the 49ers while Chancellor - after being named NFC defensive player of the week for his game against Arizona - helped to make San Francisco's run game a non-factor and silence Vernon Davis. The 49ers finished with 64 yards rushing and Davis had two catches for 13 yards.
''We talk about finishing. We're a team that preaches finishing all the time, no matter what it is, no matter what the circumstance is-just finish,'' Chancellor said. ''The way we've been finishing lately just speaks volumes of how much we care about one another, how much we care about the team, and how much we care about winning.''
There was another upside for the Seahawks: health. Despite playing two physical opponents in five days, the Seahawks managed to avoid major injury. Carroll said on his radio show Friday there were no injuries out of Thursday's game.
For as well as Seattle has played defensively the past two weeks, there are two glaring concerns going forward. Seattle has struggled to finish drives with touchdowns and penalties continue to add up.
The Seahawks have seen Steven Hauschka kick 10 field goals in the past three games. That's good. The downside is seven of those have come inside of 40 yards, meaning Seattle's offense has stalled inside the opponents' 25. Twice against Kansas City, twice against Arizona and once more on Thursday night, the Seahawks drove inside the opponents' 15 and settled for a field goal.
Then there are the penalties. Seattle was flagged 14 times on Thursday, tied for the most since Carroll took over in 2010. The Seahawks are averaging 8.5 penalties per game this season.
''We're playing really hard and really aggressive so it's kind of like last year. We're pretty good at leading and last year too in penalties. You've got to be first in something I guess, so that's what it is,'' Carroll said. ''The only thing is I wish they called some penalties on the other guys. We've got our own problems on one side but I just wish they called some on the other guys.''
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL