One of the reasons we watch football is because anything can happen. The Buffalo Bills beat the Green Bay Packers last Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they were eliminated from the postseason this Sunday at the hands of the 3-12 Oakland Raiders. Anything is hypothetically possible, but for the Arizona Cardinals to beat the Seattle Seahawks with third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley under center would be a serious test of that theory, because Seattle's defense has rounded into championship shape at exactly the right time. In the first six games of the 2014, the defending Super Bowl champs were 3-3, allowing 23.5 points and 324.5 yards per game. Since then, they've lost one game (by four points to the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 16), and before Sunday's 35-6 domination of the Cardinals, their defense had clamped down over its last eight games to the tune of 12.6 points and 233.3 yards per game. At the same time, quarterback Russell Wilson has been a dangerous runner and an opportunistic passer in new ways, and the Seahawks have looked like the kind of team that could buck the 10-year trend of Super Bowl-winning teams that had failed to win a playoff game in the following season.
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Seattle continued to look that way in its blowout win over NFC West rival Arizona, but it wasn't the defense or Wilson who defined the action. It was Marshawn Lynch, whose 79-yard touchdown run with 10:14 left in the fourth quarter brought back memories of the "Beastquake" run he pulled off against the Saints in the 2010 playoffs. That historic run put the 7-9 Seahawks on the map in Pete Carroll's first year; this one sealed the win over the Cardinals and put Seattle in place to possibly run the NFC playoffs through their home city if a couple of different scenarios move into place.
(H/T: Bleacher Report)
Lynch made that run despite an upset stomach that had him coming out to the Cardinals' home field late, and missing the entire first quarter. Even without Lynch, the Seahawks logged 134 total yards and 103 yards rushing against one of the NFL's best defenses. That total was led by Wilson's 55-yard run, the longest of his career. Through the air, Wilson completed 20 of 31 passes for 339 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and Seattle set a team record with 596 yards overall in the game. Tight end Luke Willson scored two touchdowns, aided by Wilson's ability to draw defensive players to him in play action moments, and the questionable decision by the Cardinals to back veteran linebacker Larry Foote into coverage.
The Seahawks looked like the most complete team in the NFL on this night, as they have over the last month in a five-game stretch that has seen them outscore their opponents, 114-33. If they beat the Rams at home next Sunday, and either the Cowboys lose or the Packers-Lions game doesn't end in a tie, the Seahawks will have home-field advantage as long as they last in the postseason, which could lead them right back to University of Phoenix stadium in February for another shot at the Lombardi trophy.
A lot has to happen before then, but it's tough to bet against this team right now.
"We believed in each other, and we've been working so hard," Wilson told NBC's Michele Tafoya after the game. "Our defense makes us work in practice, we make those guys work well, and we believe in each other. Our backs were against the wall, but we kept working and believing in it. We made plays tonight -- Luke Wilson was unbelievable. Doug Baldwin, Paul Richardson... Marshawn Lynch's run; does it get any better than that?"
It doesn't get much better, and the balance between offense and defense is the underrated and scary aspect to this team. Everyone knows about the defense and running game, but it's the potential for big plays from Wilson -- both in the passing game and when he runs -- that set opposing defenses on edge, and make this offense a nearly unsolvable problem.
"The key was, just playing together," safety Kam Chancellor said of this performance, and what has changed since the Chiefs gashed Seattle for 204 rushing yards in Week 11. "We talk about playing physical, playing together, playing for one another, and playing to the whistle, and that's what we did today. We just made a pact that we were going to play for one another week in and week out."
At this point, the only team that might be capable of beating the Seahawks is the Seahawks themselves. The Cardinals were allowed to hang in this game longer than they should have by virtue of Seattle's 11 penalties for 97 yards (Arizona had one penalty for five yards) and Steven Hauschka's multiple missed field goals. But Arizona converted just three of 15 potential third down opportunities, and they had four three-and-out drives, including three straight in the third quarter. Eventually, Arizona's offense just ran out of oxygen.
"I don't even know where to begin with praising guys, but to not give up a touchdown is an excellent job by the guys on the defense," said Carroll. "It was a phenomenal night -- just keep them out of the end zone, and it was great stuff. The thing I'm most proud is, we talk about what we did last week -- that's nice and all, but can you do it again? To continue to play like this, at this kind of level, it's a lot of confidence with a lot of stuff at stake."
Indeed, and one wonders if this year's version of Carroll's team might not be even more dangerous than the one that upturned the NFL in 2013. The Cardinals, who have been both upturned and upchucked by the Seahawks and their best running back, can only nod in assent.