SEATTLE -- On the same night that Seattle Seahawks legendary safety Kenny Easley raised the team's 12th Man flag at CenturyLink Field, Kam Chancellor, who once dated Easley's daughter back in high school in Virginia, provided one of the greatest single-game performances in team history. A fifth-round pick in 2010, Chancellor finished the night with eight solo tackles, two assists, one pass defended and a 91-yard pick-six in the Seahawks' 31-17 win over the Panthers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
His finest highlights of all, however, were two nearly blocked field goals to end the first half. Arguably the most athletic player on Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary, Chancellor recorded two incredible hops over Carolina's offensive line, narrowly missing Graham Gano's attempts.
Chancellor also stopped Carolina's intimidating power run game with several big hits, two of which typified his evening and the overall effect Chancellor has on the NFL's best defense.
With 39 seconds left in the first half, the Seahawks up 14-7 and the ball at the Seattle 26-yard line, Cam Newton threw a quick pass to DeAngelo Williams, Carolina's fireplug of a running back. Chancellor, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs about 230, dropped Williams like a small sack of groceries. After that hard-fought two-yard gain and a near-interception by fellow safety Earl Thomas, Chancellor brought the pain again -- this time to running back Mike Tolbert, approximately 240 pounds and built like a mailbox.
"I don't know that a strong safety can have a better game than Kam Chancellor had tonight." Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said simply. "He was all over the place."
Cornerback Richard Sherman, never known to hide his admiration for Chancellor, was pointed about the fact that it's taken too long for people to recognize just how good his battery mate has become.
"Every year, he gets snubbed more than anybody else," Sherman said. This year, he should have been first-team All-Pro, and it should have been easy. Who's the other first-team safety? (San Diego's Eric Weddle). Is he in the playoffs? (No). You have to make these decisions some time, you have to go with the guy who's in the playoffs, who's making big plays, who continues to play at a high level beyond the regular season. A lot of these guys are regular-season guys, and cool. But championships are won in the playoffs."
Sherman is splitting hairs to a point, though it could be argued that Chancellor should have been last season's Super Bowl MVP. And it's a testament to his development that after overcoming nagging injuries earlier this season, he's playing at a higher level than ever before.
"I just want to say that it's about working on your fundamentals," he told me. "Practice is a big key -- a big part of it. It's the little things that count the most, to add up to the big picture."
When general manager John Schneider entered the locker room after the win, he didn't make a beeline for Russell Wilson, though Wilson was 8 for 8 with three touchdown passes on third down. No, he went straight for the guy he took in the middle rounds years ago out of Virginia Tech, when Chancellor was thought to be more of a linebacker-safety hybrid with middling upside as a pure pass defender.
Through his development, Chancellor has become one of the most technique-efficient and multi-faceted enforcers in recent memory. Yes, you can focus on the big hits. Sherman did after the game when he said Chancellor "plays in a dark place" and "damages people's souls," but it was the player who has improved greatly in coverage, and the ability to quickly read offenses, who came away with the game-sealing pick-six with 6:11 left in the game.
Chancellor jumped a third-read throw from Newton to Ed Dickson, and it was off to the races. As he said after the game, "All I saw was green, and green means go."
In the end, though, it was how Chancellor read the play and not any level of intimidation that made the difference.
"Give the D-line all the credit on the interception," he said. "I looked back and saw Cam under pressure. It looked like he was about to get tackled and then he threw the ball right to me. I read the play and the pressure, and finished it home."
As for the near-field goal blocks, Chancellor (who insisted that his vertical leap serves him well in basketball) said that he's done it before.
"I did that either last year or the year before. It was a miss and I jumped over the center -- hit his leg or something; hit his back and fell over. But it was just something our coaches had seen on film. We saw a weakness in their attack, they were staying low, and we just decided to put it in. It looked good all week, and it looked good in the game. Actually, he just happened to kick the ball far left, because he saw me."
And when he was asked about his knack for countering Cam Newton's efforts, he set up Newton's alleged Superman persona against his own.
"They call me Batman, so he can have the Superman. I'm the Dark Knight."
In this battle of superheroes, it was Kam 1, Cam 0, and the Dark Knight seized the spotlight. As the Seahawks move on to their second straight NFC championship game and more people are discovering Chancellor's greatness, it's something he'd better get used to.