January 07, 2016

RENTON, Wash. (AP) The questions and concerns that dogged the Seattle Seahawks' vaunted defense in September and October were silenced by the end of the season.

That's because the Seahawks accomplished something that hadn't been done since the 1950s.

Seattle heads into Sunday's wild-card game at Minnesota on a roll defensively. The pinnacle of their late-season success was holding Arizona to six points in the regular-season finale to end up leading the NFL in scoring defense for the fourth straight season. According to STATS, Seattle is the first team since the Cleveland Browns (1953-57) to lead the league in scoring defense in four or more consecutive seasons.

Over the final five games of the season, the Seahawks allowed only 55 total points. And two of the touchdowns scored during that time were special teams and defensive scores by their opponents.

However long this postseason run lasts for Seattle, it will be a new, but somewhat easier task for the Seahawks defense. After playing all their NFC playoff games at home the past two seasons, the Seahawks will be exclusively on the road this time around where it's far easier for Seattle to communicate on the defensive side.

''Maybe we focus better on the road, I don't know what it is. I just think we're a better road team than we are a home team this year,'' Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin said.

Seattle also led the league in rush defense at 81.5 yards per game, giving up the exact same amount of yards it did a season ago when the Seahawks were third-best in the league at stopping the run. Their first task in the playoffs could be their most difficult, trying to slow down Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL with 1,485 yards rushing this season.

But Seattle's already stopped Peterson once this season, holding him to 18 yards on eight carries in Week 13.

''You can't expect a guy like that to get eight touches again. They're going to find different ways, whether handing the ball off, or getting him screens or checking it down to him,'' Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. ''I definitely feel like he's going to try to have a bigger presence in this game.''

Getting the scoring defense title was particularly important, but seemed unlikely going into the final week. With Cincinnati having allowed 16 to Baltimore in its finale earlier in the day, the Seahawks could give up only eight points to Arizona to at least share the scoring title.

Enter DeShawn Shead with the Seahawks holding a 36-6 lead in the closing minutes and Arizona deep in Seattle's end.

The Seahawks had already gotten one break when Chandler Catanzaro's field goal attempt at the end of the first half hit the upright and ricocheted back onto the field. On fourth-and-10 from the Seattle 12 with 5:25 left, the Cardinals opted to go for it rather than kick a meaningless field goal. Drew Stanton's forced pass was intercepted by Shead, igniting a huge celebration on the Seahawks sideline.

''I was not aware at all. I heard them talking on the sideline in the fourth quarter about it but I didn't really pay no mind to it until I got the interception and I came back to the sideline and Earl (Thomas) and (Richard Sherman) came up to me and were like, `Thank you, you saved the record,''' Shead said. ''I didn't realize until then how significant the interception was. For my first interception at the last possible defensive drive in the regular season it could not have come at a better time. It's a great feeling to know that I have legitimately been part of history.''

Sherman was completely aware of what was at stake. He knew even before the game started how much the Seahawks could afford to allow.

''It's cool. I think it means we're consistent in what we do. We're really diligent in our preparation, and all our hard work has come to fruition,'' Sherman said. ''Everything we've wanted and everything we've tried, strived to do has come to fruition. We appreciate seeing the fruits of our labor.''

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