Tasked with replacing an organizational legend in K.J. Wright, second-year linebacker Jordyn Brooks has struggled to live up to expectations in 2021. He's seemingly regressed in his coverage skills and has failed to stay disciplined at times, leading to multiple benchings early on in the year. But on Monday night, the 2020 first-round draft pick finally matched the moment.
Brooks' final stat line in the Seahawks' 13-10 loss to the Saints won't drop any jaws. He recorded just four tackles and was credited by Pro Football Focus with six catches allowed for 75 yards. However, he was able to make a trio of big plays in key moments, looking more like the player Seattle saw in the second half of his rookie campaign.
Late in the second quarter, a questionable pass interference call on cornerback D.J. Reed and a missed false start on a 4th and 1 conversion by the Saints led quarterback Jameis Winston and company all the way down to the Seahawks' two-yard line. On 3rd and goal, Winston stood tall in the pocket, surveyed the field and identified an open Marquez Callaway in the back of the end zone. Brooks, however, understood what the former No. 1 overall selection was going for and leaped into the air to deflect the pass, forcing New Orleans to kick a field goal and maintain Seattle's lead.
"I was pretty much playing the hooks," Brooks reflected on the play. "They had a guy crossing. I felt somebody come behind me, and I just read Jameis' eyes, and got up to get it tipped."
Earlier in that 19-play, 10-plus-minute drive, Brooks had another stellar effort on a carry by Saints running back Alvin Kamara. On 3rd and 1 from Seattle's 45-yard line, the Texas Tech alum worked his way through a pile of bodies to meet Kamara in the A-gap and stuff him for no gain. This set up the aforementioned 4th and 1, in which Winston moved the chains on a quarterback sneak. Upon further review, New Orleans tight ends Adam Trautman and Garrett Griffin, along with right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, all appeared to jump well before the snap, but no flag was thrown.
Nevertheless, plays like the one Brooks made set the tone for how the Seahawks would contain Kamara as a runner. The four-time Pro Bowler mustered just 51 yards on 20 carries—good for a dreadful 2.6 yards-per-attempt. Unfortunately for them, he'd still have a significant impact on the game, catching 10 of 11 targets for 128 yards receiving and a touchdown.
"It was a big night to slow him down," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said of his team's performance against Kamara. "He's a great player. Was he under three [yards-per-carry]? Yeah, that's a fantastic job. And that's four quarters of football against one of the best players in the NFL. And, obviously, we saw the talent in the passing game. We didn't do well there. He got us."
Other than that, however, Seattle's defense played relatively well for the second week in a row. It wasn't a perfect outing by any stretch of the imagination, and it was certainly assisted by inclement weather and some sloppy play from New Orleans' offense, but this was a more encouraging effort than what fans witnessed through the first five weeks of the season.
"I thought we've been playing better these last few weeks," Brooks expressed. "That's just guys communicating. Early on, during the year, we were just having communication problems and it led to this play and that play. I think guys are talking better. The chemistry has grown on that side. We're going to continue to do what we do, and get a win here, soon."
Despite the Saints' ridiculously long scoring drive in the second quarter, the Seahawks managed to keep the time of possession battle relatively close (32:49-27:11). They were the best they had been all season in third down situations, holding New Orleans to a meager two conversions on 13 attempts. They forced a pair of three-and-outs, one four-play drive and a two-play drive ending in a forced fumble by nickel corner Ugo Amadi.
The fumble was recovered by none other than Brooks, who took the ball down to the Saints' 32-yard line. He was in the right place at the right time and solidified a rare turnover for the Seahawks' defense. Unfortunately, the offense failed to gain a single yard and wound up settling for a game-tying field goal.
"I thought we did enough defensively to win," Brooks stated. "Offensively as well. Like I said, it was just a couple plays here and there. Both sides, all sides, all phases, can be cleaned up, and we win the game, easily."
As Brooks alluded to, missed opportunities—or opportunities generated by mistakes—ultimately led to Seattle's demise on Monday night. It would be the defense's lack of discipline, which has plagued Brooks himself and the unit as a whole, that helped New Orleans eventually take the lead for good.
With a little under six minutes to go in the game, linebacker Bobby Wagner had Winston wrapped up for a sack on 3rd and 9 from the Saints' own 44-yard line. This would have forced a punt, but instead, defensive back Marquise Blair was called for a backbreaking roughing the passer penalty after diving head-first at Winston and hitting the quarterback's facemask with the crown of his helmet, thus extending the drive.
Eight plays later, New Orleans was unable to move deep into Seattle territory and sent the field goal unit out for a 42-yard attempt into the wind. The kick, however, was never tried as veteran defensive tackle Al Woods was drawn across the line of scrimmage for an inexcusable encroachment penalty to give the Saints a fresh set of downs.
Winston and crew drove down inside the Seahawks' 10-yard line, burning another minute off the game clock before kicking the go-ahead field goal out of the two-minute warning. Seattle's miscues and poor allocation of timeouts throughout the night left the offense at a severe disadvantage on its final drive of the game, and backup quarterback Geno Smith proved incapable of making it work.
"That's kind of been the problem the last couple weeks, just not finishing," Brooks assessed. "Like I said, it's nothing major that's happening. It's just about finishing. That's what we have to do as a collective group. That's what will make the difference."
With that, the Seahawks now find themselves at the bottom of the NFC West with a 2-5 record. Their hopes of defending their divisional crown are gone and their playoff hopes are, to be generous, slim.
Brooks and his teammates are trying to maintain a positive outlook on things—at least in the public eye—but the focus of this season is starting to shift from contending to developing. And the development of Brooks will be an important one to keep an eye on as this seemingly lost season moves along. From an individual perspective, Monday night was a good step in the right direction for him.