ARLINGTON, Texas — On Christmas Eve, when it absolutely had to be, the Seahawks’ defense was at its best.
Cornerback Justin Coleman picked off the key pass and scored the touchdown that gave the Seahawks the lead they had to have. Then he jumped into the Salvation Army kettle behind the end zone as teammate Frank Clark pounded the prop to punctuate Coleman’s season-saving play.
“He was the kettle, I was the drum,” Clark said. “Merry Christmas.”
Coleman’s interception and 30-yard return for the score early in the second half put Seattle ahead 14-9 despite its sputtering (again) offense having produced just 53 total yards to that point.
Doug Baldwin’s exquisite move off the line for a 3-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson in the fourth quarter and the work of the Seahawks’ patched-together defense then sealed the 21-12 victory at AT&T Stadium that kept Seattle’s playoff hopes alive — and eliminated the Cowboys from playoff contention.
Seattle (9-6) came back from its 42-7 home loss to the Rams the previous week that had most of the football country writing off the Seahawks as finished.
“We responded,” said linebacker K.J. Wright, who had an interception after being confined to his hospital bed all day Saturday with food poisoning after he ate lasagna on the Seahawks’ charter flight to Dallas — and a week after he missed the Rams game with a concussion.
“I really challenged the guys on Wednesday to … respond to the performance we put out last Sunday against the Rams, because we are better than that. So, we practiced and had a helluva week this week. We really challenged ourselves to get back to playing Seahawks football and Seahawks defense. We came out and did a tremendous job. … This team is not going to lie down easily. We could have easily taken the loss against the Rams, come back, pouted and moaned all throughout the week. But we are a group of guys that love to play ball and we know that we are a talented football team. So we came out and handled business today.”
The Seahawks followed their worst margin of defeat in the Pete Carroll era with one of their most reassuring victories, doing it their old way. With defense.
“I’m really proud of that win,” Carroll, a defense-first mind, said.
They won despite just 136 yards of offense, their lowest total since 2013. Quarterback Russell Wilson’s 93 yards passing were the fewest of his career.
“It felt like we weren’t even out there a lot of the time,” Wilson said of his side of the ball.
No one’s feelings were hurt worse than those on the Seahawks’ defense after the 42-7 home loss to the Rams the previous week.
“It felt like we had hit rock bottom last week,” Clark said. “You lose that bad at home you feel the momentum of the whole season go the other way.
“It felt like we had nothing to lose, that we only had one direction to go. And that was up.”
Now, they’ve resurfaced, needing a win on New Year’s Eve at home over Arizona plus a Carolina win at Atlanta the same day to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive January.
They are even back to having their usual Seahawks sideshow.
After the game, three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas added some holiday spice to the Seahawks’ victory by going into the Cowboys’ locker room, he said to talk to good friend and Dallas receiver Dez Bryant. Thomas saw Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and told him to have his team “come get me.”
Thomas, a native of Orange, Texas, five hours southeast of Dallas, said he was a Cowboys fan growing up — and that he was informing his boyhood team he wanted to play for it when “Seattle kicks me to the curb.”
Thomas’ contract ends after next season. It’s obvious he feels slighted the Seahawks, the only NFL team he’s known, haven’t offered to extend it for a second time.
As has happened throughout much of this season, the defense kept the Seahawks in the game — then gave them the lead in the third quarter.
Seattle benefited from Dallas going away from Ezekiel Elliott’s running. Elliott gained 61 yards on 13 carries over Dallas’ first 25 plays in his return from a six-game suspension. He romped for 51 yards in the first quarter—and looked to be on his way to an epic return. But the 2016 NFL rushing champion carried the ball just 11 times over the Cowboys’ final 43 plays.
Elliott finished with 97 yards on 24 carries, well short of the 200 yards he bet Hall of Fame rusher Eric Dickerson a game jersey he’d get in his return.
“Oh, yeah, we heard about that,” Clark said.
Dallas managed just four field goals by Dan Bailey against a Seattle defense that got Wright back from a concussion, had a healthier All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, and looked nothing like the unit that folded in a blowout loss to the Rams the previous week.
Seattle’s offense was doing its usual, first-half thing — zero points — until cornerback Bryon Maxwell stripped the ball from Bryant after a catch. Wright recovered the fumble at the Cowboys’ 43, and the offense had its first spark.
A catch and juke by lead running back Mike Davis and a pass-interference penalty on Dallas cornerback Jourdan Lewis in the end zone grabbing at Jimmy Graham’s torso on Wilson’s pass put the Seahawks at the 1-yard line. Then Wilson made his best play in a month. Davis dropped his handoff, but Wilson alertly dived on the ball before any Cowboys defender noticed it laying there.
Seattle retained possession, and on the next play Graham simply ran a few yards into the end zone, walled Lewis onto his back and caught Wilson’s 3-yard pass that put Seattle ahead 7-6.
It was Graham’s 10th touchdown catch this season, his most since his final season with New Orleans in 2014. That was just before the Saints traded him to Seattle.
But the Seahawks gave away that lead at the end of the half with a poor defensive series of gifts that could have saved Santa a trip to the Metroplex.
Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett jumped offside on third-and-2 at the start of Dallas’ 2-minute drill, handing the Cowboys a first down. Then Bennett missed an attempt to grab Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott by his shoes as Prescott escaped pressure. That turned into a 13-yard run and a first down at midfield. One pass, for 17 yards to Terrance Williams, set up Bailey’s second field goal from 51 yards, and Dallas had the lead back, 9-7.
Elliott had 73 yards on 15 carries in the first half. Seattle got out-gained 179 to 44 in the half, but thanks to Maxwell’s forced fumble to set up Graham’s touchdown, trailed by just that 9-7 score.
Then Coleman went into the kettle, and the Seahawks’ season was back on.
Seattle turned all three of Dallas’ turnovers into not just points but touchdowns. Prescott was mostly awful: 21-for-34 for 182 yards passing and two interceptions. The one to Coleman sailed far over Elliott’s head.
The Seahawks didn’t commit a turnover.
That was the game.
A season revived.
“A huge day turning the football over,” Carroll said. “When you get three turnovers, you are supposed to win. We know that.”