Seahawks’ defense dominates Brees and Saints

SEATTLE — With one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks standing across the line of scrimmage, the Seattle Seahawks were looking for a stellar effort from their defense Monday night.

Seattle’s defensive players definitely met the challenge.

In a showdown for NFC supremacy between the Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints, a smothering defensive effort was a big reason Seattle improved to 11-1 this season with a decisive 34-7 victory at CenturyLink Field. Seattle’s defense dominated the first quarter, holding the Saints without a first down until the final play of the period and even put up a defensive touchdown as the Seahawks jumped to a 17-0 lead.

By that point, Seattle had more points than New Orleans had yards of offense (12).

It was pretty much what Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman expected because, he said, “we knew how good our defense was.”

The play of the game came midway through the first quarter, and it was also courtesy of Seattle’s defense. On the Saints’ second offensive possession, defensive end Cliff Avril came charging in from the right of New Orleans QB Drew Brees, who then stepped forward in the pocket. Avril changed direction and then stepped forward to smack the ball away as Brees cocked his arm.

The ball popped into the air and into the arms of Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. Though not quite speedy afoot, Bennett was able to get to the outside, pick up a dandy downfield block from cornerback Jeremy Lane, and win a footrace to the right corner of the end zone, stepping just inside the pylon.

The stadium shook as Seahawks fans rejoiced. It was, as cornerback Richard Sherman joked, “a Bennett quake,” a reference to the Marshawn Lynch “Beast Quake” against New Orleans three years ago.

For Bennett, it was his first touchdown since high school. “But I used to be a running back,” he pointed out. “I knew what to do with the ball.”

Bennett also gave credit to Lane for throwing “the best block. Without Jeremy, I wouldn’t have been able to get (to the end zone).”

Brees, meanwhile, is one of the NFL’s best, and there was some concern before the game because the Seahawks were playing with a patchwork defensive secondary. Starting cornerback Brandon Browner suffered a groin injury three weeks ago that will keep him out for several weeks, and he also reportedly is facing a one-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Also missing Monday was No. 3 cornerback Walter Thurmond, who has been suspended four games by the league, also for substance abuse. He is eligible to return for Seattle’s final regular-season game.

Byron Maxwell got the start at right cornerback “and he played great,” Sherman said. “He made all the plays. … He’s a starter. He could start for 32 teams in this league. So could Jeremy Lane.”

New Orleans managed just one meaningful offensive drive in the game, and it came in the early minutes of the second quarter. The Saints moved 80 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown that trimmed Seattle’s lead to 17-7.

Otherwise, the Seahawks kept Drew Brees and Co. in check. New Orleans had just 127 yards through three quarters and just 188 for the game

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