SEATTLE — Deon Grant knew that he and Brian Russell had yet to live up to expectations.
They were brought in as free agents to upgrade the Seattle Seahawks defense at the safety position, and in the first two games of the NFL season, they had yet to make an impact.
“(Brian) Russell and myself came in Monday and said, ‘We haven’t been doing anything,’” Grant said Sunday. “Him and I talked one on one and it was like we hadn’t done nothing. I’m not comfortable with what I had been doing. He said he wasn’t comfortable. He said, ‘Well, let’s turn it on.’”
They did that Sunday, turning in a handful of big plays in the Seahawks’ 24-21 victory over Cincinnati at Qwest Field.
Russell and Grant each had an interception. Russell broke up two other passes and Grant broke up one, and they combined for 12 tackles. Grant made a huge play on special teams, as well, recovering a fumble on a kickoff in the final minute to secure the victory that lifted Seattle to 2-1 and dropped Cincinnati to 1-2.
“That is the safety play that you need in this league,” Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. “They were involved in turnover situations. They hit pretty well. They broke up a couple of passes.
“I think after I look at the film, I’m going to be pleased with how the safeties played,” Holmgren said.
Grant, an eight-year veteran, came to Seattle from Jacksonville at a cost of $30 million. Russell is a six-year veteran who came from Cleveland for $13.5 million. In the first two games of the season, they had no interceptions, two passes defensed, and only 11 tackles.
Normally, one would not expect a defensive turnaround to start against Cincinnati’s offense.
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 595 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two games, and wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson had 33 catches for 423 yards and six touchdowns.
Or, as Grant put it, “If we wouldn’t have woke up today, we would have got torched.”
On the stat sheet, it might look like they did get torched. Palmer completed 27 of 43 passes for 342 yards. Houshmandzadeh had a career-high 12 receptions for 141 yards, and Johnson had nine catches for 138.
But the only touchdown pass went for 35 yards to Houshmandzadeh when Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant was knocked down, perhaps illegally, and the only other pass of more than 20 yards was to running back Rudi Johnson on a 33-yard screen play.
“They’re an amazing offense,” said Russell, a free safety who knows the Bengals well from his time in Cleveland. “If you think you’re going to contain them and hold them to 100 yards of total offense or something, you’re crazy.
“They are just phenomenal. You have to contain them as best you can, put pressure on the quarterback, not give up cheap stuff, and come out with tough wins like this.”
“There was nothing behind me. That’s the key thing,” Grant said. “When you do what we did today sometimes that speaks way louder than stats. What coach says he wants from me is not to let anything get behind me and when they break make sure I tackle them. That’s what we did today.”
That’s exactly why Russell and Grant are here, to improve upon the play of Kenny Hamlin and Michael Boulware, younger players who got beat deep way too often last season.
“It’s kind of like we have two extra coaches on the field,” Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant said of Grant and Russell. “They’ve always got your back.
“I’ve got lots and lots of confidence,” Trufant said. “That’s what they instill in me, to know that they’re going to be there so I can go about my business. I can go try to make plays more knowing that they’ve got my back.”
Russell has a bit of cult hero status for a hit he laid on Johnson last season, which Johnson has called the hardest clean hit he has taken as a football player, and Johnson said after Sunday’s game that Russell will be a force for the Seahawks.
“He doesn’t intimidate me, but he is a very intimidating player,” Johnson said. “He is going to make a big difference back there.”
Houshmandzadeh said Russell is more than a big hitter.
“Brian Russell, in my opinion, is a smart safety,” Houshmandzadeh said. “He’s really, really smart. He was doing some things out there that he shouldn’t have been doing in the coverage he was playing. But it was smart by him because it was helping the team out.”
Russell’s interception Sunday killed a Bengals scoring opportunity in the third quarter. Grant’s pick set up a Seattle touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Both of them were more than 30 yards downfield, which was the Land of Painful Memories for Seahawks fans last season.
“The shots (Palmer) went up top, we were able to make some plays on the ball, and he took shots on us all game, and they didn’t really hurt us,” Russell said. “We fended those off, played the run really well, and in the end that was the right formula.”
It’s the formula the Seahawks were hoping for when they signed Russell and Grant, and they were glad to see it pay off, at last.