Seahawks’ defense smothers Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals had 10 possessions and 58 offensive plays against the Seahawks.

They scored three points.

Arizona sacked Russell Wilson seven times; Arizona limited Seattle’s irrepressible back Marshawn Lynch to 2.6 yards per carry.

But the Cardinals scored three points.

The Cardinals came into the game with the best record in the NFL (9-1), riding a six-game winning streak, and holding a three-game lead in the NFC West division. But they scored three points.

And in a performance that reminded fans and players alike of the best moments in recent seasons, the Seahawks delivered evidence they are not on the edge of being rendered irrelevant in the division, after all, but possibly on the edge of forging a dramatic late-season rally.

Anything can happen, you see, when you hold teams to three points.

By swarming the ball, gang-tackling, jamming the line against the rush and blanketing receivers, the Seahawks (7-4) closed the division gap to two games with a 19-3 decision at CenturyLink Field.

“The time is right to get in the groove,” said defensive tackle Kevin Williams. “We’re trying to get in the groove and go down the stretch as a well-oiled machine. Other than missing (Brandon Mebane), we’re pretty much at full strength and we are getting after it.”

Fair to have wondered if middle linebacker Bobby Wagner would be back to full effectiveness after missing five games with a toe injury.

But Wagner had eight tackles in his first game back. He was not only effective and assignment sound, his presence in the huddle and in the middle of the defense provides the Hawks with a controlled leadership.

“I think we’re all getting healthy at the right time, playing good ball at the right time, and it’s going to be important down the stretch with all the divisional games on the back end,” Wagner said.

The plan was obvious — to bring safety Kam Chancellor up as an eighth defender near the line to shut down the rush and force the Cardinals to try to win on the passing of backup quarterback Drew Stanton.

Stanton wasn’t up to it, although his performance wasn’t helped with receivers dropping passes and his line offering spotty protection.

It took the Seahawks a while to separate, though, as the Cardinals defense kept pressure on quarterback Russell Wilson, who, once again, had to flee the pocket with regularity.

He was inventive enough, with 73 rushing yards and a passer rating of 121.6, to finally get the Hawks in the end zone after a series of Red Zone appearances resulted in field goals rather than touchdowns.

As Chancellor pointed out afterward, that’s what the Seahawks do when they’re working in unison — the defense holds on until the offense gets it right, or, sometimes, it’s the other way around.

“I definitely felt the connection,” Chancellor said of the Seahawks working toward a common goal.

“It started during the week in practice,” he said. “I felt the team connect more and more. And it looked like it today.”

The first assessment safety Earl Thomas made after the game was about how much “fun we had … just looking in each other’s eyes.”

Head coach Pete Carroll saw the look in their eyes, too, of course.

“It was the best feeling we’ve had all year,” Carroll said. “(It was) the best sense for one another … and the focus and intensity.”

Carroll addressed something that Chancellor mentioned, too: That the team needed to be reminded they were playing for each other, and needed to trust one another.

“I think it was a really strong mentality for us in this game, and I’m hoping that this helped us reconnect with something that we were looking for,” Carroll said.

As Wilson pointed out, this was a flawed game by the offense at times.

So, they’ve got a number of issues to address before taking on San Francisco in yet another important divisional game on Thanksgiving night.

But Sunday’s win over Arizona was a vivid reminder that this team has a lot left to accomplish, and is not nearly as close to fading away as critics might have thought in recent weeks.

Most convincing was the way they accomplished it: With a smothering defense that rendered the Cardinals impotent. And if sustained, it could cause things to get increasingly more interesting in the season’s final weeks.

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