There was a time, not so long ago, when teams were afraid of the Seattle Seahawks. No one will admit this, but they were. They were terrified.
The Seahawks busted you in the mouth and then got in your face to tell you: You just got busted in your mouth. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're gonna get.
For two years, this is how Seattle dominated the sport: physicality, smarts and athleticism. Rinse, wash, repeat. Along the way, there were fewer offenses running routes across the middle of the field. Richard Sherman was challenged less and less. Fear of failure increased, as did fear of trips to the hospital.
Nothing symbolized the Seahawks' savvy bullying more than the tenacious beatdown they handed Denver in the Super Bowl. One play in particular showed how they inspired fear. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor blasted Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas as Thomas came across the middle. It was one of the defining plays not just of the Super Bowl but of this current Seahawks regime.
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said of the Broncos in an interview on ESPN's First Take this summer:
They looked scared out there. Nobody wanted to catch the ball. Nobody wanted to come up the middle.
If you look at the previous games, [the Broncos] got a lot of balls across the middle. That first hit, Kam came across the middle, smacked him.
You didn't really see too many balls caught across the middle [after that]. They were very timid. That says a lot about our defense.
But now, that fear has passed.
Evolution happens quickly in the NFL. Normally, that evolution centers on strategy—a new formation or pass route or type of blitz.
In the case of Seattle, teams have evolved in another way. They've become more courageous.
The only team that played scared against the Seahawks this season was Green Bay. Every other team has attacked Seattle. The Chargers did. The Cowboys did on Sunday. Most have done it with great success.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen wasn't overly impressed with Sherman after facing him earlier this year and catching five passes for 55 yards, per ESPN.com's Terry Blount.
"He's just a normal guy," Allen said. "We can go at him. We took some shots at him. We are not going to shy away from him. He's not really a shutdown corner. We definitely wanted to come out and show we could go any way we wanted to and that we were in control of the game."
The Cowboys also went after Sherman. He did pretty well covering Dez Bryant, but the point is, teams are going after him and the rest of the Seahawks defense without fear of repercussion.
Even the Broncos, who played terrified of the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, struck at the heart of the Seattle defense while on the road to force the game into overtime.
|Seahawks D: 2013 vs. 2014|
|Stat (allowed per game)||2013||2014|
|Total yards||273.6 (1)||334.4 (9)|
|Passing yards||172.0 (1)||252.2 (19)|
|Rushing yards||101.6 (7)||82.2 (6)|
|Points||14.4 (1)||22.6 (14)|
|Pro-Football-Reference.com (NFL rank in parentheses)|
On Sunday, the punishment Seattle normally doled out, they received themselves from Dallas as the Cowboys offensive line pushed the Seahawks around. It was one of the few times Seattle's defense has been bullied, particularly at home.
The lack of fear has become so blatant that teams, and others, are openly speculating about attacking the Seahawks. Just a year ago, that was considered almost unfathomable. NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport said that Cowboys coaches told players Sherman was overrated.
The disrespect is coming from all corners, including one current Hall of Famer and a future one. Deion Sanders said on NFL Network:
It's so hard to repeat because everyone becomes somewhat of a star—of a celebrity, and they start smelling themselves. … It's so hard to keep that level of intensity up week in and week out and understand that you're the hunted—you're not hunting anymore. This is not the same team from a year ago. Some of the same personnel, but this is clearly not the same team, and they're not a team built to play from behind.
"They're complacent because that's what happens in meeting rooms—guys leave for breaks, guys don't really pay attention, they're on their phone," former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson added. "Don't act like this doesn't happen. When you win you get complacent. And it's hard to keep guys focused."
Of course, none of this means the Seahawks won't repeat as Super Bowl champs. They obviously still can. They're that good. Still.
The Seahawks will just have to win without an emotion that was their greatest ally.
Fear. The fear they inspired in others.
That's gone now.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.