Injuries and inconsistent play led to a slow start to the season for the Seattle Seahawks. But Sunday afternoon's 24-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles served as the third straight warning shot to the rest of the league.
The defending champs are nearing last year's form.
Seattle went into Lincoln Financial Field and dominated the NFC East-leading Eagles on both sides of the ball to earn the win. The NFL's official Twitter feed described the win in terms of offense vs. defense:
The Hawks (9-4) remain a game behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West, but with Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor healthy, Pete Carroll's team has looked like one of the best in the NFL again. After holding the Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers to three points each in the last two weeks, Seattle limited Philly's explosive attack to 139 total yards and just over 18 minutes of possession.
Around The NFL put the defensive performance into perspective:
Carroll, via the team's official Twitter feed, put it simply afterward:
Offensively, Russell Wilson threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 48 and a score. Doug Baldwin had 97 receiving yards and a touchdown, and Marshawn Lynch ground his way to 86 yards on the ground.
Seattle's dominance was present from the outset, as it had eight first downs, over 100 total yards and nearly 12 minutes of possession in the first quarter. But despite those numbers, the Seahawks found themseleves in an early 7-0 deficit.
The difference came when Seattle punter Jon Ryan mishandled an early punt, setting up the Eagles with a short field. Five plays later, Mark Sanchez found an open Jeremy Maclin from the goal line for the first touchdown of the game.
CBS Sports' Will Brinson applauded the play design from Kelly:
But that was about all that would go right for the easternmost Birds.
Seattle responded with scores at the very beginning and end of the second period. Wilson fooled Trent Cole on a read-option for a 26-yard touchdown run to tie the game, and he later orchestrated the two-minute drill to set up a 44-yard field goal for Steven Hauschka.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks completely shut down Philly's up-tempo offense. ESPN's Adam Caplan noted the immense difference in both time of possession and offensive output:
That contrast began to show up on the scoreboard in the third quarter. Zach Ertz caught a 35-yard touchdown for one of Philadelphia's only big plays of the game, but Wilson surrounded that with scoring drives of 19 and 91 yards, connecting with Lynch and Baldwin for touchdowns to make it 24-14.
Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar praised the latter play, a beautiful 23-yard toss into the back of the end zone:
With the way the defense was playing, the 10-point lead in the third quarter was undeniably secure. After Ertz's touchdown, Philly's next next five drives tallied only 16 total yards, resulting in four punts and an interception for Tharold Simon.
While the impact of Seattle's big-name defensive stars has been obvious, The (Everett) Herald's John Boyle pointed out the importance of defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who has filled in admirably after Brandon Mebane's season-ending injury:
Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage came up with an apt metaphor for the Seahawks' comprehensive effort:
Both teams have crucial division contests on the horizon.
Philadelphia hosts Dallas in a game that very well could decide the NFC East. The Eagles beat Jason Garrett's squad handily on Thanksgiving in Dallas, but the 'Boys are undefeated on the season away from Jerry's World.
LeSean McCoy, who had 50 yards and a fumble, talked about the importance of quickly putting this loss on the backburner:
The Seahawks, meanwhile, will return home to take on the reeling San Francisco 49ers next Sunday, and with a Week 16 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, they control their own fate in the NFC West.
But Sunday's performance made one thing very certain: Seattle's ceiling goes well beyond winning the division.