EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As successful as Pete Carroll has been at training his players to treat every game the same, no matter the start time, day of the week or number of eyeballs watching, he can’t always eliminate his players’ desire to put on a show in prime time.
The Seattle Seahawks didn’t want to make this Week 4 meeting with the New York Giants too big, just big enough to feel incentivized to make a statement. That was especially important for a much-maligned Seattle defense that entered Monday night with the NFL’s third-worst defense against the pass. This stage, with 78,507 fans in attendance and millions more watching on TV, provided the perfect platform to make a statement. To change perception. To prove themselves right.
The Giants got the message loud and clear. And the Seahawks hope everyone else heard it, too.
“I feel like we just put the world on notice that this ain’t the same Seahawks from last year,” cornerback Riq Woolen said. “Even though we were a good team, we’re destined to be great. We just (gotta) keep striving in the right direction.”
When Carroll expressed in the offseason that he wanted his defense to be more dynamic, particularly up front, this is the type of performance he envisioned.
After the Seahawks defeated the Giants 24-3, the 72-year-old head coach joyously bounced around the MetLife Stadium visiting locker room and at one point grabbed someone by the shoulders and shouted, “That’s a frickin’ ballgame!”
Seattle (3-1), winners of three straight, tied a franchise record with 11 sacks. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones was sacked 10 times. Receiver Parris Campbell was sacked once on an attempted trick play. Two of those sacks resulted in fumbles, the first of which was caused by defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr. and recovered by linebacker Jordyn Brooks. The Seahawks took over at the Giants’ 7-yard line and scored two plays later. Jones was hit 14 times on 50 dropbacks.
Jones also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned by rookie cornerback Devon Witherspoon 97 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to give Seattle a 21-3 lead. Jones completed 27 of his 34 attempts for 203 yards. He was New York’s leading rusher with 66 yards on 10 attempts. His two running backs combined for just 39 yards on 18 attempts.
It doesn’t get much more dominant than that.
“I’m not surprised,” nose tackle Jarran Reed said. “We work hard as s—. We work hard as hell every day. Every guy that went out there and balled out tonight deserved it.”
Seattle came into the game with its preferred starting secondary for the first time this season: Jamal Adams entered the lineup at safety next to Julian Love, Quandre Diggs, Witherspoon and Woolen. Their time together was short-lived because Adams sustained a concussion after just nine plays, but Seattle knew that inserting Michael Jackson at left corner and moving Witherspoon to nickel (replacing Adams) would still smother the lowly Giants offense.
“We knew if we stopped the run,” outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said, “we’d have fun.”
It turned out to be a party in the backfield.
Witherspoon, the No. 5 pick in the NFL Draft and the highest selection of the Carroll era, had two sacks. He blasted Jones on a blitz in the first quarter, then dropped Campbell for a loss of 8 yards before the wideout could load up and launch the ball. Linebacker Bobby Wagner got Jones twice. Brooks did, too. Ditto for Nwosu. Defensive tackle Myles Adams got his first career sack in the fourth quarter, and outside linebacker Boye Mafe added one as well in the final frame. Seattle hasn’t had that many sacks in a game since 1986. The Seahawks are now tied for the league lead in sacks this season with 16.
“It felt like we were playing Madden (the video game), to be honest,” Woolen said. “That’s what happens when you got a confident defense. We play off each other. Everybody hungry. We know what’s at stake, and we hungry. You see the D-line? Them boys relentless.”
Seattle’s defense needed to carry the load Monday because the offense, averaging 29 points a game entering Week 4, wasn’t at its best. Geno Smith led just one touchdown drive, and it was only 7 yards. He missed a drive in the second half because of a knee injury, and his backup, Drew Lock, led Seattle for 75 yards, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run courtesy of Kenneth Walker III.
Seattle’s offense managed only three points in the second half. The 34-yard field goal was set up by Diggs’ fourth-quarter interception. The defense was more than happy to shoulder the burden, though. It needed a showing like this. Sure, the run defense has been elite this year, but the passing defense wasn’t meeting the Seahawks’ standards. They needed to beat up on someone entering their Week 5 bye. Jones and the Giants just happened to be the victims.
Witherspoon sealed New York’s fate late in the third quarter with his pick six. Jones had willed New York to the 5-yard line with the team trailing 14-3. A touchdown would have made it interesting. Instead, Witherspoon basically decided the game when he jumped a whip route, cut across the field near the 40-yard line, then danced in the end zone as he showed the world why Seattle took him with a top-five pick.
“That’s an incredible moment for me,” Witherspoon said. “First career pick is a pick six on ‘Monday Night Football.’ It don’t get no better.”
This was only Witherspoon’s third NFL game after missing the entire preseason, and it was his first time playing nickel. He finished with seven tackles, three QB hits, two sacks and an interception. And that’s after he hardly gave up anything in Week 3, when he was targeted 13 times. Speed, strength, awareness, instincts: Witherspoon has put it all on display over the past three weeks.
“He’s relentless, bro,” Diggs said. “That’s who he is every day. He’s been like that since he got here. I’m excited for his continued success. He’s gonna be one of the great ones.”
Seattle will have to prove itself against a more talented opponent to change its perception, but this is the type of performance that will put its future foes on notice.
“It hit different because it’s something we see every day in practice and we got to showcase it to the world,” Woolen said. “Last year people were asleep and we got to turn heads. Now we brought momentum into this season, and we just keep going and building from there. We’re becoming closer, we have some more key additions on defense, and it’s just a beautiful thing to see it all come to life when we all just work together.”
(Top photo of Quandre Diggs after intercepting a pass: Kathryn Riley / Getty Images)