It is amazing how much one game can change everything.
The Seattle Seahawks entered their matchup against the previously unbeaten San Francisco 49ers with a 7-2 record and looked like a team that was almost guaranteed to make the playoffs.
But the Seahawks did not appear to have a high ceiling.
Seattle’s defense had been awful prior to the 49ers game. Through the first nine weeks of the season, the Seahawks surrendered 380.8 yards per game, gave up 6.2 yards per play (fourth-worst in the league), and registered just 1.7 sacks per game (fifth-worst).
As a result, the Seahawks let bad teams hang around in games and entered week 10 with a plus-18 point differential. Seattle squeaked past the Cincinnati Bengals 21-20 to open the season, escaped Atlanta with a 27-20 win over the Falcons and needed overtime to top the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 40-34.
The team relied on the offense to outscore opponents and/or Russell Wilson bailing them out in critical situations. There was almost no margin for error and Wilson pretty much needed to play great for the team to win.
And if the scrappy 7-2 Seahawks were to beat the 49ers on the road they would need a phenomenal outing from Wilson, right?
Well, it turns out they did not, because Seattle’s much-maligned defense carried its end of the bargain in the Seahawks’ 27-24 overtime victory over San Francisco on Monday Night Football.
While the Seahawks offense struggled to pick up a first down in the first half, the defense held the 49ers in check and even put the road team on the board with a scoop-and-score touchdown from human inferno Jadeveon Clowney.
The Seahawks defense kept up the pressure in the third quarter with a long interception return by newly acquired safety Quandre Diggs and a sack-fumble by Clowney. Both of those turnovers gave Wilson and the offense short fields to score.
From there, the 49ers offense mustered six offensive points and by the time the game was over Seattle had five sacks and held the 49ers’ vaunted run game to 87 yards on 27 carries.
Wilson obviously made some big plays in important moments, but it was by no means a banner offensive night for him. The MVP frontrunner finished the game with 234 passing yards, 53 rushing yards, one passing touchdown, and one interception.
Based on the way the Seahawks defense had played in the first nine games, there is no way Wilson could put up those numbers and beat the unbeaten 49ers. But the defense improved at the right time and Wilson did not have to be perfect.
Now the Seahawks will get a timely bye week after two straight overtime games. After that, the team has six games left before the end of the season.
Seattle is tied with Green Bay and New Orleans at 8-2 and has a tiebreaker over 8-1 San Francisco. If Wilson and the offense continue their pace from the first half of the season and the defense plays as it did against the 49ers (or close to it), then the Seahawks should go 4-2 or 5-1 down the stretch, putting them in a great position for the top seed in the NFC.
The Seahawks felt like paper tigers after shootout their win over Tampa Bay, but after beating San Francisco without a superhuman performance from Wilson, Seattle appears to be just as real as any other Super Bowl contender.