With six minutes and 30 seconds left in Sunday's win over the Rams, the Seahawks had a 10-point lead and were facing a crucial third-and-one situation with the outcome of the game very much in question.
The Rams had the Hawks on their own 24-yard line, were just two scores down and possessed all of their timeouts. Two illegal motion penalties and just 33 seconds later, the Rams had the ball back on their 24 with nothing but time and opportunity on their hands.
But it took big Red Bryant just two plays to take the Rams' heart away with the kind of big plays that we've come to expect from him.
Defensive end Red Bryant adeptly dropped into coverage to make his first career interception. (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)
With offensive tackle Adam Goldberg pushing him past the pocket, Bryant stuck one of his 45-pound "mitts" out and swatted Bradford so hard across the chest it spun Bradford around 180 degrees.
Play No. 2: Bryant dropped back into pass coverage and picked off a pass -- that's the boring version. The Hawks were running a disguise oriented defense in which they line four defensive linemen up on the line of scrimmage and then drop one of the more nimble and athletically gifted linemen back into a zone pass drop.
That sounds like a comical thing to say about a 345-pound man until you watch his drop. Bryant planted his foot, opened his hips up into a perfect 45 degree angle and ran backwards and sideways 10 yards, catching the ball 12 yards deep. True, his buddy Brandon Mebane did him a favor by tipping Bradford's pass up in the air, making it more like a catch in "3 flies up," but Bryant hauled it in perfectly.
Then he did his best impersonation of a running back by fending off one tackler, switching the ball over into his other hand so he could fend off another, slamming that perspective tackler to the ground, and hanging on to the ball through the play.
Three plays later, the Hawks were in the end zone after a Justin Forsett 22-yard run put the game out of reach for good.
What's most exciting about Bryant are the things he does on plays that we don't notice. He does the dirty work like taking on double teams and occupying potential blockers. He holds the edge of the defensive line in the running game, making it difficult for teams to run to the outside. Mostly, he forces offensive coordinators around the league to dedicate meeting time and manpower to deal with the incredible force that is Big Red Bryant.
So, how good are the Seahawks?
After the Sunday Night game between the Giants and Eagles, a graphic was shown depicting the NFC playoff picture. The usual suspects were present under the categories "division leaders" and "wild card," but under the category "in the hunt," listed along with the 6-4 Atlanta Falcons and the 6-4 New York Giants were the 4-6 Philadelphia Eagles.
Uhh, aren't the Seattle Seahawks also 4-6? Don't the Seahawks have four of their remaining six games at home? Don't the Hawks have the fourth easiest remaining schedule in the NFL? The Eagles have three of their six remaining games on the road in Seattle, Miami and Dallas. Then it occurred to me, the Eagles are a little bit closer to the league office in New York.
This sort of playoff speculation feels bizarre to me when I think back to the 24-0 loss to the Steelers or the 6-3 loss to the Browns. But whether you believe the Hawks are "in the hunt" or not, you have to be pleased with the progress in certain areas.
Running game continues to improve
As mentioned, the faith that Pete Carroll put in Tom Cable is starting to pay off. The running game has vastly improved and it seems to be to the point where it's the system rather than the players. The Hawks have rushed for more yards against better teams than the Rams, but gaining 126 yards after losing two key components to the line (John Moffitt and James Carpenter) confirms something that statistics have proven over the last six NFL seasons: Tom Cable understands the running game.
Defense defense defense
The Hawks have arguably had a solid defense the entire year but this young group is gaining the kind of confidence that allows for big plays. Sunday's game was a great example of that as the Hawks racked up five sacks, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Since the Hawks' big road win against the New York Giants, their defense has knocked down 39 passes and intercepted eight. They've also slowly climbed out of the negative turnover ratio hole (minus-1) and are starting to accrue some sacks. Seattle's D currently resides at No. 11 in the NFL.