Seattle Seahawks' D puts on gutsy display in win over Packers

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SEATTLE -- On a day filled with emotion, Pete Carroll let his feelings boil over one more time, standing at the door connecting the coaches' offices to the locker room at CenturyLink Field.

His defense, through its historic two-year tear, has thrown a few football-equivalent perfect games.

Sunday afternoon's contest was not one of them. And that's where the beauty in this championship performance rested for the former defensive coordinator, as he recounted how the game unfolded in the kind of way a kid would tell the story of an epic win in the backyard.

"Stopping those sudden changes and making them kick a field goal ... phenomenal," Carroll said, smiling widely. "We stopped them on the 1-friggin-yard line. I mean, it was like this -- they said he scored, they looked at it again, and he didn't get in. Phenomenal defense. This defense is capable of those kinds of moments, and they got it done."

The Seahawks didn't choke the life out of the Green Bay Packers in Sunday's NFC Championship Game the way they did the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers during a five-day stretch in November. They didn't physically beat the Pack down the way they did the Denver Broncos last February.

What the 'Hawks did do in this pulse-pounding 28-22 win over the NFL's best quarterback was probably more impressive.

In one stretch of just over 17 minutes, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers started possessions on the Seattle 19, the Seattle 23, their own 44, the Seattle 33, and their own 44. They came away with just 16 points. And from there, the Seahawks allowed just two field goals.

In the process, Seattle's defense mitigated five turnovers and wiped out the advantage the Packers should've had simply because the Seahawks weren't getting a sniff of a breather. At one point, Green Bay held a time of possession advantage of 17:31 to 4:22.

The game, without question, should've been out of hand. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and the rest of Seattle's fearsome group made sure it wasn't, which kept the door ajar for the heroics of Jon Ryan, Chris Matthews, Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson and Jermaine Kearse.

"The group is so tight, there's never a time when they're saying, 'Oh man, a turnover.' Anyone could get upset," said defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, as confetti fell on his head. "They know it's just part of our ball. Our offense has taken care of us plenty of times. It really has everything to do with how close these guys are. Give us a blade of grass and they're gonna go try and defend it."

Or a yard, as it played out on numerous occasions.

The five possessions during that 17-minute span were set up, in order, by an interception, a fumbled kickoff, a shaky punt, a long punt return and another interception. And the tone was set on the first of those, when Kevin Williams and Bobby Wagner stoned John Kuhn in the hole just shy of the goal line on second-and-goal, and Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith stymied Eddie Lacy on third down, forcing the field goal.

That was the "1-friggin-yard line" sequence Carroll referenced. But that wasn't the only one he and his group could brag about.

On third-and-goal on the next series, Earl Thomas dragged Randall Cobb down a yard shy of the goal line. And after the Seahawks allowed a touchdown on the following series, Green Bay's next possession ended with O'Brien Schofield and Wagner dropping Lacy one yard short of a first down on a third-and-3.

"It shows a lot about our defense, man," Wagner said in the minutes after the game. "Our back was against the wall countless times. They should've had way more points than they had. But they didn't, and that's because we have a great defense."

The Packers, behind the great Rodgers, had just 128 yards the rest of the game.

And that was even though Thomas separated his shoulder and Sherman suffered a nasty arm injury that was clearly still bothering him after the final whistle.

Point is, with justification available, the bar was never lowered. Not after the offense and special teams put the defense in bad situation after bad situation. Not after the two highest-paid guys in the unit got hurt. Not at any point.

"We wish we wouldn't have given up 22 points, honestly," Sherman told me, working through the pain. "But some of those situations, we didn't have much control over, keeping points off the board. At the end of the day, I think championships define greatness. If we find a way to be blessed enough to win the next game, we'll be mentioned where we want to be."

Carroll has been encouraging the group to dream big of late, telling them constantly how special they can be, and special in the kind of way Mean Joe Greene's Steelers or Buddy Ryan's Bears or Ray Lewis' Ravens were on that side of the ball. As Quinn describes it, Carroll "talks about celebrating these guys' uniqueness."

Indeed, Seattle is just the fourth team in league history, and first since those 1985 and '86 Bears, to lead the league in both scoring and total defense in consecutive years. They allowed a total of 39 points to their last six regular-season opponents, four of whom were held out of the end zone entirely.

And the Seahawks could get even better. Ten of the 11 guys who started Sunday are under 30, and the elder statesman of the back seven is 27-year-old Bruce Irvin. Sherman, Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and K.J. Wright are locked up long term, and Wagner could be soon, as well.

On the surface, allowing 22 points at home might not look like another chapter in a great defense becoming transcendent. In reality, it was.

"It says everything you'd want to say about a defense," Carroll said, referring to the unit's resilience in defending a short field. "You can't ask for more than that. You can take the ball off them, that's the first goal, (but) we weren't able to do that. But to hang together, and fight it out and duke it out and know that we could stop them, and leave them with a field goal -- they went out with that mindset. And they did it. They did it twice against that group. (The Packers have) a freaking world-class offense, so you're looking at a pretty darn good defensive group."

So then, I asked Carroll about letting his guys talk about their potential place in history, a way of raising the bar further for a group that's been setting it high.

He pointed out that his guys weren't even alive when the vaunted Steelers of the 1970s made their mark. And then, he said, "They can talk about it. I trust these guys."

See, Carroll knows his players understand what it'll take to truly join the ranks of the super elite.

Accordingly, Wagner wasn't ready to say that Seattle is already there, but quickly added, "After we win the Super Bowl, we will be."

And if that comes to pass, this most imperfect of rainy afternoons will be a shining example of why.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.

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