Hawks suddenly look like strong contender

As Bobby Wagner pursues, Colin Kaepernick winds up to throw a ball that ends up intercepted by Richard Sherman (Getty)A week ago, the Seahawks were coming off a tough loss in Kansas City, sitting at a precarious 6-4, with a muddled team identity and facing the toughest finishing slate in the NFL. Needless to say, there were plenty of doubters.

It’s funny what five days can do to change a team’s image.

Thanks to an attitude adjustment on defense and the league’s top-ranked running attack, the Seahawks are suddenly looking pretty good for the playoffs.

A second straight 19-3 domination of a contending NFC West foe proved the Hawks are back to their 2013 form and ready to make a charge into the postseason.

At 8-4, they need to win three of the final four to be assured of a spot. Their sweep of Arizona and San Francisco in a five-day span, including their first win in the Bay Area since 2008, sure makes it seem as if the Hawks are capable of winning the rest of their division games.

After a tough — but certainly winnable — game in Philadelphia next week, they will come back to Seattle to play the 49ers, who have been outscored 71-16 in the past two regular-season meetings in Seattle.

Then the Hawks will head to Arizona to face the Cardinals again in a prime-time matchup. The Hawks are now 12-1 in night games under Pete Carroll, and they beat the Cardinals 34-22 in Glendale last season. They also have beaten Arizona in three of the last four games, and the aggregate score of the four contests has been 121-42.

The Hawks then finish at home against the St. Louis Rams, who are 0-4 in Seattle against Carroll’s teams, having lost by a total of 93-41. This will be the third straight year the Hawks have finished at home against the Rams. Seattle won 27-9 last season.

Not to assume the Hawks will win those final three, but their top-ranked defense looks unlikely to give up much of anything to the offense-challenged division foes. The six points they allowed the Cardinals and 49ers is the lowest two-game total by Seattle opponents since the Hawks beat Philadelphia ad San Francisco 83-3 late in their 2005 Super Bowl season.

Seattle’s defenders have been reinvigorated by their leaders, who have pulled the unit together. To a man, they talk about playing for one another now and divesting themselves of the selfish attitudes they apparently had brought into this season following the Super Bowl win.

“I look at this team like my hand,” safety Kam Chancellor told reporters. “When I’m just holding my hand open, there are different tendons, different fingers, different parts. But when I ball my hand up, it creates a fist, a tight fist, and creates a powerful punch. That’s what I look at this team as.”

The Hawks certainly were tight-fisted against the 49ers, holding them to 71 yards in the first half and 164 total — just four days after holding Arizona to 204 yards.

Colin Kaepernick tried to throw against the Hawks and had yet another horrible game against them, completing 16 of 29 passes for 121 yards and throwing two interceptions to Richard Sherman. Including the NFC title game last season, he is now 1-4 against the Hawks, with nine interceptions and just three touchdown passes.

In the past two games, the Hawks have held Kaepernick and Arizona QB Drew Stanton to 30-of-55 passing (54.5 percent), 270 yards, no touchdowns and three picks.

Despite missing Brandon Mebane and a few others, the Seattle defense is playing like the physical, swarming defense it was in 2013, when it was No. 1 in scoring, yards and takeaways.

In his second game back, linebacker Bobby Wagner led the team with 10 tackles and the Legion of Boom — Chancellor, Sherman, Earl Thomas, Byron Maxwell, et al. — lowered the boom on Kaepernick and company.

After getting run over in Kansas City and not recording a sack, the Hawks have notched four sacks in each of the past two games while holding the Cardinals and 49ers to 64 rushing yards each.

Meanwhile, the Hawks ran for 157 yards vs. the 49ers and remain the top rushing team in the league.

They might not be able to score touchdowns right now, but they sure are getting plenty of field goals, and there are signs that the offense is getting close to the same kind of breakthrough the defense has had.

Russell Wilson has busted out of his midseason slump, completing 32 of 44 passes (72.7 percent) for 447 yards, two TDs and no INTs the past two weeks. And that was against defenses that are first and second in interceptions, with a combined 31.

The Hawks stumbled in the red zone again, thanks partially to the officials, but Wilson thinks that will change.

The big key is the Hawks have found themselves again and are now in good position to make a run into the playoffs — and potentially the division title and No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

“We’re going in the right direction; that’s all I can say,” Wilson said. “We have a lot more left, a lot more to do, a lot more proving to do. You can’t look too far ahead. It’s one game at a time, one practice at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time. We’re looking forward to that.”


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