Defense rediscovers health and No. 1 ranking

Byron Maxwell picks off a pass from Arizona QB Drew Stanton ( Seahawks recaptured their mojo last week, and Sunday against Arizona they finally looked like the Super Bowl champions they are and aspire to be again.

For the first time since perhaps the season-opening 36-16 win over Green Bay, the defense brought it like it was 2013.

With Bobby Wagner back and Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell healthier, the Hawks put together a performance that reminded everyone of the dominant unit that led the league last year. They held Arizona to 204 yards, 3 of 12 third downs, 3.2 yards per rush and 4.2 yards per play. Drew Stanton completed just 53.8 percent and posted a 54.8 rating.

Back from a five-game layoff caused by a toe injury, Wagner looked like he never left, playing all but one play on defense. He and Chancellor — who apparently is healthier than he has been in weeks — led the team with eight tackles. And Maxwell picked off a pass and played some great coverage — a ticky-tack PI call notwithstanding.

Cliff Avril fed off the energy of the 12th Man, getting great jumps off the snap all game, pressuring Stanton and recording two sacks. And the rest of the defense fed off those guys.

Appropriately, it all added up to Seattle reclaiming the No. 1 defensive ranking as they prepare to face San Francisco’s No. 2 defense.

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Carroll is miffed about ‘fascinating’ penalty disparity

Days after the NFL admitted blowing a key pass interference call that might have helped the Seahawks beat Kansas City, the Hawks practically had to beg for flags to be thrown against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Pete Carroll was not pleased, chewing out the refs more than once in a game in which his team was flagged seven times for 74 yards — at home — while the visitors were set back just three times for 25 yards.

“I’ve had it about up to here with this penalty situation and the way it’s gone,” Carroll told 710 ESPN on Monday morning. “They won’t call penalties on the other guys. They just won’t do it.”

It’s not griping. It is simply a fact. As pointed out here last week, the refs have not been evenhanded with the Hawks this season.

“There is quite a gap between what they’re calling numbers-wise on one team than the other,” Carroll said Monday afternoon. “I think it’s interesting — fascinating. When we won the national championship the first year (at USC), the next year our opponents were penalized the least — for the next four years. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

CHAWK LINES -- Cardinals at Seahawks

These Cardinals are better than the group that beat the Seahawks in Seattle last season. And these Seahawks aren’t as good.

Are the Seahawks really desperate? No, because they have more than minus-38 dollars in their bank account.

A look at some keys to the game by And some more from

This is a big blitzing team and we need to do a good job of handling it,” Pete Carroll said.

Seattle’s defense is almost as healthy as it can get at this point (with the major exception of Brandon Mebane).

No surprise: Teammates love Marshawn Lynch.

Hawks’ playoff scenarios

Playoff scenarioUnlike last season, when the Seahawks were 9-1 at this point and pretty much assured of a playoff spot, they are fighting for their playoff lives as they enter a brutal six-week stretch to finish the season.

Some think the Hawks are in must-win mode the rest of the way, starting vs. Arizona, but the fact is they need just five wins in the final six games to make the playoffs. And they could make it with a 4-2 finish if other teams scuffle toward the end.

The Seahawks have a steep upward climb to catch Arizona for the NFC West title, trailing by three games and facing the toughest remaining slate in the NFL: Arizona (9-1), at San Francisco (6-4), at Philadelphia (7-3), vs. San Fran, at Arizona, vs. St. Louis (4-6).

Just to make the playoffs, the Hawks almost certainly will have to sweep either Arizona and/or San Francisco, plus win the finale at home vs. the Rams. Basically, they need to go at least 4-1 in their division games and perhaps win in Philly.

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Hawks have NFL’s worst penalty differential

Pete Carroll reacts to a call in the third quarter of Seattle's 28-26 loss to the St. Louis Rams  (Getty Images)Super Bowl XL goat Bill Leavy’s crew screwed the
Seahawks again, but it’s not like he and his zebras are the only ones who have been giving Seattle opponents a helping hand this season.

On Sunday against Kansas City, the Hawks were flagged eight times (for 50 yards) to the Chiefs’ three (for a whopping six yards). But the Chiefs obviously committed more fouls than that, and the NFL reportedly admitted it Thursday.

The biggest miss was a non-call on pass interference committed by Kansas City cornerback Sean Smith against Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin on fourth down from the 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter of the 24-20 loss. The Seahawks should have had a first down at the 1 — and they almost certainly would have scored a touchdown, which might have resulted in a 27-24 win.

“The interpretation was it definitely played a factor in (Baldwin’s) route and it should have been called,” Carroll told USA Today. “There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to live with it. That’s just part of the game.”

Unfortunately, it has been a big part of Seattle’s games all season.

The Seahawks have the worst penalty differential in the league, called for 3.6 more penalties per game than their opponents. If that continues, it will easily be the largest margin in the NFL since at least 1990, per

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Is Wilson’s slump over?

Russell Wilson throws a pass against Kansas City (Getty)Russell Wilson has been scuffling along for weeks, fighting a passing slump (we can only hope it is passing) that has been worse than
anything since early in his rookie season.

It’s almost as if he has been enduring the so-called sophomore slump in his junior season.

He played better in Kansas City, seeming to find a little rhythm with his receivers, but he still was unable to rally the Hawks — the third time in Seattle’s four losses he has not been able to win it at the end.

You would think the third-year quarterback would be past that kind of a skid, especially considering all of the trials and tribulations he overcame last season, when he played behind a battered and leaky offensive line against some of the league’s best defenses and still led the Hawks to a Super Bowl title.

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Hawks need 5 wins; can they get healthy, stop the run, get some calls?

It would have been nice for the Seahawks to win in Kansas City — if only for the Hawks to show they can beat a good team, something they haven’t done since they beat Denver in Week 3.

If the Hawks had been able to tackle better, convert a third or fourth down in the fourth quarter or perhaps get a call or two to go their way, they might have avoided falling three games behind streaking Arizona (9-1, with six straight wins) as the two prepare to meet for the first time this week in Seattle.

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