Before Russell Wilson led the Seahawks on an 80-yard drive to beat Denver 26-20 in overtime, the Seahawks’ hero of the game Sunday probably was punter Jon Ryan, who turned field position in Seattle’s favor all day.
Ryan has had a lot of great days punting in his six-plus years with the Seahawks, but coach Pete Carroll said this was “probably the best day of his career.”
The Seahawks’ defenders have been serious, focused, “locked in” as they prepare for their anticipated Super Bowl rematch with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The defense melted down against Philip Rivers in the San Diego heat last Sunday, putting forth probably its worst performance since the playoff loss in Atlanta to end the 2012 season.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Chargers pulled out some tricks that the Falcons used against the Seahawks in that game, and safety Earl Thomas said that is one of the lessons the Hawks learned from their first loss of 2014.
He said the Broncos surely will take note of that chink in the armor of a defense that was the league’s best last season and dominated the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“Obviously, they’re going to go back and see what we had trouble with in past games and even from previous years,” Thomas said. “Last week, San Diego hit us with some concepts from that Atlanta game we lost. So we’ve got to start thinking like that: How do teams want to attack us?”
While the Denver Broncos’ offense has undergone a few personnel changes here and there, the defense is almost an entirely different unit from the one the Seahawks saw in the Super Bowl.
The secondary is completely changed, with physical cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward coming in and cornerback Chris Harris and safety Rahim Moore returning from injuries. Defensive end Derek Wolfe and linebacker Von Miller also are healthy, and DeMarcus Ware signed on to replace Shaun Phillips opposite Miller.
“It’s a totally different team defensively for us,” Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Wednesday. “They’ve added really great players. They get Von Miller back, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib — the list goes on. They have really solid players. It’s a completely different defense with the players that they have now, so there’s really no comparison.”
The Denver Broncos who come to Seattle with revenge on their minds this weekend are not exactly the same Broncos the Seahawks demolished in the Super Bowl.
Sure, John Fox is still their coach — one of the best in the league — and they still have the legendary Peyton Manning at quarterback. But so many other things have changed.
On offense, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno left in free agency — replaced by free-agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders and second-year running back Monte Ball. Left tackle Ryan Clady is back after missing most of 2013 with a foot injury. And top slot receiver Wes Welker returned this week after his suspension was overturned thanks to the new drug policies ratified by the union and the league.
Even with the changes, Manning has been typically masterful in Denver’s 2-0 start, completing 69 percent of his passes and throwing for six touchdowns.
“They’re terrific,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Their whole system, their function, their tempo, their style of offense, the intricacies, the concepts of route running and all that. Really, it’s impeccable. They give us every challenge that you could ever want, and they’re off to a great start.”
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com gives a detailed breakdown of how the Chargers beat the Seahawks and then concludes, “Even with the winning script in hand, it still takes flawless execution to defeat the defending Super Bowl champs.”
As the Seattle defense prepares to face a star quarterback for the third straight week, coach Pete Carroll says, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Having beaten Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and lost to Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, the Hawks now prepare to host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a Super Bowl rematch. And Carroll cracked that they ought to add Tom Brady and the New England Patriots during the Seahawks’ Week 4 bye.
“It’s as hard as it can get,” Carroll said, not meaning that in a bad way. “It’s great for us. It’s going to help us during the course of the season. You can’t get any better challenges than these guys throwing the football. Aaron is phenomenal. And look what we just saw (with Rivers). And here comes Peyton.
“This is a great stretch for us. It’ll only help us,” Carroll said of playing the three top-rated active quarterbacks in the NFL. “We have to be so on the mark and so right in everything we’re doing to defend these guys.”
He’s a 34-year-old tight end who seems perpetually injured but who still finds ways to burn opponents.
On a scorching Sunday in San Diego, Antonio Gates caught fire — and three touchdown passes — against a Seattle defense that appeared ill-prepared for the heat and the physical pounding the Chargers’ offense put on it in San Diego’s 30-21 win.
The Seattle defense — so good at stopping tight ends last season — apparently forgot the formula in the San Diego heat. Last postseason alone, the Hawks held Jimmy Graham to one catch for eight yards, Vernon Davis to two receptions for 16 yards and Julius Thomas to four for 27.
But Gates, who was hindered by a hamstring injury all week, caught seven passes for 96 yards and scored against linebackers Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright and safety Kam Chancellor.
It was the first time Gates had caught three TD passes since a 28-20 win over Kansas City in 2005.
“He definitely capitalized on every opportunity he had,” Chancellor told reporters. “He showed why he is (a five-time) All-Pro tight end. He also has a good quarterback that looks to him and knows him and his timing. They have the quarterback/tight end bond. He is a crafty tight end.”
The Seahawks had three big needs entering the draft last May. They satisfied two in the second round, drafting wide receiver Paul Richardson 45th overall after trading out of the 32nd spot and selecting right tackle Justin Britt with the final pick.
The one position they did not address was LEO — their top pass-rushing spot. It’s not like they didn’t have a chance, though, and they will see one guy they could have had when they play Jerry Attaochu and the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.