FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There was plenty to talk about in the wake of Seattle's 31-24 win over New England on Sunday night -- including a last-second matchup between Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowksi that ended in a game-deciding incompletion -- but let's start with this important takeaway: The Seahawks look pretty darn scary. They feel like they're more hardened, more resilient and more certain of where they fit into a potential championship picture. Sunday night's victory, one that came against the NFL's best team thus far, only added one more piece of evidence to that likelihood.
If you're picking a team that could represent the NFC in this year's Super Bowl, the sexy choice would be the Dallas Cowboys. They've got the best record in the conference (at 8-1) along with two rookie sensations that are only improving with each passing week (quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott). If you're using more sophisticated logic, then it's wiser to start thinking about Seattle as the team to beat on that front. The Cowboys may be more fascinating, but the Seahawks look more dangerous at this stage.
This is what happens when you walk into the Patriots' backyard and earn a hard-fought victory. It's also the result of overcoming injuries, finding a way to acclimate unproven players in key roles and refusing to allow a slow start to infect an entire season. "The resolve, the focus and the leadership we have allows us to be in moments like this," said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll after his team improved to 6-2-1. "We've got experience and the right type of guys. We've been banged up all year ... [but] it feels like our guys are really ready to make this turn and see how far we can take this thing."
Carroll knew exactly what this win meant to his team. He talked about it the minute he walked into his postgame press conference, when he raved about the Patriots' winning culture and how hard it is to triumph in Gillette Stadium. This wasn't about Seattle seeking revenge for a last-second loss to New England in Super Bowl XLIX. It was about the Seahawks trying to gauge where they are as they start the second half of a season that is as wide-open as any we've seen in recent memory.
What Seattle learned is that the problems that plagued it at the start of the season are quickly vanishing. Quarterback Russell Wilson is moving more fluidly after being hindered by an early-season knee injury. A patchwork offensive line is becoming more consistent, while a new playmaker has emerged in the form of rookie running back C.J. Prosise (who ran for 66 yards on Sunday and added another 87 through the air). That stingy defense -- the same one that has defined this franchise for the last few years -- also has kicked things up a notch, with the final battle between Chancellor and Gronkowski revealing how much that unit yearns to be the deciding factor in critical moments.
The beauty of the Cowboys is that they're learning a little more about themselves with each passing week. The scary aspect of Seattle is that the Seahawks actually realize what they can be when everything is right in their world. As middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said, "We know we have the ability to compete with anybody. That's a good team over there. They're at home, coming off a bye week, and we're coming off a short week (the Seahawks beat Buffalo, 31-25, last Monday night). But at the same time, we knew this was a huge challenge. And when we're really clicking on all cylinders, we know these are the things we can do every single week."
As much as we've grown to see Seattle as a team boasting big personalities and plenty of bravado, what's often overlooked is its collective mental toughness. This is still a team made up mostly of players who were largely underestimated coming into the NFL -- including Chancellor, Wilson and Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman -- and that means they're usually going to relish playing with their backs against the walls. In fact, there's something to be learned from the Seahawks already having seven of their nine games this season being decided by seven points or less. That's an indication that this team is once again proving how well it can operate under pressure.
What the Seahawks did best against New England was answer every seemingly crushing blow the Patriots delivered. When Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount was gashing them on the ground -- on his way to three touchdowns -- Seattle found a way to turn Prosise loose on the New England defense with a variety of runs and pass plays. When Tom Brady seemed to be carving up the Seahawks secondary, Wilson started spreading the football to a variety of his own receivers (Seattle finished with 420 total yards, including 324 through the air). Let's also not forget that Seattle won the turnover battle, as the 'Hawks took the ball away from New England twice without making any mistakes of their own.
That stuff matters in November and December. It matters even more when you're playing a team that has won four Super Bowls since 2001 and managed to go 3-1 when Brady was serving a four-game suspension earlier this season. The Patriots simply do not beat themselves. The teams that have success against them have to earn everything they get, which is a task Seattle more than wanted on Sunday night.
Carroll pointed out that he was proudest of the fact that Seattle won this contest by playing its game. He didn't have to give any stirring speeches in practice, nor did he have to revive memories of the interception Wilson threw on the 1-yard line in that Super Bowl loss two years ago, when everyone expected Marshawn Lynch to get the ball. The Seahawks understood the point they were at in this season. This was the time when they had to start building the kind of momentum that leads to long, rewarding postseason success.
It helps that the Seahawks still have plenty of veterans who've been around since Carroll started building this culture upon his arrival in 2010. It means even more that younger players like Prosise -- who was a third-round pick in this year's draft -- understand what's expected of them now that they're a part of it. "The brotherhood in here is stronger than ever, and it's real," Chancellor said. "Guys don't let circumstances or adversity put them in the tank. Guys will lean on each other and have each other's back. This is something you can't find anywhere, and we practice what we preach. This is who we are."
Those are important words to remember as we move deeper into the second half of this regular season. We can see that New England is still the class of the AFC and that Dallas is going to be fun to watch all year, especially if Prescott keeps providing more reasons to keep Tony Romo on the bench. The important thing to remember here is that it's dangerous to be so focused on those storylines that we lose sight of other happenings in the NFL. And right now, from what we learned on Sunday night, the Seahawks are blossoming into something that will be pretty hard to deal with, as well.
Jeffri Chadiha | nfl.com | November 14, 2016