He sacked. And danced. He tackled. And danced. He disrupted. And danced.
And when it was all over Sunday afternoon, Michael Bennett stood in one corner of the bedlam that was the Seahawks’ locker room and smiled. It was one of those smiles of satisfaction that said this is why Bennett is here, even before the defensive lineman could say it.
When Bennett became an unrestricted free agent this year, he could have gone elsewhere and for more money. But the payday he wanted included what had just transpired at CenturyLink Field – the Seahawks are champions of the NFC West and the conference’s No. 1-seed heading into the playoffs, in large part because of Bennett’s contributions.
“I came here to win championships and play in big games,” said Bennett, who was with the Seahawks for a while as a rookie in 2009 before going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 4½ seasons. “I got a chance to do that with all these guys.”
Bennett contributed a sack to the defensive dominance that produced a 27-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the Seahawks’ regular-season finale – and the Rams’ season finale. It gave Bennett a team-leading 8.5 for the season. He also had a team-high 25 QB hits while playing primarily on the nickel line used in passing situations.
Just how good was the Seahawks’ defense that ranked No. 1 in so many categories on this afternoon when so much was on the line? The Seahawks held the Rams to 13 rushing yards and 158 yards overall – and 71 came on their way-too-little, way-too-late touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
The Seahawks had two more interceptions, giving them a league-leading 28. The Seahawks also led the NFL in takeaways (39), turnover differential (plus-20), average yards (273.6) and passing yards (172.0) allowed and, most importantly, average points allowed (14.4). That’s a combination that has never been matched in the team’s 38-season history.
And everybody got into the playmaking act, all season and especially on Sunday in what was perhaps the finest three hours by the NFL’s finest defense. From fellow linemen Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Clinton McDonald, Cliff Avril, Tony McDaniel and Chris Clemons; to linebackers Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin; to the Pro Bowl-laced Legion of Boom secondary that features cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and Byron Maxwell.
“All these guys making plays, it’s just a blessing to be out there with them,” Bennett said.
And on this day, it was the defense that scored first, as Smith returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter. It was a tempo-setting play from a next-man-up linebacker who is filling in for injured starter K.J. Wright. Then there was the second-quarter interception by Maxwell, who is starting on the right side because Walter Thurmond was serving a four-game suspension and Brandon Brower also has been suspended. Then there was a fourth-quarter sack by McDonald, who stepped in at nose tackle after Mebane went out with a groin injury.
“That’s the kind of defense we are,” Bennett said. “We’re the kind of defense that can score. We’ve got big-time players at every position and they can make big-time plays.”
But the play that perhaps best exemplified the performance of the defense on this day came when Sherman, Thomas and Maxwell collided in the end zone while trying to grab a fluttering pass from Kellen Clemens, who was hit by Avril as he was throwing.
“How about that play?” coach Pete Carroll said. “It looked like piranha going after the football.”
With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked against the Rams and something that needs work as the Seahawks head into their playoff bye weekend: