]Nobody saw Seattle 34, New Orleans 7 coming. That’s because the Saints are good, and because so many Seahawks we didn’t know vaulted into America’s living room Monday night with superb performances, driving home the point safety Earl Thomas used as his mantra in the defensive backs meeting room last week.
We are all starters.
“That’s the culture here,’’ cornerback Byron Maxwell told me early this morning, after the first start of his life came on Monday Night Football. “You get drafted here, and you’re just preparing for the time when it’s your turn. It’s next man up. This game was my turn.’’
Because of the injuries/discipline to starter Brandon Browner and nickel corner Walter Thurmond, Maxwell took his place opposite Richard Sherman, with fellow heir to the lineup Jeremy Lane taking nickel reps against Drew Brees. “It’s a long season,’’ Maxwell said, “and every guy on the roster better be able to play quality football when you need it at some point.’’
It didn’t just happen at the corner position. On the defensive line, a backup waived by the Bengals, Clinton McDonald, pestered Brees consistently and helped the Seattle defense hold Brees to his first game under 200 yards passing in his past 43 starts. At linebacker, unsung K.J. Wright took consistent turns shadowing/punishing all-world tight end Jimmy Graham, and he contributed seven tackles.
As New Orleans desperately tried to get back into the game in the third quarter, the depth won the night. On one series midway through the quarter, Maxwell jarred the ball loose on a potential long gainer to Graham. Next snap: McDonald, covering Graham, dogged him into another incompletion. On third down, Wright caught the slippery Darren Sproles behind the line for a four-yard loss.
K.J. Wright (50), here with assistance from Tony McDaniel, kept Jimmy Graham under wraps Monday night. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The backup brigade was better on the next series, which bled into the start of the fourth quarter. Deep downfield on what would have been a touchdown, Wright leaped to break up a perfect throw from Brees to Benjamin Watson. On the next play, Maxwell broke up another potential touchdown pass to Robert Meachem.
“I should have had that ball,’’ said Maxwell.
In other words, it wasn’t good enough for him to break it up. Maxwell wanted to steal it. That’s what’s been drummed into his head for three seasons: When the ball’s in the air, it’s yours.
Look at the other stars of the day: Russell Wilson, third-round pick. Richard Sherman, fifth-round pick. Wright was a fourth-rounder, Maxwell and Lane picked in the sixth. When Wilson was asked about big plays in the game, he pointed to a back-shoulder catch by undrafted free-agent Jermaine Kearse (from the 2012 rookie class) just before halftime.
One of the reasons Seattle was able to go out this offseason and spend free-agent money and big contract money for the Cliff Avrils and Percy Harvins is because of the productivity of the lesser players. The offensive touchdown makers Monday night—undrafted free agent wideout Doug Baldwin, street free-agent fullback Derrick Coleman, and unrestricted free-agent tight end Zach Miller—cost Seattle exactly zero draft choices.
So take a bow, Seattle GM John Schneider. Coach Pete Carroll and the two coordinators—Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn—should take some pats on the back too.
Seattle’s rout of the Saints, complete and thorough and humbling for the visitors to the Pacific Northwest Monday night, happened because the players— the ones Schneider drafted and Carroll’s crew coached—got it done.
“Throughout the roster, that’s what we do here with the Seahawks,’’ Maxwell said. “It shows we got depth. All of us, we just want to play ball. We want to show we deserve to be here.”
One more point about the outcome Monday night, and its meaning: Seattle holds a two-game lead in the NFC home-field advantage derby over both New Orleans and Carolina entering the final four weeks of the regular season. But it’s actually more than that. Because Seattle has beaten both teams, it holds the tiebreaker against them. Which means: If Seattle goes 1-3 down the stretch (against the 49ers and Giants on the road, Cards and Rams at home), either Carolina or New Orleans would have to 4-0 to win the top seed in the conference. Tough duty, considering the Panthers and Saints play each other twice in the last four weeks.
All in all, a tremendous night for Seattle and its full 53-man roster. A dispiriting night for the rest of the NFC.