The Seattle Seahawks are once again the front-runner in the race for the NFC West crown. Entering Thursday night, there was valid reason to be concerned about Seattle’s prospects—the Seahawks’ injured secondary had been historically bad and a funky three-game stretch for Russell Wilson not only saw Pete Carroll’s squad tumble from the NFC’s top spot, but into a three-way tie for first in the division with L.A. and Arizona. But after a dramatic 28-21 win against the Cardinals, Seattle is firmly back in the driver’s seat.
The last time these two teams met it ended in dramatic fashion. The Seahawks didn’t trail in regulation, but their defense had a chance to make a game-clinching stop on what would have been the final drive of regulation. Instead, Kyler Murray coolly marched the Cardinals into field-goal range, setting up the kick to push the game to overtime, where Arizona won. On Thursday night, it was in a similar spot: in position to clinch a victory as Murray marched the Cardinals into Seahawks territory. But facing fourth-and-10 with 38 seconds left, defensive end Carlos Dunlap—whom Seattle acquired from the Bengals three days after losing to the Cardinals last month—sacked Murray to seal the result.
“That’s why we brought him here,” Russell Wilson told Fox’s Erin Andrews during a postgame interview. “Huge, huge play.”
Dunlap’s sack marked a fitting end for Seattle’s win. It was one of the Seahawks’ most complete performances of the year, with their defense keeping Murray, one of the NFL’s most exciting and athletic quarterbacks, in check throughout the game. Murray entered Thursday as the NFL’s most effective rushing quarterback, averaging 67.1 rushing yards per game and a league-best 6.9 yards per attempt. In the first meeting, Murray rushed for 67 yards and one touchdown. But on Thursday, Seattle limited Murray to five carries for 15 yards—his longest carry was an 8-yard gain—marking his lowest output as a ball carrier this season.
Slowing Murray down as a runner proved key to stopping the Cardinals offense, but the Seahawks’ secondary also showed signs of life. Murray averaged 8.6 intended air yards per throw against Seattle in their Week 7 meeting. That figure was down to 6.4 on Thursday, according to Next Gen Stats, revealing that Seattle’s defensive game plan didn’t concede too many explosive plays. Despite missing starting cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Shaquill Griffin because of injury, the Seahawks secondary played well, holding Murray to 269 passing yards and two touchdowns. Seattle sacked Murray three times (Dunlap recorded two; L.J. Collier had one), and registered seven QB hits. Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was held to five catches for 51 yards on eight targets.
Incredible individual efforts by KJ Wright and Jamal Adams in space vs Kyler Murray pic.twitter.com/Jt8AGU7G2J— Parker Lewis (@ParkerLewisJR) November 20, 2020
In addition to the Seahawks’ defense performing well, their offense seemed to get back in order. Running back Carlos Hyde returned from injury and tallied 79 rushing yards and one touchdown on 14 carries. Bo Scarbrough chipped in six carries for 31 yards. Wilson, who praised the running game’s performance, appeared to be relaxed again in the pocket. He took opportunities to pick up yards with his legs (10 carries for 42 yards), but threw the ball efficiently, completing 23 of 28 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, ending a two-game streak with two turnovers or more.
For the Seahawks, the importance of a victory Thursday night couldn’t be overstated. Per FiveThirtyEight, the Seahawks’ win gave them a 55 percent chance to win the NFC West; those odds would have dipped to 14 percent with a loss. There’s an opportunity to maintain and build on their lead in upcoming weeks, too. Seattle’s next four opponents—the Eagles, Giants, Jets, and Washington Football Team—have a combined winning percentage of .229.
The #Seahawks (7-3) now control their own destiny in the NFC West and will play the Eagles, Giants, Jets and WFT over the next month.— Joe Fann (@Joe_Fann) November 20, 2020
Big time win against the Cardinals tonight.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals looked the part of a team still figuring out how to consistently play at a high level, with a handful of self-inflicted penalties contributing to their loss. During the third quarter, a taunting penalty on cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick extended a Seattle drive that ended with a Hyde touchdown run two plays later. In the fourth quarter, when Arizona trailed by two, Murray was called for intentional grounding, and on the ensuing play, the Cardinals were penalized for offensive holding within their own end zone, resulting in a safety. Seattle used almost seven minutes of clock on the ensuing drive before kicking a field goal to take its seven-point lead.
“It was just shooting ourselves in the foot,” Murray told reporters. “It wasn’t a clean game by any means.”
The Cardinals have a favorable schedule ahead but face an uphill battle to keep pace in the NFC playoff race. Meanwhile the Seahawks, after a few shaky weeks, seem to be rounding into form. Perhaps things are coming together at just the right time.