EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The birds were picking at scraps in the empty, dark parking lot when the Seattle Seahawks’ team buses pulled out of MetLife Stadium. With a dominating 23-0 win over the New York Giants left in their wake, the Seahawks hope to make a return visit soon.
Sunday’s shutout gave the Seahawks the league’s best record heading into the final two weeks of the season. They hope the division title and homefield advantage are next, which could mean the next road game they play is back here in north Jersey, site of Super Bowl XLVIII.
“It’s hard not to think about it when you’re 12-2,” said Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate. “It’s tough not to think about it, but it’s something we don’t really vocalize.”
The Seahawks’ play was loud enough Sunday, particularly that of their defensive unit, which posted its first shutout and combined for five interceptions off quarterback Eli Manning.
The listless New York squad, officially out of the playoff race but not yet out of its misery, converted just 1 of 10 third-down attempts and finished with 181 yards of offense, including only 25 on the ground. “A pathetic offensive performance,” Giants Coach Tom Coughlin called it.
The Giants lost wide receiver Victor Cruz in the third quarter to a concussion and a knee sprain, and suffered through one of the worst statistical outings of Manning’s career. Five interceptions marked a career high, and the quarterback’s 31.9 passer rating was his lowest since 2006. He was also sacked three times.
“The D-line did a great job of keeping the pressure in his face, making him step up and scramble for his life. He was just throwing it up,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. “We have great guys back there just waiting for games like this.”
Thomas had one of those interceptions, nabbing a fourth-quarter tipped pass in the end zone, ending New York’s lone drive that crossed midfield. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman had two interceptions, as did Byron Maxwell, who started the season as the team’s fourth-best corner. He was thrust into the starting lineup after both Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond were suspended last month for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Even if the faces in the Seattle secondary have changed, the unit only seems to get better. Before holding Manning to 18 of 31 passing for 156 yards Sunday, Seattle already boasted the league’s top-ranked pass defense.
“The coverage was great,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s as good a day of covering people that I can remember.”
Sunday’s interceptions led directly to both Seahawks touchdowns — Marshawn Lynch’s two-yard run in the second quarter and Doug Baldwin’s 12-yard reception in the fourth.
The convincing win put the Seahawks in good position with the postseason lurking. They close out the season with games against Arizona and St. Louis, both at home, where they’ve outscored opponents 196-84.
How key is homefield advantage for the Seahawks? Seattle is 6-0 at CenturyLink Field and hasn’t lost in front of its raucous home crowd since December 2011.
In the postgame locker room Sunday, Seahawks players weren’t particularly eager to ponder the prospects of returning to MetLife Stadium in February — not out loud at least.
“It crosses your mind,” said quarterback Russell Wilson, who was 18 of 27 passing for 206 yards while rushing for a team-high 50 yards. “Obviously, the Super Bowl is here. The biggest thing as a competitor, you want to block those things out. Ignore the noise.”
Fullback Michael Robinson said that shouldn’t be difficult. He felt the Seahawks could’ve played even better against the Giants — “We should’ve scored 40-some points today, man,” he said – and they’ll focus on getting better next week.
“When we break down our huddles at the end of games, we always say, ‘Who’s next?’” he said. “‘What’s next?’ We understand that you can’t look too far. Teams are too good in this league. You can’t overlook anybody.”