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Seahawks defense overcomes ‘nightmare’ first half


Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the first half on Sunday. (AP)

By Brady Henderson

The celebration was somewhat subdued on one end of the Seahawks’ locker room following their 30-20 win over the Vikings on Sunday.

Red Bryant, their affable defensive end, used four-letter words to convey the frustration he felt after allowing Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson to run wild for two quarters.

“That hurt,” said Bryant, perhaps the most important cog in Seattle’s fifth-ranked run defense, “because [expletive], we’ve got a lot of pride.”

That pride was restored after a strong second half, but what happened during the first two quarters raised more questions about the Seahawks’ slumping defense.

Peterson’s 74-yard run on the second play of the game set up the first of this two touchdowns. It also set the tone for what would be a dominant first-half performance. Four of his 12 carries went for at least 15 yards. He cut back, juked defenders, broke tackles and carried piles on his way to 144 yards in just two quarters.

The Seahawks led 20-17 at halftime, but they had already allowed more rushing yards than they had in any game this season.

“It was kind of a nightmare – to tell you the truth – in the first half,” coach Pete Carroll said.

That nightmare ended thanks to what Bryant described as a concerted effort to be more disciplined and adhere to the design of the play. Too many times, he said, defenders were abandoning their gap responsibilities in an attempt to make a play. That can be dangerous against a shifty running back like Peterson.

“There’s only a few backs that come to mind that you definitely have to make sure you’re in your gap, and he’s one of them. If you’re trying to do more than your job is called for, he’ll hurt you,” Bryant said of Peterson, the league’s leading rusher. “And early on, that’s what was happening to us. He was hurting us because we weren’t precise. We weren’t where we was supposed to be when we was supposed to be there.

Brandon Browner’s fourth-quarter interception of Christian Ponder helped seal a win for the Seahawks. (AP)

“And so we focused, came in at halftime and said, ‘Look, everybody do your job. Don’t worry about nothing else. Do your job.’ Guys was able to do that and we was able to slow him down.”

Christian Ponder’s ineffectiveness helped, too. The Vikings’ second-year quarterback had been surviving on shorter passes this season, with his average attempt traveling a league-low 5.8 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But even those throws didn’t come easy on Sunday. Ponder missed his first four attempts before finally completing a pass on Minnesota’s fourth possession. He finished the first half 7 of 13 for just 42 yards. That allowed the Seahawks to focus on Peterson.

“We knew they were going to try to feed him the ball,” safety Earl Thomas said. “We made adjustments after halftime and they worked.”

Peterson ran for 38 yards on five carries in the second half. Ponder was just 4 of 9 for 21 yards after halftime. He was intercepted by Brandon Browner late in the fourth quarter on a deep pass up the sideline, allowing the Seahawks to take over and eventually run out the clock.

That interception came on third down, which was Seattle’s undoing in last week’s loss to the Lions. On Sunday, Minnesota was just 3 of 10 on third down, including 1 of 5 in the second half. The Vikings’ second-half offensive output included three points and 59 net yards.

“That’s a great turnaround for us,” Carroll said, “and I love the way we responded.”

The Seahawks had defensive issues in two consecutive losses, whether it was the inability to get off the field against Detroit or being gashed up the middle by Frank Gore and the 49ers. That had put on hold all the talk of Seattle’s defense being elite. It will likely remain that way after what happened in the first half on Sunday.

“At the end of the day, the win is the most important thing,” Bryant said.