EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Seattle coaches and players kept asking Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman if he needed help. Sherman was immersed in what Seattle coach Pete Carroll called a "dramatic, classic, classy, colossal" duel with New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
In the first half, Marshall snatched three passes for 72 yards, including a 17-yard, second-quarter scoring blow with only 13 seconds left that made it Seattle 14, Jets 10 at halftime.
"So, we wanted to give Richard some extra help,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We kept checking to see if he would take it."
Sherman not only said no. He said hell no.
The pride and talent of Sherman epitomizes who the Seahawks are. They do not flee from confrontation. They expect defense to be their spine.
None among them can talk it and walk it quite like Sherman. If he’s getting zapped, the whole thing folds.
Few can be as chatty and prickly as Marshall and Sherman. An elite receiver. An elite cornerback. A pair whose games and mouths roar.
"The thing is, we did very little talking to each other,” Sherman said. “There is a great measure of respect there. We know each other. I had been playing him face-to-face for the whole game. And then I just said to heck with it. I am going to make a play on the ball. I’m going to play the ball."
I asked him to tell me a little more about the interception.
He answered: "Which one?"
What a shtick. What an artist. What a bunch, this brand of Seahawks, back at it again with force and confidence after they tattered the Jets 27-17 to move to a 3-1 record and drop the Jets to 1-3.
Seattle has won 10 or more games for four consecutive seasons. They have been a playoff team in each. They reached consecutive Super Bowls before failing to get there last year. They won that first one. They lost the second in that gut-wrenching finish to the New England Patriots.
They swore they weren’t in a hangover from it last year.
They certainly looked reborn now. They are healthier, the pieces are complementing, the quarterback (Russell Wilson) is elevating, and the defense is back to being boss.
That means Richard Sherman is back to being premier.
He would tell you he never left that status. But Marshall showed him in the first half that there was work to be done. Sherman took note. Marshall caught one ball for 27 yards in the second half. And the first of Sherman’s two fourth-quarter interceptions was a theatric game-changer.
It was early in the fourth quarter, the Jets trailed, 17-10, and they were driving. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed a pass Marshall’s way and Sherman was nailed for pass interference. Marshall caught it anyway, for 17 yards, to the Jets’ 47.
Boldly, Fitzpatrick on the next play went right back to Marshall, right back at Sherman, a lob left down the sideline. Sherman had enough of the face-to-face stuff. To heck with that. He turned to the ball. He was going to make a play on the ball. He did. He swiped it. Seattle then drove and scored to make it 24-10 with 12:20 left. Seattle did not blink afterward.
Safety Early Thomas earned an interception with 5:49 left. Sherman grabbed his second with 55 seconds left.
Which one? The first one. That one stirred the Seahawks.
"I look at it like this," Sherman said. "How many times are you going to play with fire?"
"Richard is not the type to shy away,” Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “He knows how to play the ball. He stood up to the challenge. You can only pick on him so much. He is a guy who literally knows how to get the football. When he makes a play like that, he gets everyone on the defense even more involved. It really ignited us."
The Marshall-Sherman matchup was so worthy that Carroll said he cannot wait to watch it again on film. Many of the Seahawks said that.
It’s not a picture the Jets will enjoy.
They are floundering with two straight losses, with nine Fitzpatrick picks in those losses. There is an inconsistent running game and a supposed chic defense that is routinely torched on big plays.
Jets coach Todd Bowles said he has a veteran team, a mature team, a good group. They will come together and get things fixed with road games at Pittsburgh and Arizona next.
"I think we’re out of sync right now," running back Matt Forte said about the offense. "At times like this you don’t want to start a snowball effect and that losing streak mentality where people stop caring or something like that."
The "something like that" sounds scary for the Jets.
"We’re not panicking here," said rookie linebacker Darron Lee.
Marshall was more sober: "I am shocked. I expect more out of our offense. Every year is different. It’s deflating. You think you’re really close and right when you think it’s going to be easy, whether in sport or life, you get slapped in the face and humbled."
He feels this way at 1-3. Let’s get Marshall some quick help, please, if the Jets go right where they are expected to go — to a ruinous 1-5 record over these next two games. We don’t believe it and I honestly don’t think they believe it is going to go any other way.
For Seattle, though, it’s early utopia. There was an extra bounce in Carroll’s step, in his speech, in his entire persona on Sunday. He can feel it, the Seahawks back to becoming a dominant team. He can sense it, the offense rising, Wilson getting healthier over the bye week next. Wilson playing while recovering from injury and completely outclassing Fitzpatrick in yards passing (309 to 261), in touchdown passes (3 to 1), in interceptions (0 to 3) and in passer rating (135.5 to 53.0). Carroll described it all as Wilson’s "exquisite throws" and "marvelous will."
Carroll saw tight end Jimmy Graham ascend (113 receiving yards), the distinctive toughness of receiver Doug Baldwin and his entire offense function, score, give his defense room to operate.
The Seattle defense is an ogre with room to operate.
Miami scored 10 points against Seattle, the Rams 9, San Francisco 18 and the Jets 17.
"Some of that was not against our defense," Carroll reminded. "Basically, it’s been four weeks of nothing."
You should have seen the way his eyes sparkled when he said that.
"Hey man, our defense is the key to this whole team," Wagner said, with resolute.
In the waning minutes, when Thomas made his pick, the stadium began emptying. The Jets fans gave up. They just saw a team with a defense like one they thought they had. They just saw a team with a quarterback they wish they had. There were too many painful reminders on this Sunday for Jets fans.
But looking backward was hip for the Seahawks.
"Man!" Thomas said. "This game, this season is feeling like old times."