SEATTLE -- Informed last week that the Seahawks were in a rare position as six-point home underdogs to the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles, winners of nine straight games and owners of the NFL's best record, Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright offered a warning.
"Don't sleep on us, man," Wright said. "This team is really good. We're still talented. We can be the best of the best."
Then he amended that statement.
"We are the best of the best."
No one would consider the Seahawks as such this season, not with four losses and three stars missing from their defense. But on Sunday night, they delivered a decisive defeat to the team that could most credibly claim that title.
Seattle started fast, never trailed and pulled away at the end for its most impressive victory of the season.
"I thought it was really a terrific night of football because of the respect that we have for the Eagles," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "This is an excellent football team. There isn't anything that they're doing that isn't at the top of the mark across the board, so for us to play our game and really be in command of the game throughout, it was really a great step forward for us."
With the win, the Seahawks (8-4) overtake the Carolina Panthers as the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff standings, which means Seattle would be the first wild-card team if the season ended today. A loss would have dropped the Seahawks out of the No. 6 seed and put them two games behind the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams (9-3) with four games to play.
The Seahawks' playoff hopes remain very much alive after beating Philadelphia. They did it with a fast start on offense -- a rarity for them -- and as sound of a defensive performance as anyone could have expected under the circumstances.
In their first 11 games, the Seahawks had scored only 39 first-quarter points while also averaging 60 yards of offense in the quarter. On Sunday night, however, they drove for a field goal on their opening possession, then found the end zone at the end of the quarter, when Russell Wilson connected with Jimmy Graham for yet another touchdown. It was Graham's ninth score of the season, and all of them have come in the past eight games.
Seattle finished the quarter with a 10-0 lead and 111 yards of offense.
The Seahawks held Philadelphia to only a field goal in the first half, a remarkable effort considering the Eagles came in as the NFL's highest-scoring offense and Seattle was without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in its secondary.
Seattle got contributions from all over its defense. Frank Clark had two of the team's three sacks. NFL Defensive Player of the Year contender Bobby Wagner led the Seahawks with 13 tackles; and Bradley McDougald was right behind him with 12, making up for an unnecessary roughness penalty on Philadelphia's opening possession.
Sheldon Richardson kept the score at 10-3 in the third quarter when he made his biggest play of the season, stripping Wentz at the 1-yard line. The ball went out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, and Seattle scored on its ensuing possession, when Wilson found Tyler Lockett open in the end zone from a yard out.
"We were tired of people sleeping on us, tired of people doubting us. We understand that we've got huge losses," Wagner said, referring to the season-ending injuries to Sherman, Chancellor and Cliff Avril. "But we've got a lot of dogs in this room still, and we're going to keep coming out, keep playing and putting our best foot forward and keep silencing the doubters."
Wilson finished with three touchdown passes and no interceptions on 20 of 31 passing. He also rushed for 31 yards. And while Mike Davis (101 yards on 20 touches) finally gave the Seahawks some long-awaited production from a running back, this one was still on No. 3's shoulders. Wilson's performance adds credibility to his case for league MVP, especially because it came in a nationally televised game and against Wentz, perhaps the leading candidate for the award.
"He did everything today," Carroll said of Wilson. "I really think that he had one of the best games that I've ever seen him play."
Leave it to the Seahawks to save their best football for prime time. They improved to 22-4-1 in such games since Carroll took over in 2010, the best record in the NFL during that span. One of those four losses came two weeks ago on a Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, and it was the Seahawks' second straight defeat at home.
Just when it seemed as if the Seahawks had lost their magic touch at CenturyLink Field and that their season might end without a playoff berth for the first time since 2011, they turned in their most impressive performance of the year.
Don't sleep on them, indeed.