Defense dominates as Seahawks keep season alive

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In the days leading up to their matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, the leaders of the Seattle Seahawks' defense insisted they were not in panic mode.

One play here, one tweak there, and this unit would resemble the one that led the team to two consecutive Super Bowls, they said.

"This is great, really," safety Earl Thomas said during the week. "It's a part of the story. We're going to outlast this. This is why we're in this position in the first place. This is why we're the best. These situations, they're not going to break us."

It was only one game, and the 49ers have plenty of issues on offense, but the defense looked like its old self in the Seahawks' 20-3 victory. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and the defensive line dominated, sacking Colin Kaepernick six times on the night. When he did have time, Kaepernick was ineffective, completing 13 of 24 passes for 124 yards. The 49ers punted nine times and managed one field goal on 11 possessions. They totaled 142 yards and averaged 3.2 yards per play.

"We know what type of defense we are," said Bennett after his 3.5-sack performance. "We were playing great defense the last couple weeks, but we just had some slippage in the second half. And no miscommunications today. We were on the same page."

The Seahawks had blown fourth-quarter leads in all four of their previous losses. They had been outscored 40-3 in the fourth quarter and overtime of their last three. But in what felt like an elimination game, there was no meltdown this time.

"That was the way it was supposed to be," coach Pete Carroll said. "That’s supposed to be normal to finish a game like that. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. It’s just the way we should be playing. We should be finishing like that. ... It felt like a really normal Seahawk night tonight."

As rocky as the first seven weeks have been, the defending NFC champs suddenly have some life. They travel to Dallas in Week 8 for a matchup against the banged-up Cowboys. A victory there would put the Seahawks at 4-4 going into their bye and in the mix to make a postseason run in the second half of the season.

The biggest thing the Seahawks have going for them is they're one of the healthier teams in the NFL. Their entire starting defense from Week 1 played Thursday night and should be intact going forward.

Perhaps all the Seahawks needed for a spark was to face a familiar foe. With the team's back against the wall, the defense led the way, just as it has during the past couple years.

Did you notice? Quarterback Russell Wilson connected with rookie Tyler Lockett for a 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The pair had been close in previous weeks, but the timing was always just a tad off. Wilson executed a play-fake and then launched one to Lockett, who came down with it. It was the first receiving touchdown of his rookie season. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Lockett is just the second rookie since 2000 to have a kickoff return, punt return and receiving touchdown in a single season.

One reason to get excited: The defensive line was dominant. Avril has been arguably the defense's most consistent player, and he showed up in a big way tonight with 1.5 sacks. Bennett was unblockable as well with 3.5 sacks. Brandon Mebane and David King combined for a sixth sack. If the pass rush can be this effective in future weeks, it will cut down on the big plays the defense has given up.

One reason to be concerned: Wilson was intercepted twice. Overall, he played well, completing 18 of 24 passes for 235 yards. But he threw an ill-advised pass to Doug Baldwin in the end zone that was picked off near the end of the first half. And later, Wilson launched one downfield into double coverage for Jermaine Kearse that was intercepted. After the game, Carroll said he was "really disappointed" in the pick. It's no reason to panic, but considering how good Wilson has been in the past about taking care of the ball, it's something to keep an eye on.

Mocking Kaepernick: Some wondered whether this rivalry would be the same without Jim Harbaugh. Maybe it's not, but Bennett turned to the crowd at Levi's Stadium after an effective pass rush in the third quarter and kissed his biceps, mocking Kaepernick.

Fantasy watch: Running back Marshawn Lynch scored for the second consecutive game. Despite throwing up on the sidelines in the first quarter, he finished with 122 yards on 27 carries.