No Kam Chancellor, no Cliff Avril, no Richard Sherman. No problem as long as you have Bobby Wagner in the middle.
The Seahawks may not be the defense they once were with these three Pro Bowlers out, but Seattle’s middle linebacker proved once again why he is the best defensive player in the NFL.
With Wagner as its anchor, the defense was more than good enough against the lowly San Francisco 49ers in a 24-13 Seattle victory Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
Wagner made the play of the day in the second quarter with an incredible takeaway interception in the middle of a tackle. It was a strange play few men could make.
“I don’t know how the heck it happened,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Wagner’s interception. “It was an extraordinary play. He’s a remarkable athlete.”
With the 49ers deep in their own territory, receiver Trent Taylor ran a quick turnaround from the slot and appeared to make the catch at the 16-yard-line. But Wagner was right there, somehow making the tackle with his right arm while grabbing the pass with his left as they fell to the turf.
“He didn’t have much control of it, so I just took it away,’’ Wagner said. “We felt like the offense needed a little bit of help and a turnover would be big for us. The offense scored right after that and we controlled the game from there.”
Russell Wilson scored two plays after Wagner’s pick on a 2-yard run to help awaken an offense that couldn’t do anything right in the first quarter. Wilson and the offense, as has been the case all season, awakened in the second and built a 24-6 lead.
The 49ers finally reached the end zone in the final seconds, long after Wagner had left the game. Wagner finished with eight tackles, giving him 100 tackles in all six of his NFL seasons.
“When I look back, I want to say I was very consistent and very productive,’’ Wagner said. “I feel like this is as well as I’ve played. I feel like I’m on it.”
On a team known for Pro Bowl defensive players, some of whom will make it to the Hall of Fame, Wagner sometimes is overlooked. But Wagner’s talent is easier to see and appreciate when so many of the other defensive stars are off the field.
He seemingly is everywhere, pressuring the quarterback, making stops at the line of scrimmage and covering receivers like a defensive back. His speed and his instincts enable him to be in the right place at the right time, assets which set him apart.
Four defensive starters were out with injuries for the Seahawks, leaving concerns about how this unit would hold up without them. Granted, the 1-10 49ers are not the toughest test, but as long as Wagner is on the field, the defense still can dominate.
The Seahawks now are 7-4 and have their toughest test of the season next weekend against the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. Wagner will need another great game for the Seahawks to win it.
And it’s a prime-time game on Sunday night where Wagner can show the nation he deserves to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“Obviously, you have personal goals,’’ Wagner said Sunday on FOX13 Seattle. “If I take care of my business every single game, all that stuff will come.”