Jordan Hill, Bruce Irvin interceptions spark Seahawks’ turnaround
For a team that preaches winning the turnover battle and a defense that prides itself on creating those sudden reversals of fortune and momentum, the turnovers are expected. But the players doing the intercepting in Sunday’s win weren’t exactly typical for the Seahawks.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks INTs by the numbers
49 Yards on Bruce Irvin’s interception return for a touchdown.
2 Interception returns for touchdowns by Irvin this season. He had a 35-yard return for a score against the Raiders on Nov. 2.
8 Yards on Jordan Hill’s interception return.
It’s not a new story line. The Seahawks’ defense, opportunistic as always, came up with two key fourth-quarter interceptions Sunday to lead Seattle to a 20-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field, locking up the NFC West title and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
For a team that preaches winning the turnover battle each game and a defense that prides itself on creating those sudden reversals of fortune and momentum, turnovers are expected.
But the players doing the intercepting in the victory Sunday weren’t exactly typical.
No, it wasn’t Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor with key picks. It wasn’t even K.J. Wright or Bobby Wagner.
Instead, Seattle’s two crucial interceptions came from a 303-pound defensive tackle with the frame of a tank and the agility of a sports car, and from a one-time defensive end who was converted to outside linebacker but still is seen as a pass-rush specialist.
The odds of Jordan Hill and Bruce Irvin coming up with interceptions in the same game appears slim. Yet they did, showing off the freakish talent that permeates the best defense in the NFL.
On the first play of the fourth quarter with the score tied at 6-6, Rams quarterback Shaun Hill dropped back, waiting for the Seahawks’ pass rush to barrel down on him so he could flip a quick screen pass by them to running back Tre Mason for a sizable gain.
But Jordan Hill saw the play develop and instead sat back to blow it up. With no open lane to throw to Mason, Shaun Hill decided to give up and fire the ball at his running back’s feet for an incompletion.
But Jordan Hill didn’t let that happen.
He dived forward, his squatty frame near full extension, to make a tough catch even Sherman or Thomas had to respect. He somehow got his arms beneath the downward spiraling ball, keeping it off the turf.
“I knew the down and the distance and got a read from the guard,” he said. “I played it a little bit because I felt it was coming. I started to run with (Mason) but I dove back when he tried to throw it away. I knew I got my hands underneath that ball.”
Shaun Hill was stunned.
“I can’t throw it directly down like I would to kill the clock,” he said. “You have to get it in the vicinity of the running back and their guy made a crazy play on it. He just made a great play on it.”
Given his size and his position, it wasn’t an expected play. But Jordan Hill has that type of ability.
“He might be the biggest, most athletic 300-pounder out here,” Irvin said.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also credited Hill’s catch with the Seahawks’ practice of having all players play catch with a football each day before practice — something he learned from Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant of the Vikings.
“It’s something we always preach,” Carroll said. “We throw the ball every day. Everybody has to catch the football every day in practice. That was Coach Grant’s deal, and I just swiped it.”
The interception swiped a lot of momentum. And the Seahawks used the prime field position to score their first touchdown of the game, on a 9-yard run from Marshawn Lynch six plays later.
But Irvin’s interception return for a touchdown seized the game for the Seahawks.
On the next Rams’ possession, Shaun Hill zipped a pass to tight end Lance Kendricks for what appeared to be a 6-yard gain. But Kendricks never really controlled the ball and linebacker Bobby Wagner popped it free from his grasp.
“I was trying to catch it, tuck it and go down,” Kendricks said.
“It might happen one out of 100 times.”
The odds of what happened next might be one in 300 times.
The ball flew right into the hands of a surprised Irvin, who was coming in to make a tackle. Instead, he veered toward the goal line and raced 49 yards for the touchdown. It was his second interception return for a touchdown this season, his first coming against the Raiders on Nov. 2.
“I was just opportunistic,” he said. “When the opportunity presented itself, I just made the best of it.”
Admittedly, he wasn’t expecting the opportunity.
“I wasn’t even looking at the ball,” he said. “It just ended up in my hands. That’s a sign of me living right.”
The same could be said for the Seahawks’ defense.
“Those guys made some spectacular plays in the second half,” Shaun Hill said.