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After his 236th game as an NFL head coach, Pete Carroll sounded baffled.
Legitimately confused. At a loss for answers. Like he was a dazed cartoon character hit with a sledgehammer.
The consistently improving Giants defense played its best game of the season against NFL MVP candidate Russell Wilson and held Carroll’s high-scoring offense without a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
The result? A 17-12 win over the Seattle Seahawks to remain in first place in the NFC East.
“It’s just an uncharacteristic feeling that we’re not putting any points on the board,” Carroll said. “I need to look at the film to figure out what the heck happened and why it was like that. It just isn’t like that. None of us have seen us play like that. So it was very difficult.”
Here’s what he is going to find upon review: Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is causing fits all season for quarterbacks and top offensive coaching minds.
“We always joke around how Pat is like a computer,” defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. “I swear he can remember a play he ran six years ago and know exactly where it was in that game. He’s like ‘Play 56 in Year 7 against the Buccaneers,’ and I’m like, ‘What? How does this guy remember that stuff?’ He’s just a genius when it comes to scheming, and understanding who he has and who he has to go against.”
Wilson passed for just 216 yards with an interception and a lost fumble and was running for his life on the five sacks and other pressures. The game ended in fitting fashion, with Wilson turning in circles behind the line of scrimmage and throwing up a prayer as he took a shot in the mouth from B.J. Hill, looking up to see James Bradberry bat down an incompletion.
“I’m not going to lie: The team had a different swagger and a different juice today,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “Because we knew if we played our brand of football — tough, hard-nosed, physical football — we could shock a lot of people.”
Williams is shocking plenty of people.
After years of relying on pressures, knockdowns and hurries to prove he is a pass rusher, Williams has become a game-wrecker. He stamped his Pro Bowl résumé Sunday with a career-high 2.5 sacks, upping his season total to a career-best 8.5 with four games to go.
Suddenly, general manager Dave Gettleman’s decision to franchise tag Williams on a one-year, $16 million deal — an outrageous number given his past production — doesn’t seem so foolish.
“The scheme has been fun, guys around me are helping me play great, the system is helping me play great,” Williams said. “There are a lot of things that help players reach their potential and I think it’s just all coming together.”
The most impressive part is the defense is dominating with an injury-depleted linebacker corps now relying on four rookies — Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, Tae Crowder and Niko Lalos.
“It’s the standard,” Peppers said. “We don’t care who is out there. If you are not going to play up to the standard, guys are not going to be out there.”