Ten games into the season, the Seattle Seahawks finally delivered a complete victory, showing they are the team that deserves to carry the NFC's best record.
Their reward was unrestrained praise from coach Pete Carroll.
Carroll said Seattle "made a complete statement" with the dominant 33-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns with no interceptions and Marshawn Lynch ran for 145 yards with a score. Golden Tate's 6-yard touchdown catch with 1 second remaining in the first half capped a 60-minute drive set up by his 32-yard punt return.
"It's really hard on the opponent when that happens right before halftime," Carroll said. "You talk about sending a message across the field. It was a great finish to the first half."
Tate caught six passes for 106 yards and Jermaine Kearse had a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
The Seahawks (9-1) improved to 5-1 on the road with what Carroll said was "the best game we've played."
"It's really the game we were looking for," Carroll said. "We haven't been able to play from start to finish the way we like it and today I think we did.
"We really across the board made a statement about how hard we can play. I thought we played a complete football game with intensity throughout."
The Falcons (2-7) have lost three straight lopsided games to Arizona, Carolina and Seattle by a combined margin of 94-33. Atlanta managed only one touchdown in each loss.
"I think it has been frustrating," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Obviously, we're nine games into it and certainly not even close to where we want to be, and that makes it difficult. Guys should be angry."
The Falcons hoped for a boost with the return of receiver Roddy White, who had missed three games with hamstring and ankle injuries. White had only one catch for 20 yards. The NFL's worst rushing offense continued to struggle as Steven Jackson had nine carries for only 11 yards.
"Of course I'm frustrated," Jackson said. "It's tough when you see the talent. It's tough when you see the work guys put in the offseason."
Here are five factors that led to the Seahawks proving they are an elite team in the NFC and the Falcons again showing they have fallen from that status:
SEAHAWKS STOP THE RUN: There was a renewed emphasis on run defense after the Seahawks gave up at least 200 yards rushing in two straight games. Those efforts came against two teams, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, who had not rushed for more than 160 yards in any other game. Seattle allowed an average of only 92 yards rushing in its first seven games and was back on form by holding the Falcons to 64 yards on 16 carries.
FALCONS CAN'T TRUST THE RUN GAME: A third-and-1 play in the second quarter revealed Atlanta's lack of faith in its ability to run the ball. The Falcons needed only a few inches for the first down but lined up in the shotgun and Ryan's short pass to Harry Douglas fell incomplete.
BIG PLAYS: Seattle won with persistent power runs from Lynch, and the Seahawks also won with a series of big plays. At one point, the Seahawks reeled off three consecutive big gains. Lynch had a 37-yard gain from the Seattle 20 in the second quarter, setting up a trick play for a touchdown. Wilson handed off to Lynch who ran right and then stopped to throw back to Wilson, who then lofted a 43-yard touchdown pass to Kearse.
"It was a beautifully executed play," Carroll said.
On the first play of Seattle's next possession, Tate broke free after a short catch for a 46-yard gain. That gave Seattle 126 yards on three plays, only 100 yards short of Atlanta's total of 226 yards for the game.
SEATTLE'S SPECIAL TEAMS: Steven Hauschka hit four field goals, including a 53-yarder. Tate had three punt returns for 55 yards. Atlanta's Matt Bosher averaged 53.4 yards on five punts but consistently outkicked his coverage to set up Tate's returns, including the key 32-yarder that set up the touchdown before halftime.
Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez noted the Seahawks "got us in every phase of the game."
LOSSES MOUNTING FOR ATLANTA: The Falcons have enjoyed five straight winning seasons in the current era with Ryan and coach Mike Smith, but now they're two losses from their first losing season since 2007.
"We've got to go back to the drawing board," Gonzalez said. "It's important that you stick together as a team and don't start playing the blame game, because I've seen it happen before."
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