RENTON — Which surprised Carlos Dunlap more?
How cleanly he got free off the edge of Arizona’s offensive line on fourth and 10 with 38 seconds left Thursday night? How easily he sacked Kyler Murray to end a pivotal, taut, one-score game?
Or how Pete Carroll celebrated not with him but at him after it?
“You know, P.C. was fired up. He almost tackled me on the sideline,” the Seahawks’ recently acquired pass rusher said of his new coach.
That was after Dunlap’s two sacks, including winning one with 38 seconds left, continued his transforming Seahawks debut and sent Seattle to a pivotal 28-21 victory over the Cardinals to regain first place in the NFC West.
A 6-foot-6, 285-pound Dunlap getting thrown by the 69-year-old Carroll to celebrate Dunlap’s first win in three Seattle starts?
“That was crazy to see a head coach that involved,” Dunlap said. “The whole sideline was like our 12s today. Everybody was locked into the game the whole way through, no matter what was out there. Field goals, everybody was celebrating. Seeing Bobby (Wagner) and Russ (Wilson) running out there after every field goal.”
Yes, Dunlap is not in Cincinnati anymore.
“This is a whole different environment, man,” the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end in 10½ seasons for the Bengals said.
“The culture here is very lovely. It’s contagious. …It’s surreal. It’s refreshing.”
It’s decisive, too.
The Seahawks traded late last month to get Dunlap to bring some life, any life, to its flat-lined pass rush. The Bengals gave him away in exchange for reserve offensive lineman B.J. Finney and a late-round pick. Cincinnati had demoted the 31-year-old Dunlap to part-time, situational status as part of a youth movement last month.
Dunlap is so happy with the move that late Thursday night he thanked every member of the Seahawks’ defense, the organization — even the people who checked him into Seattle when he first got here the last week of October.
That’s what happens when you go from playing in only five playoff games in 10 years, never winning one, with Cincinnati to a franchise that has gone to the playoff seven times in the last eight seasons. Seattle has played in 17 postseason games including two Super Bowls and won one NFL championship since 2010.
“The culture — from upstairs, to the city, to the valet in the hotel I was staying at when they first put me here—how in tune everyone is, how positive everyone is, (it’s) consistently,” he said.
“Even with the way we started off, we had those two losses back to back. Everyone was consistently positive. No one was second-guessing anything. Everybody was honest with themselves, willing to work, acknowledged what we needed to do better. And we worked at it.
“It’s just, all the layers of the culture here, it’s just positive. Believe in it. The leaders, Russ, DB (Duane Brown), and Bobby. They speak it. They follow up. They’re out there on the front lines, doing it with you. They lead the way
“And I’m just trying to find my place.”
The Seahawks’ defensive line was inert, ineffective and in fact a liability before Dunlap arrived. They had seven sacks, total, in the first six games.
On Oct. 25, Seattle failed to sack or even hit Kyler Murray one time in 48 drops backs in the Cardinals’ win over the Seahawks. Seattle traded for Dunlap three days later.
Dunlap missed Seattle’s win over San Francisco the following weekend because he had to complete a six-day protocol of COVID-19 entry testing before he could join the team. In his three games since, Dunlap has 3½ sacks, five tackles for loss and six hits on quarterbacks.
He’s already second on the team in sacks, two behind Jamal Adams (5½).
The winning sack
Thursday night, Arizona is fourth and 10 from the Seattle 27 with 40 seconds left. Game and division lead at stake. Dunlap rushs outside. He rips his right arm in an upper-cut motion, up through the middle of Kelvin Beachum’s chest. Then Dunlap speeds around the Cardinals right tackle by warding him off with his shoulder. Dunlap keeps running and leaning toward Murray. Arizona’s quarterback moves up in an attempt to avoid Dunlap while still looking downfield for a receiver. But Dunlap keeps charging right at Murray, who doesn’t seem to sense Dunlap is right behind him.
Dunlap crashes into, wraps up and sacks Murray from behind before he had any chance to throw the ball.
Dunlap gets up and yells over the roars of bonkers teammates: “BALL GAME!”
“He really helps us. And we desperately needed him. The first week he barely knew what was going on. Week two he’s getting it going. And he really is comfortable now and fits right in,” Carroll said.
“It was really thrilling to see him come up with a game-winner like that …
“A walk-off sack. Really cool.”
After his winning sack Thursday put Seattle (7-3) back in first place in the NFC West, all Hades broke out on the Seahawks’ sideline. The offensive players ran onto the field. Duane Brown, the big left tackle, was without his helmet on bear-hugging everyone in sight. Some threw their coat capes. Some threw water.
“It’s surreal, man,” Dunlap said. “Honestly, with the way the sideline erupted, I can only imagine what it would have been like if the 12s were in there.
“This team is very exciting. I’m happy to be a part of it. I can’t tell in more ways than none … it’s super-surreal. It’s refreshing. I feel lighter, rejuvenated. I’m excited to continue to go to work.
“They brought me here to do one job. And I’m happy I was able to get it done.”