Updated Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 04:24 PM
The Seahawks didn't back down.
Not cornerback Brandon Browner when Washington wide receiver Pierre Garcon repeatedly stayed on blocks after the play ended. Not Seattle's Golden Tate when cornerback DeAngelo Hall challenged him.
And not on the field after the game when cornerback Richard Sherman stood helmetless in front of Washington offensive lineman Trent Williams, who was threatening to take a swing at him.
"Go ahead, do it," Sherman said.
The fact that Williams did take an openhanded swipe is almost beside the point. This isn't about designating victims or naming instigators. The Seahawks gave and they got on Sunday. Sometimes they hit first, other times they hit back, taking an unabashedly physical approach to the game by fighting for every yard on one hand and refusing to give an inch on the other.
And in that confrontation, Seattle was able to do more than hold its own without losing its cool, drawing only four penalties in the game.
"Those guys were battling," coach Pete Carroll said. "But there wasn't anything that was illegal about it. It was just very, very aggressive tough play.
"I have no problem with any of it, none of it."
And if you're surprised by the way Seattle is playing, well, you haven't been paying attention to how this Seahawks team is constructed nor how it has played. Bigger and badder might as well be this team's motto, for better and — far less frequently — for worse.
Sunday, the Seahawks faced a team that Carroll said targeted specific players with the intention of provoking a reaction.
"They go after individual guys," Carroll said of Washington's approach. "And they have guys that are really pressing the edge, which is fine. Our guys responded and matched it up, and did the right thing. No penalties, no issues. No runs, no hits, no errors."
And absolutely no apologies.
Seattle might be a city known for its passive-aggressive tendencies, but its football team's defense will never be accused of that. Nor its running back, Marshawn Lynch, and certainly not an offensive line that seeks to play through that whistle.
It is a decidedly different approach than Seattle took the last time it had a team this successful. That was under Mike Holmgren, who built an offense that was able to rise above anything the defense tried to do. People liked to refer to the Seahawks as a finesse team, which is totally bogus. Finesse doesn't produce a league-leading rushing attack like Seattle had in 2005, and it certainly doesn't describe the way guard Steve Hutchinson played as a Seahawk nor the way Walter Jones manhandled pass rushers.
While that Seattle team was polished, precise and its offense hummed in a way that made everything look easy, this team wants to make things difficult — even unbearable — for opponents.
"We're trying to find a level that we can take it to that gets everything that we can possibly get out of the moment," Carroll said. "We're ready to battle to that."
It's a little reminiscent of the swagger and style of the Sonics teams of the mid-1990s. Remember them? Brash and bold, Gary Payton lobbing alley-oops for Shawn Kemp to fetch from on high while playing a style so tenacious that Shaquille O'Neal was compelled to call it the outbreak-monkey defense.
Are there times the Seahawks' style comes close to or even crosses the line? Undoubtedly. Breno Giacomini has been penalized 12 times this season, four for unnecessary roughness. And after Sunday's game, Washington fullback Darrel Young said Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant tried to step on Alfred Morris after a play, though in replays it was unclear whether Bryant was trying to injure an opponent or just celebrating.
But Seattle's goal isn't to get away with anything underhanded, said Carroll, only to be as unflinchingly physical as possible while remaining within the rules.
"When it crosses the line and you're doing things that are illegal, or it's something that is cheap, then we don't want any part of that," Carroll said. "But we want to take it to the edge."
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com
WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES
Bruce Irvin of the Seahawks strikes a defiant pose after a sack of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in Seattle's wild-card playoff victory on Sunday.