Friday, December 6, 2013
SEATTLE — In the back of the locker room, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright slap hands and share grins. They’re celebrating in their own linebacker vernacular, reminiscing about plays with details only they can understand. Their words sound like a foreign language, only less jarring to the unsuspecting ear because they’re expressing themselves with joy and passion.
“You don’t know what we’re saying,” Wright says to an eavesdropper. “But trust me, it’s a good thing.”
Just 40 minutes earlier, the Seahawks had turned “Monday Night Football” into their own infomercial, crushing the New Orleans Saints 34-7 in an earth-shaking effort that left a national audience acknowledging Seattle’s excellence. The only people without their mouths agape were the brash Seahawks, who have long seen greatness coming.
“We tried to tell ’em,” Wright says, bobbing his head up and down. “We tried to tell ’em.”
Three quarters into a spectacular season, the Seahawks are 11-1, alone at the top, with the best record in the NFL and a clear path to home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. They’ve already clinched a playoff berth. If the Seahawks beat their rival, San Francisco, on Sunday, they will clinch the NFC West division. In addition, they need to win just two of their remaining four games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which guarantees that home-field advantage.
What the Seahawks have long expected — what has been demanded of them since their season ended in heartbreaking fashion last January — isn’t just coming to fruition. The Seahawks are starting to emerge in a manner that exceeds even the great expectations placed on them as the season began.
After not winning impressively enough (at least in the minds of the overzealous) in the season’s first half, the Seahawks turned dominant in the third quarter. The most recent quartet of games began with a scare, a 27-24 overtime victory against then-winless Tampa Bay that required a 21-point rally. Since then, Seattle has outscored its last three opponents 108-37. The Seahawks averaged 33.8 points for the third quarter, which is ample offense to support the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense.
In a season that has included significant injury trauma and more drug-suspension drama, the team is exactly where coach Pete Carroll hoped to be in the closing weeks. While the rest of the NFL takes notice, the Seahawks talk happily among themselves and shrug when others marvel over what they’ve become.
“We have a high standard,” cornerback Richard Sherman says. “You can be impressed, but we already know what we can do. It’s not like we’re playing out of our minds. We’re just doing what we do every day.
“If that’s impressive, impressive is who we are.”
THE NEW ORLEANS GAME could go down as a signature performance in the Carroll era. The Seahawks have had other memorable wins: the 24-23 last-minute victory over New England last season, the Fail Mary win over Green Bay last season, the two home blowouts of San Francisco over the past year. But there was something different about walloping the Saints.
For one, the Seahawks hadn’t overwhelmed an opponent that good since rising to top-dog status. The Saints (9-3) had been challenging the Seahawks for NFC supremacy all season. They seemed like the perfect foe: an offensively gifted team to counter the defensive-minded Seahawks, with a legendary quarterback in Drew Brees and a Super Bowl-winning tactician in Sean Payton. New Orleans was supposed to be a better, tougher version this season, with no real holes and an underrated defense that ranked in the NFL’s top five entering the game.
But it took the Seahawks only 8½ minutes to build a 10-0 lead. By the end of the first quarter, the score was 17-0. New Orleans, which was held to 188 yards by Seattle’s defense, was never a threat in the game.
For the first time, this Seahawks group was in a marquee late-season game with potential championship implications. And the players handled it as if it were nothing new.
“We don’t even think about the stage,” Sherman said. “I know it may not seem like that because we play so well on the stage. But the stage is the same size, regardless of who we’re playing.”
The performance Monday vaulted Russell Wilson, who threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns, into the MVP conversation. Many now think Wilson is the only MVP competition for Peyton Manning, who is a heavy frontrunner on pace to throw for 5,500 yards and 55 touchdowns.
Wilson has been steady all season, but it’s no surprise that he has played his best during the Seahawks’ recent surge. In four straight games, Wilson has completed at least 72 percent of his passes. In the past three games, he has thrown seven touchdown passes, zero interceptions and posted passer ratings of 134.6, 151.4 and 139.6.
Of course, Wilson ignores the MVP fuss.
“I don’t care about that,” he said Thursday before praising the entire offense. “I’m just trying to win football games.”
It’s not just about numbers with Wilson. It seems that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is perfectly in tune with his quarterback now. The offense fits every Wilson specification, right down to the effort the Seahawks have put into creating offense from the quarterback’s scrambling ability.
The Seahawks don’t just consider it random greatness when Wilson uses his feet to extend plays and complete long passes. They have worked diligently with the receivers on scramble-route rules and the notion of never giving up on a play. Now, it’s common to see the Seahawks create three or four big plays a game off Wilson’s creativity.
“I don’t know if the league has seen that,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “I really don’t. For Russell to be that accurate on the move, it’s incredible.
“We practice it every day. There’s never a dead play in practice. We know that he’s moving to throw the ball, and we have to be ready. You’d think the man had 17 eyes out there. He sees everything.”
IN A 41-20 VICTORY over Minnesota in Week 11, wide receiver Percy Harvin finally made his Seahawks debut. He was only on the field for 19 plays, he contributed an amazing juggling catch for 17 yards and a 58-yard kickoff return.
Both of his electric plays to Seattle scores. Harvin, the Seahawks’ prized offseason acquisition, had missed the entire season recovering from hip surgery. He left CenturyLink Field on Nov. 17 saying, “I don’t see any more setbacks.”
But even with a bye week after that game, Harvin wasn’t available on Monday night.
He hasn’t had a setback, but his hip is sore, and his rehabilitation process continues. And so, for as much as the Seahawks have accomplished, there’s still a feeling they can be even better.
“He just has some stiffness that hasn’t quite gone away, and we don’t want to take a chance at this time,” Carroll said of Harvin.
The Seahawks will continue to monitor Harvin closely, being extra careful with a player they traded three draft picks and gave $25 million guaranteed to acquire from Minnesota, hoping to have him available for the playoff run.
Because they have what is lauded as the deepest roster in the NFL, the Seahawks have thrived all season despite the loss of key personnel. During the third quarter, they also dealt with cornerback Walter Thurmond’s four-game drug suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Thurmond isn’t eligible to return until the final game of the regular season. And cornerback Brandon Browner also reportedly had a positive test, which could trigger a one-year ban, but his case is being contested. There’s a chance Browner, once believed to be done as a Seahawk, could win his case and return once his groin injury heals.
But in the bigger picture, the Seahawks have had to deal with the negative perception about their team’s culture. Over the past three years, the Seahawks have had six players suspended for drugs, five of them performance-enhancing drug suspensions.
Carroll, who has a utopian vision of team building, doesn’t believe the Seahawks’ culture is the problem.
“We’ll always look to do it better, but we’re on it,” Carroll said. “This team is very strong about where we’re going and what we’re doing and what we’re trying to create. Because somebody slips that doesn’t mean that we’re not on track. I think we’re on tremendous track right now.”
But for a franchise that has the potential to have a long and special run, it’s not premature to think about how this team wants to be remembered. And if the Seahawks want to build a legacy with no demerits, even the defiant Carroll knows the drug suspensions must stop.
AT OPPOSITE ENDS of an emptying locker room, Robinson and defensive end Red Bryant are doing what some of the younger Seahawks resist. They’re reflecting on how far this team has come.
For Robinson, the New Orleans victory served as an important benchmark.
“It’s the culmination of a four-year process,” the 30-year-old Robinson said. “We were losing these games four years ago. We just didn’t get it. But Pete kept preaching the same thing about every game being a championship opportunity.
“Now, these games are normal. We’re dialed into the philosophy. We believe it.”
Bryant, 29, has been with the Seahawks since the end of the Mike Holmgren era. He’s on his third coach now, and he can remember the housecleaning that Carroll and general manager John Schneider did when they first arrived. He’s thankful just to have survived and found a role. When he thinks about how quickly the Seahawks have become elite, he’s amazed.
“I was here when they were making 300-something transactions in one year,” Bryant said. “I’ve seen more guys go than stay. But what they’ve built, it’s amazing. I’m grateful.
“We’re in a great position to do something that lasts longer than our playing days.”
The Seahawks can talk championship without hedging now. Three quarters into their best regular-season ever, they stand atop the NFL. And no one seems uncomfortable. Because for a confident, young team that never doubted it would reach this point, impressive truly is who the Seahawks are.
They tried to tell ’em. They tried to tell ’em.