The Seahawks capped a marvelous 12-4 regular season with a 26-23 win over the 49ers in Week 17. It marked Seattle’s first 12-win season since 2014 and just the fifth such campaign in franchise history.
You'd think that sort of record would have hope and optimism skyrocketing across the Pacific Northwest with the team’s playoff opener against the Rams less than a week away. But Sunday’s narrow victory over San Francisco has left many feeling uneasy.
That’s because a once-supercharged offense is now unmistakably mortal. For the second-straight week, Seattle scored just six points in the first half. Russell Wilson looked out of sorts and the offense as a whole lacked any semblance of timing, rhythm or momentum. Things came together, of course, as Wilson engineered a trio of fourth quarter touchdown drives to erase a 16-6 deficit. Two of those scores were passes from Wilson to Tyler Lockett, the latter being a clutch, go-ahead touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the 49ers 4-yard line.
But what do we make of those early-game struggles? Are the slow starts worth lamenting or do we just shrug it off because Seattle still won each of its last two games? There is no right or wrong answer at this point as everyone is likely to reach their own conclusion. Still, a bit of apprehension seems fair at this point.
“It’s a little frustrating as you guys are wondering about it, but I’m not worried about it,” Pete Carroll said postgame. “We’re going to keep playing and try to play really good football.”
The Rams and 49ers each possess a top 10 defense, which is relevant in this discussion. It’s also imperative to note that the Seahawks defense has evolved into a strength of the team after spending the first half of the season-plus as a liability.
The defense saved the day on both occasions. Los Angeles never found the end zone in Week 16, and San Francisco was limited to just nine points through three quarters. That kept Sunday’s deficit manageable until the offense finally woke up.
“There’s a patience to it that nobody wants to see but we’re feeling OK about it,” Carroll said in regard to playing against standout defenses. “We just have to make sure we come out of it, and we get the points we need to win.”
The groans from more cynical Seahawks fans stem from having seen this movie before. It was just last season when Seattle’s season ended at Lambeau Field after Wilson & Co. scored just three points in the first half.
A multi-score deficit followed by a furious comeback is a script Seahawks are accustomed to. Wilson often comes through. Other times, like against the Packers in last year’s Divisional Round, Seattle falls short.
An improved Seattle defense could counterbalance any feeling of “here we go again” that may pop up over the next few weeks.
Conversely, the Seahawks explosive plays have vanished and the offense’s woes on third down remain. Seattle has just five pass plays of at least 20 yards over the last two weeks, only one of which was longer than 30 yards. And even with Sunday’s fourth quarter outburst, the Seahawks still finished the game with just four conversions on 12 third downs.
It’s hard to imagine Seattle’s offense finding success in the postseason without remedying at least one of those two shortcomings. Wilson noted that it’s the deep balls he’d love to see return.
“I think we’ve got to get to more of those explosive plays here and there,” Wilson said. “I think anytime you get those explosive plays it definitely helps out. I think we’ve got to get to some of those calls and get to some of those moments if we can.”
Carroll agreed, but with the caveat of not forcing the issue and getting desperate. Seattle’s head coach is elated that his offense hasn’t turned the ball over once in the last two games.
“We’ve just got to hit them when we get our chances and continue to keep working it,” Carroll said of the absence of explosive pass plays. “We’re always looking. We’re always hunting. This is an explosive mentality in this program. When it doesn’t happen, we get frustrated, too, because we want it to happen that way.”
The Seahawks are a bizarre 12-4 team in that very few of their wins earned style points. Whereas fans in Green Bay, Kansas City, New Orleans and Buffalo are all likely cavalier about their team’s chances of making the Super Bowl, the optimism is bound to be much more cautious among 12s.
But it would be unwise to count the Seahawks out due to their combination of a franchise quarterback, playoff experience, mental toughness in close games and an uncanny knack for making the big play when the moment demands one.
“To be able to win in all different fashions is really key,” Wilson said. “It has always been key. Obviously we want to start great. We know we can do that. But you’ve also got to be able to win the game when it’s close because that’s what playoff football is like.”