And in doing that, the Seahawks showed that they are one of the final eight teams standing not just because they're significantly more talented than they have been in recent years, but also because they're also a much more mentally tough team in their third year under Pete Carroll.
When they had finished off a come-from-behind 24-14 victory, players echoed in their postgame comments to reporters a phrase so often uttered by their coach: It's not how you start, it's how you finish.
That's just one of Carroll's many philosophies or beliefs -- or as a more cynical person might say, cheesy cliches -- that can be heard in the Seahawks locker room from spring minicamps to the playoffs in January. It's all about the ball. Always compete. Every game is a championship opportunity.
But here's the thing, cheesy or not, it's working.
It's hardly novel for a football coach at any level to preach competition. It's something entirely different to take that idea so far that you're willing to create an environment where a rookie drafted in the third round can win the starting quarterback job over a high-priced free agent. When an entire team gets behind a coach's philosophies, no matter how cliche they might sound, that's how comebacks like last weekend's can happen, and it's why the Seahawks will be confident going on the road again this week against Atlanta, the NFC's No. 1 seed.
Call it confidence, call it swagger. Whatever it is, it worked for the Seahawks last week, and it's why they might just have what it takes to keep winning regardless of where the playoffs take them.
"Call it what you want, some people would call it arrogance, but we don't really care what the score is in the first half," receiver Doug Baldwin said on the Q13 Fox postgame show. "Because we know what we're capable of doing."
That's a drastic change from what we witnessed in 2009 and even in Carroll's first season a year later. Back then, Seattle was a team that never saw a road deficit it couldn't make worse. Seriously, think back to 2010 and try to imagine the Seahawks battling back from a 14-0 hole on the road. In seven road losses including a playoff game in Chicago, the 2010 Seahawks lost by 17, 17, 30, 15, 19, 23 and 11 points. The Seahawks also were blown out three times at home that year, meaning a 15-point loss in New Orleans was actually Seattle's closest regular-season loss of the year.
When a team learns to actually treat every week like a championship week, consistency comes with that and those blowouts go away. That's why two years after losing 10 times by double digits, the Seahawks' five losses this year came by a combined 24 points. When players truly buy into the idea that it's all about the finish, they can overcome a 13-point deficit against New England or a 14-point deficit in a road playoff game.
"It just shows how much confidence we have in our ability and the resolve in our team to fight the whole game," tight end Zach Miller said by phone after his team's comeback in Washington. "We know games aren't won in the first quarter or the first half, they're won all the way in the fourth quarter."
Again, the talent on Seattle's roster is undoubtedly better this year. Belief, after all, only goes so far. But as much as getting bigger, faster and stronger has helped the Seahawks, so too has the improved resolve of this team.
"We're much more solid in our thinking and in our mentality, just the result of everything we're doing, we're much more in tune," Carroll said. "Our language is very consistent on the sidelines. The coaches were all saying the same stuff, the right stuff. Players were nodding their heads, 'We're fine, everything's OK.' It takes time to get there, so we're better.
"We don't have it all figured out, but we're better. When things are tense and emotional and all that and you hear the sensibility come through -- the language and the communication and the line of thinking stands out the way they want them to think -- then you know that you've made progress, and we have. We've made a lot of progress in that regard."
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.
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