No, I'm not trying to say the Jacksonville Jaguars offer much in the way of a challenge for the Seahawks, but rather this game will test their ability to, as Pete Carroll likes to put it, treat every week like a championship week.
When the Seahawks prepared for the rival San Francisco 49ers last week, Carroll and his players said over and over again that they were not any more hyped for that Sunday night contest than they would be for any other game. Then after winning that game, the Seahawks turned their attention to what looks to be the worst team in the NFL, and again, the mantra all week was, "we treat every opponent the same."
Well then, today's the day to show it. As significant as the talent disparity is between these teams, and as big of a home field advantage the Seahawks get at CenturyLink field, the Seahawks could have a letdown performance and still win by a comfortable margin. But if they're going to live up to the "every week is a championship week" talk, they need to not just win, but do so in a convincing manner that shows they are indeed as up for this game as they were for last weekend's prime-time showdown with San Francisco.
On Friday, Carroll said of this game: "We're hoping we can get out of there with a one-point win this week. We just want to get out of there and get the game won."
With all due respect, coach, a one-point win over Jacksonville won't be good enough, not if you expect us to believe that the team had the same week of preparation, the same level of energy, the same attention to detail that it did a week ago.
It would be easy to understand if the Seahawks did come out a bit flat. Despite the jokes about Russell Wilson, these aren't robots we're talking about, and it's hard to see how an athlete could truly avoid a few highs and lows during the season. And that's why Carroll spends so much time trying to get that message across to his players.
"The message does stay exactly the same," he said. "It stays exactly the same. The highly hyped game is long gone already, that one's behind us.
"The message is for us is to be disciplined about the way that we prepare, and it isn't about who we're playing, it's about how we prepare. It's been that way for four years now of talking this way and getting these guys convinced of how powerful that is and how that gives you, in my opinion, the best opportunity to be highly consistent, and we do not want our play to vary based on who we are playing; we want to play the very best every time out.
"And, that's why when we talk championship games, this game could be the one that makes the difference when you look back at the schedule, so we're going to take this as the biggest opportunity that we could ever have and go for it with everything we have and see what happens."
As Carroll admits, getting that message across isn't necessarily easy. Players have bought in, that much is clear when you talk to any of them and they repeat the same message their coach preaches over and over, but getting to that point took a little time and effort.
"Yeah, guys are skeptical," Carroll said. "You know, 'Does he say that this week? OK. He's said it for a few weeks, is he going to stick with it?' And these guys have pounded with our mentality and the things that we think of to the point where I don't think they think any other way now.
"But it still takes a really acute attention to the detail of the discipline of this because you've just pulled so much in other directions and could be swayed so easily by following the build-up, the hype, and all of the enormous amount of information that's out there; talking about our situations. So my biggest challenge is to keep their heads in this room and how we think and how we do things."
The results show it did take time for Carroll's message to get across. The biggest reason the Seahawks are better now than they were in 2010 and 2011 is an upgrade in talent, but the performances of the Seahawks in the first couple of years under Carroll were much less consistent, particularly in 2010 when every loss came by double digits. Bad teams get blown out a lot; inconsistent ones get blown out some weeks, then knock off the defending champs in the playoffs another week.
But the Seahawks seemed to find that consistency midway through the 2011 season. Not only have the Seahawks won a lot more than they've lost since then, they are never out of a game. Since losing by 10 points to Dallas in the eighth game of that season, the Seahawks have lost nine games including the postseason, none by more than seven points.
If you count the postseason, the Seahawks were the only team in the NFL last year to not lose at least once by more than seven points, and if you don't include the postseason, New England was the only other team to do that. Even last year's Super Bowl champion, the Baltimore Ravens, had two double-digit losses, including a 30-point loss in Houston. Generally, even very good teams lay an egg once or twice a year, but that hasn't been the case with the Seahawks lately.
"The focus of this team is just different," defensive end Red Bryant said. "It's not one guy trying to lead the whole team. We've got multiple people on this team who inspire everybody to do their best. That's what's the driving force right now -- the guy next to you don't want to let you down because he understands you're giving everything you can. I think that's the thing that's setting us apart from other teams right now."
Today, that focus is tested by a team that could be easily overlooked, but the Seahawks say that won't be an issue.
"We give our opponents every bit of respect that you can," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "Last week, San Francisco had our full attention, the week before that Carolina had our full attention, this week Jacksonville has our full attention. We don't look past anybody, we don't look ahead to anything because we're taking it one game at a time, one play at a time. ... I think Pete has done a great job of containing that focus and preaching that mindset and instilling it in a lot of our players."
So if the Seahawks are going to live up to that, they can't just squeak by with an ugly victory. This is a game where they need to get the offense on track and cut down on the penalties. This is a game where the defense needs to show it can bring the same intensity it had a week ago when it shut down Colin Kaepernick.
The Seahawks don't just need a victory, they need a resounding one. If this week really is a championship week, then the Seahawks need to do what a championship-caliber team should do to one of the league's worst.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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