By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — With the Seattle Seahawks playing host to the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs for the second time in four seasons, it’s hard not to think of what happened in that Jan. 2011 meeting when Marshawn Lynch made the ground shake with one best runs in NFL history.
But as much as it’s worth looking back on that game and that run just for the sake of seeing it again — seriously, will watching that 67-yard touchdown ever get old? — there’s also relevance in remembering that game today. It serves as a good reminder of how far this franchise has come since that 2010 season, the first with head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider in charge.
As exciting and improbable as that 41-36 victory was, as incredible as Lynch’s run was, they also, looking back, show how different that team was than the one that face the Saints in Seattle’s first home playoff game since that day.
The most obvious example comes in the form of the roster. Just three players on the field for that run — Lynch, fullback Michael Robinson, and left tackle Russell Okung — are still with the Seahawks, and only 15 players on Seattle’s current roster were around in 2010.
“I’m pretty sure you know the answer to that question,” Robinson said when asked how this year’s team differs from the 2010 squad. “This team is way different. The quarterback’s different, the line’s different, the defense is different, different coordinators. It’s a different feel.”
Different, and significantly better.
Three years ago, it took Matt Hasselbeck improbably out-dueling Drew Brees, throwing four touchdowns in a shootout and a miraculous Lynch run to clinch that win. By the way, what a way that was for Hasselbeck, one of Seattle’s all-time greats, to go out — carrying his son Henry on his shoulders as he walked off the field following what would end up being his final home game as a Seahawk.
That version of the team had to do everything right as the 7-9 NFC West champions to knock off the 11-5 Saints. This time around, if the Seahawks don’t inflict too much damage on themselves, they figure to be just fine this weekend.
“The team then and the team now, it’s day and night,” said receiver Golden Tate, who was a rookie on the 2010 team. “The team then, we kind of weren’t sure if we were going to win. We knew we had to play the best game of our lives to squeeze out a win. Now we’re to the point where we’re playing confident, we understand what Coach Carroll wants, we understand the style of play. We expect to win, at home especially.”
Lynch wasn’t much for going down memory lane when asked about his memories of that run.
“It was loud,” he said.
Pressed for more details, Lynch went with, “It was really loud.”
But even if Lynch doesn’t want to relive an all-time moment in Seahawks history, this week is a good time to revisit it if only to remember how much this franchise has improved in four seasons, going from unlikely playoff team with a losing record to top dog in the NFC.
Three years after Lynch had Saints defenders running in circles, the Seahawks have come full circle.
“This is a better team,” defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “No doubt about that. This is a way better team.”
Of course Pete Carroll will tell you his team didn’t get here fast enough — he wants to win forever, in case you forgot — but when you consider just four players remain from the roster he and Schneider inherited, Mebane, Red Bryant, Jon Ryan and Max Unger, it’s a remarkably quick rebuild, which has culminated in the Seahawks landing the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage.
Earlier this season, Carroll was asked about why his team had gotten so much better on the road over the past two seasons. There are a lot of things that have played into that, but the biggest, Carroll acknowledged, is that his team in 2010 and the early part of 2011 simply wasn’t that good wherever they played.
“We weren’t playing very well, and when you don’t play very well you get your butt kicked,” Carroll said in October. “That’s happened in the first year. There were some bad games, even to the first half of the second year I guess. It’s really just getting your football in order.”
The Seahawks have their football in order, and in a way, that Lynch run was the launching point. As Carroll noted, the turnaround didn’t really start until late in the 2011 season, but in Lynch, a player the Seahawks acquired midway through the 2010 season, they found their identity.
For a moment three years ago, their identity was unstoppable, but now, the much improved Seahawks don’t need once-in-a-lifetime moments or four-touchdown performances from their quarterback; they just need to be themselves to win a home playoff game against the Drew Brees-led Saints.
Like Marshawn Lynch three years ago, the Seahawks’ rebuild has covered a lot of ground.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.