By John Boyle Heerald Columnist
SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks won’t go into the NFL postseason playing perfect football.
But the Seahawks will go into it knowing they’re more than capable of winning by playing their football, which in the end is more important.
Sure the Seahawks still showed some flaws in the 27-9 victory over St. Louis that allowed them to clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage in the playoffs, but show me an NFL team with no warts heading into the playoffs, and I’ll show you, well, the 2007 Patriots, and even they fell short in the Super Bowl.
No, it’s not reasonable to expect the Seahawks to be perfect, despite the sky-high expectations that have been on them all season, but what they were over the course of 16 games was a team good enough to go 13-3, earning the NFC’s top seed while matching the best record in franchise history.
The Seahawks weren’t the best version of themselves on Sunday; they were the truest version of themselves.
The defense shut down the run, matching a franchise record by holding the Rams to 13 rushing yards. And by putting the game in quarterback Kellen Clemens’ hands, Seattle forced the ball into the hands of its defense, which had two interceptions, including a tone-setting pick-six by linebacker Malcolm Smith.
The offense didn’t light up the scoreboard, but really, that’s rarely who the Seahawks are. Instead, they ran the ball, then ran it some more until things started opening up in the second half. At one moment, you find yourself wondering why the Seahawks can’t move the ball, then not long after, you look up and Marshawn Lynch suddenly has 97 hard-fought yards on 23 carries, and the passing game that can’t do anything has torched the opposing secondary for a 47-yard score. The Seahawks were also strong on special teams, save for allowing one long punt return, they won the turnover battle, and in what is perhaps their signature trait when things are going well, wore down an opponent until they could dominate at the end.
“Today’s effort was really Seahawk football,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “It was really like we like it — great defense, we just kept sticking the run game at ‘em until we got what we needed done. We took care of the football really well, we got a couple of turnovers, and the kicking game was really solid. So we played a complete game to get this thing done.”
The Seahawks have believed all year that they are their own toughest opponent. Do things well, and they’ll win. Open the door for an opponent by turning the ball over or allowing big plays on defense or by committing dumb penalties, and that’s how an inferior team — and let’s not kid ourselves, the Seahawks believe they are superior, talent-wise, to everyone in the NFL — can pull of a victory over Seattle.
And on Sunday, in a flawed yet still in many ways dominant win, the Seahawks didn’t beat themselves. Could they have been better, particularly on offense? Absolutely, but by taking care of business, the Seahawks took care to make sure the road to the Super Bowl comes through CenturyLink Field.
“It’s us,” safety Earl Thomas said. “It’s always on us. When somebody beats us, it’s because we gave it to them; somebody wasn’t thinking right. But when we’re on it like this, it’s tough to beat us.”
Thomas, the most valuable player on the league’s best defense, is right in thinking that the Seahawks are nearly unbeatable if they do their jobs, especially at home. And that’s especially true of a defense that led the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed and interceptions. Seattle’s offense may not be perfect, but if the defense maintains this level of play, that won’t matter until perhaps the Super Bowl.
“Whenever you can stop the run, you can dictate the terms,” said defensive end Red Bryant. “We’ve got some of the best pass rushers in the league, them guys get there. They get there. Then to go with best rushers, we’ve got the best DBs — we put three of them in the Pro Bowl. … We can’t get too high, but we’ve also got to understand who we are, always remember what our identity is, and that’s stopping the run, creating turnovers and playing hard. When we do those things, it’s hard to beat us.”
Seattle’s offense, as has been the case all season, was less consistent than the dominant D, but despite more third-down issues (4 for 13) and five three-and-outs, there were signs of improvement as well. Most notably the running game improved, and Russell Wilson, while still not at his very best, was much better than last week. And after gaining just 19 yards on their first three possessions, the Seahawks had drives that lasted 11, 10 and 14 plays on three of their next five possessions, leading to 13 points.
“We really saw where our offense should be, balanced, hitting our pass plays, getting the run game going well, that’s the offense we want to have,” tight end Zach Miller said of those long drives. “You want to have momentum going into the playoffs, so getting our offense going, putting together some nice drives — we would have liked to get touchdowns on those drives, but field goals are still good — we feel like we have momentum rolling into the playoffs here.”
Yes, the Seahawks still have work to do, but thanks to Sunday’s victory, and an impressive 16-game body of work, they’ll get to sort through those issues while playing in front of the best home-field advantage in the NFL. Just ask Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens what opposing teams have in store for them.
“I apologize for my voice,” Clemens said to open his postgame press conference. “I’ve been competing with 70,000 tonight, and I’ve been losing for the most part.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.