By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks are on a roll, currently holding the best record in the NFC. They’re about to get an injection of talent when players such as wide receiver Percy Harvin and tackle Russell Okung return from injuries, and starting with Sunday’s game against Minnesota, Seattle has four of its final six at home.
In other words, home-field advantage in the playoffs is well within reach for the Seahawks. The thing is, they’re playing like they really don’t need it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Seahawks would absolutely love it if the road to the Super Bowl goes through CenturyLink Field. It’s a place where they’ve won 12 consecutive games, and for that matter it’s a stadium in which quarterback quarterback Russell Wilson has never lost, preseason games included. (And a crazy aside: In college, Wilson’s Wisconsin Badgers went unbeaten at home in 2011, meaning his last home loss, at any level, came on Oct, 2, 2010 when N.C. State lost to Virginia Tech).
But perhaps the most impressive trait in a season full of them for the Seahawks has been their ability to look more or less like the same team home or away. Or in the case of their past two games, play significantly better on the road than at home. A week after they had to come back from a 21-0 deficit against the then-winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks flew across the country for a 10 a.m. Pacific Time game, a factor previously known as the bane of their existence, and played what head coach Pete Carroll called “our most complete game of the year.”
Inevitably you’re still going to hear somebody, perhaps an uninformed member of the national media, regurgitate the old storyline that the Seahawks are great at home but struggle on the road. However, going back to last season, they’ve shown over and over again that is simply no longer the case.
Are the Seahawks usually better at home than on the road? Well, yeah, but what NFL team isn’t? Even when the Seahawks do struggle a bit away from home, the difference is that this year, the Indianapolis game not withstanding, they’re finding ways to win.
Can’t run the ball against a stout Panthers defense? No problem, Wilson will pass for a season-high 320 yards while the defense will hold Carolina to a single touchdown.
Can’t do, well, anything against a Texans defense that was making a mockery of Seattle’s offensive line? Time for Wilson to play Houdini just enough to A. survive, and B. lead the Seahawks back from an early deficit, and for the defense to come up with game-changing plays like cornerback Richard Sherman’s interception return.
And when the short-handed offense was again ineffective, to put it kindly, in St. Louis, wide receiver Golden Tate came up with a couple of massive plays while the defense found a way to hang on and make a game-clinching stop at the goal line.
“The key for us this year is that we’ve learned as a football team, as players, how to bring that energy early and often,” Wilson told reporters after the game in Atlanta. “And that’s what we have to do no matter if the crowd’s there or not there.”
Of course, the biggest reason the Seahawks are a good road team this year — their five road wins have matched the franchise high — is that they’re just a very good team, period. As Carroll noted last month, the Seahawks struggled on the road in his first two seasons in part because, “We weren’t playing very well, and when you don’t play very well you get your butt kicked.”
But there’s more to it than that. The Seahawks were a very talented team last year, but still managed just a 3-5 record on the road, which was the difference between a home playoff game or two and being a wild-card team that had to hit the road in the postseason. After blowing late leads in Detroit and in Miami, the Seahawks won their final two road games last season, then won one in the postseason against Washington before losing a heartbreaker in Atlanta.
This season, however, when the Seahawks can’t dominate on the road, they’ve for the most part found ways to pull out the close victories that might have escaped them in the past.
“I think it’s the maturity of our team and how we approach the games, knowing the rhythm of the travel, understanding what it takes to get ready to play the football game, regardless of where we’re playing,” Carroll said. “I think all of that, we’ve really grown and we’ve found a consistency to it.”
Across all sports, athletes will talk about having an anyone, any time, any place mentality, and will say that it isn’t about the opponent or environment, but rather taking care of their own business. Of course, that’s a hell of a lot easier said than done. Maintaining the same level of play home and away takes time to develop for most teams, and that has been the case for the Seahawks under Carroll.
“When you come in (to the NFL) you’re still immature to some degree,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “You focus on external things when you should just be focused on playing football, but that’s part of growth, that’s part of maturity.”
More mature and more talented, the Seahawks are for the first time in recent memory looking like an equally formidable team home and away. And so far this season, the Seahawks have used that improved road play to give them a great chance at home field advantage.
The crazy thing is, for once they might not need it.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.