By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
KIRKLAND – Consistent to an adage as old as the game itself, the Seattle Seahawks have found a way to peak as the playoffs near.
Well, at least they’ve got it half right. In retrospect, the late surge would have been much more productive if they had a chance to actually compete in the playoffs.
Unless you believe the weekly talk about pride, professionalism and job openings next season, the Seahawks haven’t been playing for anything since getting off to a disappointing 2-7 start. Yet in its past six games, Seattle (6-9) has been one of the hottest teams in football.
Since Halloween, only three teams – Denver, Baltimore and Philadelphia – have fewer losses than the Seahawks, who have posted a 4-2 record during that span. Among the teams with worse records down the stretch include division leaders Minnesota, Miami and Oakland.
The only two losses Seattle has suffered in its past six games came against the Denver Broncos, who had a six-game winning streak until Sunday.
In terms of wins and losses, the Seahawks appear to be among the NFL’s hottest teams. On paper, they appear to be playing as well as anyone, right?
“I wouldn’t go that far,” defensive tackle Riddick Parker said after Saturday’s 27-24 win over the AFC West-leading Oakland Raiders. “We aren’t in the playoffs. We aren’t where we want to be, and we didn’t meet the goals we set for ourselves.
“We need to look at the things we did well and take that as a positive. But we have a long way to go before we can say we’ve arrived.”
OK, so the NFL won’t be re-structuring its playoff bracket just to get Seattle in, but the Seahawks have experienced quite a turnaround since midseason. A win against Buffalo this Saturday would give Seattle a 5-3 record over its final eight games – the Seahawks’ best mark in the second half of a season since 1995.
The most obvious changes in Seattle’s season have come in terms of turnovers (a minus-12 ratio through nine weeks; plus-8 since), sacks allowed (36; 4) and third-down efficiency (28.3 percent; 47.6). In addition, Jon Kitna has improved the Seahawks’ quarterback play (he has thrown 12 touchdowns in the past six weeks after Seattle had just nine touchdown passes through the first nine) and the team’s rookies have made a bigger impact each week.
Most important of all, the team has held together despite the early adversity.
“There’s a relationship between all the guys on this team,” guard Pete Kendall said. “It’s all of us for each other, so it makes it that much more difficult if you’re thinking about quitting.”
The recent surge has put the entire season in different perspective. Of the Seahawks’ nine losses, only three have come against teams with losing records (Kansas City twice, Carolina). Seattle has also registered wins over two playoff teams in Oakland and New Orleans, while a Nov. 12 win over Jacksonville was the Jaguars’ only loss in a month and a half until Sunday.
That’s all water under the bridge at this point.
“We have done some dumb things this season,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said after Saturday’s win. “Young mistakes, dumb mistakes, however you want to characterize it. But they keep going.
“Mental toughness means different things to different people, but to me that’s what it means. You’re never out. You play hard until the end, even when it looks bleak.”
A bleak season is beginning to look much better these days.
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