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Following their Lynch-pin leader
The Seahawks have reached the halfway point of their third season under coach Pete Carroll. But what are they halfway to?
At 4-4, after back-to-back road losses in San Francisco and Detroit, the bad news is that Seahawks trail the NFC West-leading 49ers (6-2) by two games. But the good news is that only two other teams not currently leading their division have better records than the Seahawks – the 5-3 Minnesota Vikings, who come to CenturyLink Field on Sunday; and the 5-3 Green Bay Packers, who the Seahawks beat at CenturyLink in Week 3.
So while the Seahawks appear to be up against it as far as winning the division, they are very much in the thick of it when it comes to the race for one of the wild-card playoff spots in the NFC.
Such talk, however, is putting the postseason before the second half of the regular season. And it’s what the Seahawks are able to do in their remaining eight games – with five of them at home – that must come first. And be taken one game at a time.
Yes, they have rematches at CenturyLink against the Arizona Cardinals (Dec. 9), 49ers (Dec. 23) and St. Louis Rams (Dec. 30) in the final month of the season. Those teams handed the Seahawks three of their losses in the first half of the season, all on the road.
But the Seahawks can’t afford to look to that get-even portion of the schedule at the expense of overlooking the home games the next two weeks against Vikings and the New York Jets (Nov. 11); or the back-to-back road trips to Miami (Nov. 25) and Chicago (Dec. 2); or the trip to Toronto to play the Buffalo Bills (Dec 16).
“We didn’t play well enough on the road in the first half, is really what it comes down to,” Carroll said. “We didn’t finish the games we were close in. We had as many close games as anybody, and we had a chance to win them all. Unfortunately, that didn’t turn.
“So we try to take those experiences and what we have learned – and really the comfort in being in those settings – and we’ve got to execute better down the stretch and see if we can win all of those games this time around and see if we can benefit from what we’ve been through.”
Moving forward, the Seahawks could do a lot worse than to follow their leader. That’s the always-enthusiastic, always-forward-thinking Carroll, of course. But it’s also Marshawn Lynch, their lead-by-example running back who has been the team MVP through the first eight games.
Lynch brings a fire, a competitiveness, a consistency and a want-to that is infectious – and needs to permeate to the core of this team as it moves into the second half of the season.
“He’s a tremendous team member,” Carroll said of Lynch. “He represents a competitiveness that’s rare. And it’s so obvious. He’s just (unable) to not demonstrate it when he plays. He loves the game. He loves the competition. He loves the battling. And he’s tough.
“And he demonstrates it in every opportunity he gets. There’s nothing that I could hope more on our team than guys like that.”
That’s why Carroll and general manager John Schneider went out and got Lynch in a trade with the Bills in October of 2010. He is the bell-cow back needed to set the pace, and set up the play-action passing game in the offense that has been put together by coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable.
“When he first came here, I had hoped that this could be generated,” Carroll said. “Because I’d seen him at a younger age and respected what he had done. And I hadn’t really heard people talk about him that way.
“Well I’m really proud that he’s been in this program for a couple of years now and he’s shown the true heart that he has is unique to him in the way that he does it. He’s got great style, great finish-ability and (in Sunday’s game against the Lions) he also showed the explosive speed that makes him so dangerous.”
That, of course, was a reference to Lynch’s career-long 77-yard touchdown run that was the crowning jewel of his career-best first half of the season. Lynch has rushed for 757 yards, which ranks him second in the league to the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, and has him on pace for 1,514 yards – which would top his career-high total from last season by 310 yards.
But, as Carroll mentioned and is obvious to anyone who has watched the Seahawks, it’s not just that Lynch runs for all those yards, it’s how he does it. With a determination that is demented; a will that is overwhelming.
In the second half of the season, Lynch needs to continue leading the way – and showing the way for all the younger players on this team. The Seahawks are starting two rookies, and at pivotal positions – quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. There is a first-year starter at split end (Golden Tate); second-year starters at cornerback (Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman), strong safety (Kam Chancellor), strongside linebacker (K.J. Wright), defensive tackle (Alan Branch), guard (James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan) and right tackle (Breno Giacomini); and third-year starters at left tackle (Russell Okung), center (Max Unger), fullback (Michael Robinson), defensive end (Red Bryant and Chris Clemons) and free safety (Earl Thomas).
“This team is still young, they’re still growing, they’re learning, they’re still with us on pushing through a big finish to the second half of the season,” Carroll said.
And, as Carroll is fond of saying, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
In his first season, the Seahawks started 4-2, only to finish 3-7; but still won the division and then upset the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the playoffs. Last season, the Seahawks started 2-6, but finished 5-3.
This season? Carroll sees reasons to believe the Seahawks are not only on the right track, but an upward track.
“The strengths that we go into the second half with are really that we know we can run the football,” Carroll said. “We know we can play good defense. We’re becoming more efficient in the passing game. We’re protecting the quarterback well. And our special teams are really rock solid. I really like what we’re doing there.
“We’re going to continue to ride on the defense and continue to ride on the running the football and continue to count on the special teams. And as we grow, hopefully – with the way things are set up – we can make some noise here in the second half.”